Putin Attempts to Tip the Scales of a U.S. Presidential Election

With the release on Friday of 20,000 emails stolen from the DNC’s servers, the story about Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin have emerged from the shadows into the mainstream. Both Josh Marshall and Steve Benen have documented the growing evidence about that connection. Based on their lists, here’s a summary:

Financial ties – Marshall does a good job of laying out the fact that Trump’s debt load has grown dramatically and that he has increasingly looked to Russian oligarchs who are connected to Putin for investment funds. That is something Trump’s son stated openly.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Campaign advisors – It is pretty well-known by now that Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort “spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally.” In addition, Trump’s advisor on Russian and European affairs, Carter Page, is especially connected to Gazprom – Russia’s state-controlled oil industry.

Right-wing populist movements – As Franklin Foer documents, this has been a long-term Putin strategy.

There’s a clear pattern: Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO. He’s been a patron of Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary. Joe Biden warned about this effort last year in a speech at the Brookings Institution: “President Putin sees such political forces as useful tools to be manipulated, to create cracks in the European body politic which he can then exploit.” Ruptures that will likely multiply after Brexit—a campaign Russia’s many propaganda organs bombastically promoted.

Republican platform – As Tierney Sneed documented, the Trump campaign had very little interest in the debates about the Republican platform – except on one issue.

The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.

Support for NATO – Just last week Trump hedged on whether or not, as president, he would honor our NATO commitments. Here is Jeffrey Goldberg’s response:

I am arguing that Trump’s understanding of America’s role in the world aligns with Russia’s geostrategic interests; that his critique of American democracy is in accord with the Kremlin’s critique of American democracy; and that he shares numerous ideological and dispositional proclivities with Putin—for one thing, an obsession with the sort of “strength” often associated with dictators. Trump is making it clear that, as president, he would allow Russia to advance its hegemonic interests across Europe and the Middle East. His election would immediately trigger a wave of global instability—much worse than anything we are seeing today—because America’s allies understand that Trump would likely dismantle the post-World War II U.S.-created international order.

DNC email hack – Obviously someone hacked into the DNC server. Cyber-security experts suggest that the person(s) involved have ties to Russia.

Last month, the forensic firm CrowdStrike said two competing Russian intelligence hacker groups penetrated the DNC’s computers. In the past 24 hours, cybersecurity experts have said that the email cache released by WikiLeaks on Friday appears to have been given to the anti-secrecy group by Russian intelligence.

Thomas Rid, a professor at King’s College London, said in an interview that in a private chat on Twitter on Saturday, he communicated with the entity that claimed to have released the email cache to WikiLeaks.

The party, which calls itself Guccifer2, last month claimed responsibility for the DNC hack. Several independent analysts have concluded that Guccifer2, who claimed to be Romanian, is likely linked to Russia.

There is one more tie that has not been mentioned by Marshall, Benen or anyone else that I’ve read about this. When it comes to the documents from the DNC server that were leaked, the fact that they came through Wikileaks is also a significant part of the story. That is because Julian Assange – the founder and director of Wikileaks – has demonstrated close ties to Putin and Russia as well.

For example, in 2012, Assange was given his own talk show on Russia Today (RT) – which is described like this by Alessandra Stanley.

RT, first known as Russia Today, is an English-language news network created by the Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin in 2005 to promote the Kremlin line abroad. (It also broadcasts in Spanish and Arabic.) It’s like the Voice of America, only with more money and a zesty anti-American slant.

It is also true that when Edward Snowden was hiding in Hong Kong and trying to find a country that would give him asylum, it was Assange and staff members associated with Wikileaks who openly took credit for working with Russia to take him in.

None of this is evidence that Putin directly controls Trump. That is not the issue. But from start to finish what we are witnessing is an attempt by the Russian leader to use these connections to do what he can to influence U.S. policies and tip the scales of this election in favor of Donald Trump. To be honest, Putin has been relatively clumsy in covering his tracks, but the evidence will never have to pass muster in a court of law. It is simply obvious to any American voter who is actually paying attention.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .