I can't write about the Trump Whitehouse in one blog post. There is way too fucking much information out there to discuss. So, I'll try and set up a more detailed post with this one first:
I want to state a few things regarding my expectations of Trump and the potential for cooperation and coordination with Russia.
1) I didn't like Trump then, and I sure as hell don't like him now. I voted for Hilary in the general, and Bernie in the primary. Neither candidate would be my ideal candidate, but I don't know anyone who would be. In any event, I was never on board with Trump being president. Having said that...
2) ...I hoped like hell his campaign didn't do anything regarding collusion and/or cooperation with Russia, nor did I hope Trump would fail as president. Either of these scenarios are damning to America's reputation, and the average American certainly doesn't win when its president fails. Expecting him to fail because he is utterly unqualified and clearly unfit, isn't the same as hoping and/or wanting failure.
3) I really thought the Russia story would never directly link to Trump, even though I believed Russia was doing nefarious things (DNC and RNC hacks for example). I honestly and sincerely thought in the run-up to and the days following the election, that the story would be Russia tried to interfere, but didn't directly coordinate or collude with Trump's camp. Don't get me wrong, I was on board with the analysis of our intelligence agencies at the time that concluded that Russia was behind things like the DNC hack. What I didn't think would be true is that Trump and his gaggle of wannabe mobsters would actually be stupid enough to try and con America right before the very eyes of the entire world, not to mention while right under the noses of the best intelligence agencies in the world who are literally looking around the clock for such nefarious activities from our enemies.
Life, as it turns out, is very often stranger than fiction, but I am getting ahead of myself. I am going to make this first part of the Trump Camp/WH/Russia story in 3 points. But, to start:
What were the first glimpses of something being amiss with respect to Trump?
The evidence came rather early in the whole process as it turns out. After all, it's pretty obviously interesting and noteworthy when someone begins to vehemently deny that which they were so proud of only a short time before and had been bragging about wanting to do for literally decades (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-business-sought-deal-on-a-trump-tower-in-moscow-while-he-ran-for-president/2017/08/27/d6e95114-8b65-11e7-91d5-ab4e4bb76a3a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1498dd88dd04). In fact, lies just like this regarding his business deals in Russia appear to have been the onus for Glen Simpson and Fusion GPS hiring Christopher Steele to put together his infamous dossier (and was also the reason he hired a second contractor who pursued Manafort's Ukrainian and Russian ties). You can confirm that if you like by reading through his testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-business-sought-deal-on-a-trump-tower-in-moscow-while-he-ran-for-president/2017/08/27/d6e95114-8b65-11e7-91d5-ab4e4bb76a3a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1498dd88dd04). These are extremely important points to get out of the way first, because people like Devin Nunes peddled the conspiracy for the longest time that the only reason the FBI's investigation into Trump's campaign began was because of the potential for a politically-motivated conspiracy started by the Democrats via the Steele Dossier. But the infamous memo that Nunes himself released, torpedoed that excuse when it admitted that the initial reason the FBI started its own investigation was because of a drunken campaign aide who couldn't keep his mouth shut (Papadopoulos tells Australian diplomat that Russia offered him dirt and emails on Hilary: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/us/politics/how-fbi-russia-investigation-began-george-papadopoulos.html). Furthermore, one can confirm via the Glenn Simpson testimony already linked, that Fusion GPS was contracted initially by GOP groups when it contracted Christopher Steele. The Democrats don't seek out the dossier until much later in the story, but it never had anything to do with the FBI starting or not starting an investigation anyways.
So, to spell out the 3 initial important facts in part I of my Trump blog post:
1) Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS saw serious reason for concern with respect to Trump after even only a few days of searching for publicly-available news online when they first started their opposition research. This led Simpson to seek out contractors to pursue leads and rumors to verify what was and wasn't likely to be true. And this all starts because GOP groups were seeking out opposition research on Trump while he was still only one of several GOP candidates. There is absolutely nothing odd about a political party doing opposition research on their own candidates. Anything that they find, their opponents are likely to find too. So, if you know what you're getting into in advance with respect to a specific candidate in the event that they win your party's nomination, all the better. The GOP doing this was a smart move, but only if they took the information and warning signs seriously. Hopefully it is clear that many of us do not believe that they did, but there may be an unfortunate explanation for that too (blackmail anybody? Quick power grab? Arrogance? I'll discuss later on and more in a subsequent blog post).
2) We already have listed confirmed evidence of lies by specific members of the Trump campaign and the GOP. For example, Nunes knew it was untrue that the FBI started its investigation because of the Steele dossier, his own memo confirms this to be a lie because his memo acknowledges the actual reason was a drunk Papadopoulos. Trump and his camp initially denied any and all contacts with any Russians, but we have 4 people directly connected with Trump who have either pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about having met with Russians or people directly connected to Russians (Flynn, Papadopoulos, Pinedo, Van Der Zwaan: https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/national-international/Guilty-Pleas-Muellers-Probe--475015953.html), or have later admitted to having "forgotten" about these conversations and/or the subject of the meetings/conversations (Sessions, Trump Jr., Manafort, just to name a few). Trump Jr and the NY tower meeting, is probably the best and most well-documented example with a well-documented follow-up that implicates Donald Trump in obstructing justice. We know Trump Jr knew that what was being offered was "dirt on Hilary" for that meeting with a lawyer directly connected to the Kremlin, and we also have confirmations that his initial lie about the meeting being about "Russian adoptions" was constructed in the presence of his father, if not dictated directly by him at least in part (this would be Trump engaging in obstruction of justice by helping dictate and/or encourage Trump Jr. to lie). Let's make a very generous assumption and assume that the reason that they all lied about all of these things was because they were afraid that their truly innocent conversations were for the benefit of all Americans. If this is the case, then why the hell would you hide and lie about it? Yes, I realize that the fear of being judged might be the excuse, but that is the reason for transparency and not covering things up. At the very least, it is stupid because getting caught in such situations will always lead people to assume the worst. Secondly, there is likely no way that they don't directly benefit from any of these lies with Russians and those connected to vast quantities of cash that they'd like to get their hands on (or already had gotten their hands on since Trump and Trump Jr. have acknowledged in the past that they get a lot of money from Russians and Russian banks: http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-jr-said-money-pouring-in-from-russia-2018-2). So, keeping it a secret was something they probably knew they would have to do in order to profit off of their political power, and that necessarily meant retroactively denying things they had previously mentioned, like having a lot of financial ties to Russia and mob-connected Russians. They thought they were smart enough to get away with it? I think so. I think that they believe that as long as they have enough support, and generate enough division, and generate enough distractions, the in-fighting among the American people will keep them distracted. I don't think Trump planned on firing Comey becoming such a big deal, and I certainly don't think he expected Mueller and the investigations to begin and progress so quickly. I don't know if the Trump camp thought they would get away with it in the long term, but I certainly think they believed they'd have a longer window to do whatever they wanted than they got.
3) One potentially extremely important detail mentioned casually thus far, is that the DNC were not the only ones hacked. The RNC was too. We know of no public disclosures from the RNC hack, which leads one to assume that information from it could still be used as blackmail. In addition to this, we know from video evidence that Cambridge Analytica (a firm hired by various GOP candidates, including Trump) is perfectly fine with illegal, unethical, and immoral tactics. They regularly collect and entrap politicians into blackmail for extortion purposes (admit this on tape: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/21/595470164/in-hidden-camera-expose-cambridge-analytica-executives-boast-of-role-in-trump-wi). Add onto this the growing list of Republicans and republican-leaning people in power who are retiring at the height of conservative power in the US (and maybe even in the western world considering the shift to the right in places like the UK with Brexit and the EU in general in the wake of the Great Recession. Brexit, as it turns out, may have also had its own Russian meddling and interference: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/10/russian-influence-brexit-vote-detailed-us-senate-report). People retiring isn't news in and of itself, but when people like Paul Ryan are retiring when they are in the 2nd most powerful position in the US government and their party has control of the House, Senate, and Whitehouse, one begins to wonder what would cause them to abandon the power that they have so desperately pursued over the course of their career? To me, the circumstantial evidence suggests that the core of the GOP is scared, and demoralized. Maybe it is in part because some of them are being blackmailed and directly extorted? Self-preservation is a strong instinct. Maybe some of them are afraid of what is happening to their party now that someone like Trump has assumed control? Maybe they realize that this spells political doom for them if they can't stomach backing Trump? Maybe some of them are sincerely trying to stand up for what they believe, and figure the best way of doing so is to remove the possibility that people will assume that they are only standing up and speaking out in order to get re-elected? Again, one can speculate wildly in the absence of direct evidence to validate one of these hypotheses, or some alternate explanation. People will assume the worst in the absence of direct evidence and with an abundance of circumstantial evidence. Patience may be a virtue, but it can also drive one mad when waiting on an explanation for such important issues.
The last point I want to make in Part I, is why I think Russia is doing any and/or all of this. For the moment, I will not assume direct conspiracy with Trump and his camp. Let's make the assumption (the very generous and likely not true assumption) that Russia was acting purely on its own without the direct knowledge or willing participation of any Americans of any political affiliation (in fact, revelations from investigations into ads and posts on social media sites, show that the Russians did indeed seek out and sow division among the general population as a way of exerting influence too). What does Russia gain from any of this? Was the goal to install a Russia-Friendly (even if not Russian-controlled) government and/or president? I think that would have been too optimistic for Russia, but even more importantly, Russia would certainly have settled for much less because they can still win in various ways. Allow me to explain.
If I asked to you list off the most powerful countries and international organizations in the world, you and I would likely list the same countries and organizations. We might differ on how we rank them, but we are likely to be mostly in agreement. The US, China, the EU, the UN, NATO, Russia, the Middle Eastern States, and the former Soviet States, all have more power and wealth (and military) than the vast majority of nations and organizations not listed. Because of this, anything that improves the relative ranking of Russia on the lists of the most powerful groups and people in the world, is a win for Putin and Russia. What I mean to say is that the primary way that countries like the US lose to Russia in the pursuit of international politics, is to become more divided and chaotic. Even over the last decade, Russia has continued to find ways to place itself in important and powerful positions related to the Middle East and North Korea, but now (thanks to Trump and Brexit) there are even more serious threats to western power and authority as even trade and defense agreements with our allies (NATO, NAFTA, etc) have had their futures cast in uncertainty. This was probably beyond Putin's most realistic dreams for what he could achieve. My guess is that Putin would have settled for Hilary being elected with a Republican-controlled Congress to maintain the do-nothing approach that the GOP adopted under Obama. Even in this scenario, Putin wins. Anything that maintains, or exacerbates, the division in the US and results in less progress on political and international issues, is a win for Putin. Putin didn't need someone like Trump to win in order to benefit, all he needed was to keep driving a wedge between the left and right in the US with the continued proliferation of propaganda. Putin and Russia have won a lot of victories in this ideological war if I am correct. The way to combat it, is to stop the stupid division and to get back to basic decent human civility.