The scandal over the phone call between Dictator Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has cast a shadow over relations between Washington and Kiev, at a time when American support is vital for Ukraine’s new administration.
The criminal episode appears to play right into the hands of Russia, which is still backing separatist militias in the east of the country in their war against Kiev. Russian involvement in Ukraine—the annexation of Crimea and support for the militias occupying the Donbas region—has severely damaged Moscow’s relations with the U.S. and its Western allies.
Any hint of a dispute between those in the pro-Ukraine coalition will be welcomed by President Vladimir Putin, as will any suggestion that the U.S. democratic system is corrupt or weak.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was less diplomatic. Known for often inflammatory remarks—particularly those related to the U.S.—joked that Russia would be very happy to see any sensitive information the White House saw fit to release. “The show must go on: Release the transcripts of conversations with NATO partners, with each other. The publication of speeches at closed CIA, FBI and Pentagon meetings seems highly valuable. Bring it all out!”
Oops! On second thought ….. Russia voiced hope Friday that the U.S. administration wouldn’t publish private conversations between the two nations’ presidents like it did with Ukraine.
Asked if Moscow is worried that the White House could similarly publish transcripts of Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “we would like to hope that it wouldn’t come to that in our relations, which are already troubled by a lot of problems.”
Speaking in a conference call with reporters, he emphasized that the publication of the Trump-Zelenskiy call is an internal U.S. issue, but added that it was “quite unusual” to release a confidential call between leaders.
“We are waiting for the party to continue,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “Let them publish transcripts of conversations between NATO allies. It would also be useful to publish minutes of closed meetings at the CIA, the FBI, and the Pentagon. Put it all on air!”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Donald Trump tried to “shakedown foreign leaders” and conceal it, undermining national security and forcing Congress to pursue his impeachment.
Russia and the NRA
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have released a report that sheds new light on efforts by the Russian government to forge bonds with the NRA in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, including previously unreported meetings between the former Russian ambassador and NRA leaders.
The 76-page report, titled “The NRA Russia: How a Tax-Exempt Organization Became a Foreign Asset” and released Friday, relies heavily on internal NRA documents obtained by Democratic committee investigators during their nearly two-year probe to reach its conclusions. The Senate Finance Committee oversees tax policy and related issues, including tax-exempt groups like the NRA. NRA emails and a calendar entry suggest that in November 2015 — one month before a delegation of NRA officials and supporters traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian oligarchs and high-level government officials — then-NRA president Allan Cors went hunting with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Former NRA president David Keene had suggested months earlier that Cors invite the ambassador to the “Grand National Waterfowl Hunt” in Maryland, a suggestion Cors responded to enthusiastically. “Dave: I was at the hunt many years ago. A great event. I concur with all of your ideas/suggestions and would welcome any opportunity to engage the ambassador with the NRA,” Cors said. An assistant to Cors later scheduled a “Hunt with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.”
By the time the hunt occurred, Kislyak had already met with Cors and Keene at NRA headquarters in Virginia, according to the report. The trio was scheduled to have lunch in May 2016 at the ambassador’s Washington, DC, residence as well, according to calendar entries the NRA provided to the committee. Kislyak became a focal point early in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference because of his contacts with members of then-candidate Donald Trump’s inner circle. The Senate report says Kislyak waged an “influence campaign to associate with NRA leadership” and that Cors “welcomed” it.
Senator Wyden said in a statement Friday that during the election, “Russian nationals effectively used the promise of lucrative personal business opportunities to capture the NRA and gain access to the American political system.” Wyden said his investigation, “as well as the mounting evidence of rampant self-dealing, indicate the NRA may have violated tax laws.”
In particular, Wyden pointed to the December 2015 trip to Moscow as evidence that the NRA might have broken the law. “This report lays out in great detail that the NRA lied about the 2015 delegation trip to Moscow,” Wyden said. “This was an official trip undertaken so NRA insiders could get rich—a clear violation of the principle that tax-exempt resources should not be used for personal benefit.”
The report claims that the NRA, which has sought to distance itself from Russia in the last year, was more involved in the trip, sponsored by Butina’s gun rights group than previously acknowledged. “The NRA trip was planned as a delegation of the NRA’s most senior officers and donors, including, initially, then-President Cors and his spouse,” the report says. “Russian organizers made clear the trip was planned to bring the ‘head of the most powerful political organization in America’ to Moscow and that the delegation needed to include senior NRA leadership or the trip would not take place. Trip participants relied on NRA professional staff, funding and resources to execute their travel.”