When it comes to the Trump-Russia controversy, there are many different possibilities to be considered. Those who suspect that the President harbors the most sinister motives within his political ambitions and dealings are certain that he requested and received assistance from Vladimir Putin in securing the 2016 election.
Trump’s staunchest supporters, meanwhile, contend that the President was never aware of pre-election contacts between his advisors and Russian officials. That is, if contact with Russia was made at all.
In viewing the facts, collusion has yet to be proven, and no evidence points to the fact that the 2016 election results were anything but legitimate. However, the President himself admitted that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn acted deceptively in his representation of dealings with Russia to Vice President Mike Pence.
Clearly, pre-election contact with Russia was made by members of the Trump camp, and the contact was significant enough to warrant the firing of Michael Flynn. Even if Flynn’s ouster was prompted solely by his deception of the Vice President, Flynn obviously believed that some aspect of his communication with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was worth lying about.
Now, this does not indicate that Donald Trump himself had any knowledge that one of, and likely several, of his underlings were in contact with Russia prior to the election. But, recent reports that 18 correspondences, both phone calls and emails, were made between Flynn, several other Trump aides, and Russia in the seven months before his election add a significant layer to this story.
To be clear, I am generally of the mindset that the Trump-Russia connection has been hugely overblown to stoke the flames of fear among a largely uninformed liberal base. Anything short of direct manipulation of the election results means, in my mind, that the media’s reaction to the Trump-Russia narrative has been greatly exaggerated. Trump’s order to bomb valuable sites held by the Russian-backed Syrian government shows that he is not in the Kremlin’s pocket. Admittedly, Vladimir Putin’s words should be taken lightly, but he has adamantly held that Russia did not meddle in the American election, even stating that he could provide a transcript exonerating Trump from such allegations.
However, it is important to understand as clearly as possible where any U.S. elected representative stands with respect to Russia. For the President, this is obviously true in the utmost. While we are no longer living in the Cold War era, to forget the adversarial feelings long-held between Russia and the United States is foolish. For these reasons, even Trump’s most avid supporters should channel their inner skeptic when it comes to this matter, if only for credibility’s sake.
With that said, here are some of the primary takeaways from the latest Trump-Russia report, via Reuters and The Times of Israel:
‘Newly reviewed information has found that former US national security adviser Michael Flynn and other Trump aides were in contact with Russian officials or those connected with the Kremlin in at least 18 phone calls and emails in the final seven months of the US elections.’
‘Six of the 18 contacts were between Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Flynn, according to three current and former officials.’
While Flynn and Russian Ambassador Kislyak have been identified as two of the parties in contact, “The identities of other Russian or Trump advisers who were in contact are being kept under wraps in intelligence reports due to privacy laws. If need be, US officials investigating the contacts could request that their identities be revealed.”
However, the report exposes at least one additional party who may have been privy to one or more of these conversations:
‘Sources told Reuters that one of the people Trump aides were in contact with was Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician. It was not clear with whom he spoke but the sources said the topics discussed were also about improving US-Russian cooperation. According to the report, Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter.
Medvedchuk unequivocally denied these claims, emphasizing the reality that, in some instances, you are either going to have to trust Russian-originated statements and reports, or not.
Medvedchuk, in an email response to Reuters, said, “I am not acquainted with any of Donald Trump’s close associates, therefore no such conversation could have taken place.”’
These pre-inauguration correspondences occurred between April and November of 2016. The roster of exactly who was communicating in these 18 instances besides Flynn, Kislyak, and potentially Medvedchuck may be revealed with time. After all, there are plenty of investigations into the matter; it is likely that more sources of contact will be revealed:
‘Three congressional committees, all led by Republicans, confirmed they wanted to hear from Comey, whose notes about a February meeting with the president indicate Trump urged him to drop the bureau’s investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Congressional investigators are seeking Comey’s memos, as well as documents from the Justice Department related to the firing.’
As far as the post-election contact, critics of Trump’s relationship with Russia will point to these passages from the new report:
‘In January 2017 the White House initially denied there was any contact with Russian officials during the campaign. However, since then administration officials have confirmed there were four meetings between advisers and Kislyak.’
This is not necessarily as damning as many, including most of the mainstream media, will portray it to be. There is no evidence that shows Donald Trump and his advisers not named Michael Flynn were aware that Flynn, and whoever the unnamed aides in the report may be, had been in contact with Russian officials prior to January 2017. Roll your eyes at the consideration that the President did not know what his underlings were up to, but the fact remains: there is no evidence that he was aware. In support of the idea that Trump was ignorant to Flynn’s dealings with Russia:
‘Flynn was fired in February after misleading Pence about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak.’
Again, critics may point out that Flynn’s pre-inauguration dealings with Russia had become public at this point, and that public and internal pressure to can Flynn was as pressing as ever. This is fair. But the possibility that Flynn’s dealings with Russia came as a genuine surprise to President Trump, prompting the firing, is also a possibility. The core question is whether Michael Flynn was the conduit for Trump’s true wishes or a rogue underling who knowingly engaged in questionable contact with Russia without the President’s approval. Depending on which you believe, then this passage is either damning evidence of Trump-Russian malintent or further proof that Michael Flynn had a personal vision of a relationship with Russia that circumvented traditional means:
‘Officials familiar with the material under review told Reuters that following Trump’s victory in the November 8 vote, Flynn and Kislyak discussed opening a line of communication between Trump and Putin that could “bypass the US national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations.”’
Whether or not you see the US national security bureaucracy as hostile to US-Russian relations or not, this is not a good look- particularly when the media is bending over backward to make connections between the current administration and Vladimir Putin which prove illegality and/or devious motives.
But ultimately, like most reports concerning potential collusion between Donald Trump himself and Russia, there is no smoking gun. Only facts that, when viewed in a certain light, could be seen as “proof” that “something” was going on between the Trump administration and Russia, both before and after the election commenced.
‘Officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity noted that they “had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.”’
No evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This is somebody who has reportedly seen transcripts of the 18 pre-election correspondences between Trump aides and Russian officials.
So, while this is interesting, and further evidence that Michael Flynn acted in a way that is suspicious, this report provides no proof of collusion.
And, as should be the case, further investigations into the matter will proceed. The question is, should evidence of collusion be uncovered or not, will these investigations ever end?