Trump’s Russian romance started with the old Soviet Union back in the 80’s

In 1987, a young real estate developer traveled to the Soviet Union. The KGB almost certainly made the trip happen

It was 1984 and General Vladimir Alexandrovich Kryuchkov had a problem. The general occupied one of the KGB’s most exalted posts. He was head of the First Chief Directorate, the prestigious KGB arm responsible for gathering foreign intelligence.

Kryuchkov had begun his career with five years at the Soviet mission in Budapest under Ambassador Yuri Andropov. In 1967 Andropov became KGB chairman. Kryuchkov went to Moscow, took up a number of sensitive posts, and established a reputation as a devoted and hardworking officer. By 1984, Kryuchkov’s directorate in Moscow was bigger than ever before—12,000 officers, up from about 3,000 in the 1960s. His headquarters at Yasenevo, on the wooded southern outskirts of the city, was expanding: Workmen were busy constructing a 22-story annex and a new 11-story building.

In politics, change was in the air. Soon a new man would arrive in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s policy of detente with the West—a refreshing contrast to the global confrontation of previous general secretaries—meant the directorate’s work abroad was more important than ever.

Kryuchkov faced several challenges. First, a hawkish president, Ronald Reagan, was in power in Washington. The KGB regarded his two predecessors, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as weak. By contrast Reagan was seen as a potent adversary. The directorate was increasingly preoccupied with what it believed—wrongly—was an American plot to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike against the USSR.

It was around this time that Donald Trump appears to have attracted the attention of Soviet intelligence. How that happened, and where that relationship began, is an answer hidden somewhere in the KGB’s secret archives. Assuming, that is, that the documents still exist.

Trump’s first visit to Soviet Moscow in 1987 looks, with hindsight, to be part of a pattern. The dossier by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele asserts that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for “at least five years” before his stunning victory in the 2016 US presidential election. This would take us back to around 2011 or 2012.

In fact, the Soviet Union was interested in him too, three decades earlier. The top level of the Soviet diplomatic service arranged his 1987 Moscow visit. With assistance from the KGB. It took place while Kryuchkov was seeking to improve the KGB’s operational techniques in one particular and sensitive area. The spy chief wanted KGB staff abroad to recruit more Americans.

In addition to shifting politics in Moscow, Kryuchkov’s difficulty had to do with intelligence gathering. The results from KGB officers abroad had been disappointing. Too often they would pretend to have obtained information from secret sources. In reality, they had recycled material from newspapers or picked up gossip over lunch with a journalist. Too many residencies had “paper agents” on their books: targets for recruitment who had nothing to do with real intelligence.

Kryuchkov sent out a series of classified memos to KGB heads of station. Oleg Gordievsky—formerly based in Denmark and then in Great Britain—copied them and passed them to British intelligence. He later co-published them with the historian Christopher Andrew under the title Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations 1975–1985.

In January 1984 Kryuchkov addressed the problem during a biannual review held in Moscow, and at a special conference six months later. The urgent subject: how to improve agent recruitment. The general urged his officers to be more “creative.” Previously they had relied on identifying candidates who showed ideological sympathy toward the USSR: leftists, trade unionists and so on. By the mid-1980s these were not so many. So KGB officers should “make bolder use of material incentives”: money. And use flattery, an important tool.

The Center, as KGB headquarters was known, was especially concerned about its lack of success in recruiting US citizens, according to Andrew and Gordievsky. The PR Line—that is, the Political Intelligence Department stationed in KGB residencies abroad—was given explicit instructions to find “U.S. targets to cultivate or, at the very least, official contacts.” “The main effort must be concentrated on acquiring valuable agents,” Kryuchkov said.

The memo—dated February 1, 1984—was to be destroyed as soon as its contents had been read. It said that despite improvements in “information gathering,” the KGB “has not had great success in operation against the main adversary [America].”

One solution was to make wider use of “the facilities of friendly intelligence services”—for example, Czechoslovakian or East German spy networks.

And: “Further improvement in operational work with agents calls for fuller and wider utilization of confidential and special unofficial contacts. These should be acquired chiefly among prominent figures in politics and society, and important representatives of business and science.” These should not only “supply valuable information” but also “actively influence” a country’s foreign policy “in a direction of advantage to the USSR.”

There were, of course, different stages of recruitment. Typically, a case officer would invite a target to lunch. The target would be classified as an “official contact.” If the target appeared responsive, he (it was rarely she) would be promoted to a “subject of deep study,” an obyekt razrabotki. The officer would build up a file, supplemented by official and covert material. That might include readouts from conversations obtained through bugging by the KGB’s technical team.

The KGB also distributed a secret personality questionnaire, advising case officers what to look for in a successful recruitment operation. In April 1985 this was updated for “prominent figures in the West.” The directorate’s aim was to draw the target “into some form of collaboration with us.” This could be “as an agent, or confidential or special or unofficial contact.”

The form demanded basic details—name, profession, family situation, and material circumstances. There were other questions, too: what was the likelihood that the “subject could come to power (occupy the post of president or prime minister)”? And an assessment of personality. For example: “Are pride, arrogance, egoism, ambition or vanity among subject’s natural characteristics?”

The most revealing section concerned kompromat. The document asked for: “Compromising information about subject, including illegal acts in financial and commercial affairs, intrigues, speculation, bribes, graft … and exploitation of his position to enrich himself.” Plus “any other information” that would compromise the subject before “the country’s authorities and the general public.” Naturally the KGB could exploit this by threatening “disclosure.”

Finally, “his attitude towards women is also of interest.” The document wanted to know: “Is he in the habit of having affairs with women on the side?”

Image result for Ivanka's mom

Ivana Zelnickova and Ivanka

When did the KGB open a file on Donald Trump? We don’t know, but Eastern Bloc security service records suggest this may have been as early as 1977. That was the year when Trump married Ivana Zelnickova, a twenty-eight-year-old model from Czechoslovakia. Zelnickova was a citizen of a communist country. She was therefore of interest both to the Czech intelligence service, the StB, and to the FBI and CIA.

During the Cold War, Czech spies were known for their professionalism. Czech and Hungarian officers were typically used in espionage actions abroad, especially in the United States and Latin America. They were less obvious than Soviet operatives sent by Moscow.

Zelnickova was born in Zlin, an aircraft manufacturing town in Moravia. Her first marriage was to an Austrian real estate agent. In the early 1970s she moved to Canada, first to Toronto and then to Montreal, to be with a ski instructor boyfriend. Exiting Czechoslovakia during this period was, the files said, “incredibly difficult.” Zelnickova moved to New York. In April 1977 she married Trump.

According to files in Prague, declassified in 2016, Czech spies kept a close eye on the couple in Manhattan. (The agents who undertook this task were code-named Al Jarza and Lubos.) They opened letters sent home by Ivana to her father, Milos, an engineer. Milos was never an agent or asset. But he had a functional relationship with the Czech secret police, who would ask him how his daughter was doing abroad and in return permit her visits home. There was periodic surveillance of the Trump family in the United States. And when Ivana and Donald Trump, Jr., visited Milos in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, further spying, or “cover.”

Like with other Eastern Bloc agencies, the Czechs would have shared their intelligence product with their counterparts in Moscow, the KGB. Trump may have been of interest for several reasons. One, his wife came from Eastern Europe. Two—at a time after 1984 when the Kremlin was experimenting with perestroika, or Communist Party reform—Trump had a prominent profile as a real estate developer and tycoon. According to the Czech files, Ivana mentioned her husband’s growing interest in politics. Might Trump at some stage consider a political career?

The KGB wouldn’t invite someone to Moscow out of altruism. Dignitaries flown to the USSR on expenses-paid trips were typically left-leaning writers or cultural figures. The state would expend hard currency; the visitor would say some nice things about Soviet life; the press would report these remarks, seeing in them a stamp of approval.

Despite Gorbachev’s policy of engagement, he was still a Soviet leader. The KGB continued to view the West with deep suspicion. It carried on with efforts to subvert Western institutions and acquire secret sources, with NATO its No. 1 strategic intelligence target.

At this point it is unclear how the KGB regarded Trump. To become a full KGB agent, a foreigner had to agree to two things. (An “agent” in a Russian or British context was a secret intelligence source.) One was “conspiratorial collaboration.” The other was willingness to take KGB instruction.

According to Andrew and Gordievsky’s book Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, targets who failed to meet these criteria were classified as “confidential contacts.” The Russian word was doveritelnaya svyaz. The aspiration was to turn trusted contacts into full-blown agents, an upper rung of the ladder.

As Kryuchkov explained, KGB residents were urged to abandon “stereotyped methods” of recruitment and use more flexible strategies—if necessary getting their wives or other family members to help.

As Trump tells it, the idea for his first trip to Moscow came after he found himself seated next to the Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin. This was in autumn 1986; the event was a luncheon held by Leonard Lauder, the businessman son of Estée Lauder. Dubinin’s daughter Natalia “had read about Trump Tower and knew all about it,” Trump said in his 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal.

Trump continued: “One thing led to another, and now I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government.”

Trump’s chatty version of events is incomplete. According to Natalia Dubinina, the actual story involved a more determined effort by the Soviet government to seek out Trump. In February 1985 Kryuchkov complained again about “the lack of appreciable results of recruitment against the Americans in most Residencies.” The ambassador arrived in New York in March 1986. His original job was Soviet ambassador to the U.N.; his daughter Dubinina was already living in the city with her family, and she was part of the Soviet U.N. delegation.

Dubinin wouldn’t have answered to the KGB. And his role wasn’t formally an intelligence one. But he would have had close contacts with the power apparatus in Moscow. He enjoyed greater trust than other, lesser ambassadors.

Dubinina said she picked up her father at the airport. It was his first time in New York City. She took him on a tour. The first building they saw was Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, she told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. Dubinin was so excited he decided to go inside to meet the building’s owner. They got into the elevator. At the top, Dubinina said, they met Trump.

The ambassador—“fluent in English and a brilliant master of negotiations”—charmed the busy Trump, telling him: “The first thing I saw in the city is your tower!”

Dubinina said: “Trump melted at once. He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive. He needs recognition. And, of course, when he gets it he likes it. My father’s visit worked on him [Trump] like honey to a bee.”

This encounter happened six months before the Estée Lauder lunch. In Dubinina’s account she admits her father was trying to hook Trump. The man from Moscow wasn’t a wide-eyed rube but a veteran diplomat who served in France and Spain, and translated for Nikita Khrushchev when he met with Charles de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace in Paris. He had seen plenty of impressive buildings. Weeks after his first Trump meeting, Dubinin was named Soviet ambassador to Washington.

Dubinina’s own role is interesting. According to a foreign intelligence archive smuggled to the West, the Soviet mission to the U.N. was a haven for the KGB and GRU (Soviet military intelligence). Many of the 300 Soviet nationals employed at the U.N. secretariat were Soviet intelligence officers working undercover, including as personal assistants to secretary-generals. The Soviet U.N. delegation had greater success in finding agents and gaining political intelligence than the KGB’s New York residency.

Dubinin’s other daughter, Irina, said that her late father—he died in 2013—was on a mission as ambassador. This was, she said, to make contact with America’s business elite. For sure, Gorbachev’s Politburo was interested in understanding capitalism. But Dubinin’s invitation to Trump to visit Moscow looks like a classic cultivation exercise, which would have had the KGB’s full support and approval.

In The Art of the Deal, Trump writes: “In January 1987, I got a letter from Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, that began: ‘It is a pleasure for me to relay some good news from Moscow.’ It went on to say that the leading Soviet state agency for international tourism, Goscomintourist, had expressed interest in pursuing a joint venture to construct and manage a hotel in Moscow.”

There were many ambitious real estate developers in the United States—why had Moscow picked Trump?

According to Viktor Suvorov—a former GRU military spy—and others, the KGB ran Intourist, the agency to which Trump referred. It functioned as a subsidiary KGB branch. Initiated in 1929 by Stalin, Intourist was the Soviet Union’s official state travel agency. Its job was to vet and monitor all foreigners coming into the Soviet Union. “In my time it was KGB,” Suvorov said. “They gave permission for people to visit.” The KGB’s first and second directorates routinely received lists of prospective visitors to the country based on their visa applications.

As a GRU operative, Suvorov was personally involved in recruitment, albeit for a rival service to the KGB. Soviet spy agencies were always interested in cultivating “young ambitious people,” he said—an upwardly mobile businessman, a scientist, a “guy with a future.”

Once in Moscow, they would receive lavish hospitality. “Everything is free. There are good parties with nice girls. It could be a sauna and girls and who knows what else.” The hotel rooms or villa were under “24-hour control,” with “security cameras and so on,” Suvorov said. “The interest is only one. To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future.”

These dirty-tricks operations were all about the long term, Suvorov said. The KGB would expend effort on visiting students from the developing world, not least Africa. After 10 or 20 years, some of them would be “nobody.” But others would have risen to positions of influence in their own countries.

Suvorov explained: “It’s at this point you say: ‘Knock, knock! Do you remember the marvelous time in Moscow? It was a wonderful evening. You were so drunk. You don’t remember? We just show you something for your good memory.’”

Over in the communist German Democratic Republic, one of Kryuchkov’s 34-year-old officers—one Vladimir Putin—was busy trying to recruit students from Latin America. Putin arrived in Dresden in August 1985, together with his pregnant wife, Lyudmila, and one-year-old daughter, Maria. They lived in a KGB apartment block.

According to the writer Masha Gessen, one of Putin’s tasks was to try to befriend foreigners studying at the Dresden University of Technology. The hope was that, if recruited, the Latin Americans might work in the United States as undercover agents, reporting back to the Center. Putin set about this together with two KGB colleagues and a retired Dresden policeman

Precisely what Putin did while working for the KGB’s First Directorate in Dresden is unknown. It may have included trying to recruit Westerners visiting Dresden on business and East Germans with relatives in the West. Putin’s efforts, Gessen suggests, were mostly a failure. He did manage to recruit a Colombian student. Overall his operational results were modest.

By January 1987, Trump was closer to the “prominent person” status of Kryuchkov’s note. Dubinin deemed Trump interesting enough to arrange his trip to Moscow. Another thirtysomething U.S.-based Soviet diplomat, Vitaly Churkin—the future U.N. ambassador—helped put it together. On July 4, 1987, Trump flew to Moscow for the first time, together with Ivana and Lisa Calandra, Ivana’s Italian-American assistant.

Moscow was, Trump wrote, “an extraordinary experience.” The Trumps stayed in Lenin’s suite at the National Hotel, at the bottom of Tverskaya Street, near Red Square. Seventy years earlier, in October 1917, Lenin and his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, had spent a week in room 107. The hotel was linked to the glass-and-concrete Intourist complex next door and was— in effect—under KGB control. The Lenin suite would have been bugged.

Meanwhile, the mausoleum containing the Bolshevik leader’s embalmed corpse was a short walk away. Other Soviet leaders were interred beneath the Kremlin’s wall in a communist pantheon: Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov—Kryuchkov’s old mentor—and Dzerzhinsky.

According to The Art of the Deal, Trump toured “a half dozen potential sites for a hotel, including several near Red Square.” “I was impressed with the ambition of Soviet officials to make a deal,” he writes. He also visited Leningrad, later St. Petersburg. A photo shows Donald and Ivana standing in Palace Square—he in a suit, she in a red polka dot blouse with a string of pearls. Behind them are the Winter Palace and the state Hermitage museum.

That July the Soviet press wrote enthusiastically about the visit of a foreign celebrity. This was Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel Prize–winning novelist and journalist. Pravda featured a long conversation between the Colombian guest and Gorbachev. García Márquez spoke of how South Americans, himself included, sympathized with socialism and the USSR. Moscow brought García Márquez over for a film festival.

Trump’s visit appears to have attracted less attention. There is no mention of him in Moscow’s Russian State Library newspaper archive. (Either his visit went unreported or any articles featuring it have been quietly removed.) Press clippings do record a visit by a West German official and an Indian cultural festival.

The KGB’s private dossier on Trump, by contrast, would have gotten larger. The agency’s multipage profile would have been enriched with fresh material, including anything gleaned via eavesdropping.

Nothing came of the trip—at least nothing in terms of business opportunities inside Russia. This pattern of failure would be repeated in Trump’s subsequent trips to Moscow. But Trump flew back to New York with a new sense of strategic direction. For the first time he gave serious indications that he was considering a career in politics. Not as mayor or governor or senator.

Trump was thinking about running for president.

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/19/trump-first-moscow-trip-215842

Luke Harding is a foreign correspondent at the Guardian. Excerpted from the book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win published by Vintage Books, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright 2017 by Luke Harding.

Advertisements

New Trump talking point: Russian investigation insults Putin and may cost “millions of lives”

Trump believes Putin on Russia meddling and says Mueller may cost lives

Trump with his “bestie” at APEC

Donald Trump said on Saturday he believes Vladmir Putin’s denials of Russian involvement in the manipulation of the 2016 presidential election.

After a brief meeting with the Russian leader on the margins of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Vietnam, Trump launched a tirade against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin.

The investigation could cost “millions and millions of lives”, Trump claimed, by hindering agreement with Moscow over conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and a looming confrontation with North Korea.

The president’s remarks, made to reporters as Air Force One flew to Hanoi from Da Nang, represented his open disregard for the views of US intelligence agencies. They have concluded that Russia did interfere in multiple ways in the 2016 election, with the aim of helping Trump’s candidacy.

The president suggested he put more faith in Putin’s word.

“Every time he sees me he says ‘I didn’t do that’ and I really believe that when he tells me that,” Trump said. “He really seems to be insulted by it and he says he didn’t do it. He is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he has nothing to do with that.”

The president described the investigation led by Mueller, a former FBI director appointed by Trump’s own justice department, as “Democrat-inspired” and a “hit job”.

Trump also claimed the investigation was preventing a normalisation of relations with Putin and therefore could cost countless lives around the world. He suggested Russia was not helping more to persuade Pyongyang to disarm “because of the lack of the relationship that we have with Russia, because of this artificial thing that’s happening with this Democratic-inspired thing”.

“I think [Putin] is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country. Because again, if we had a relationship with Russia, North Korea which is our single biggest problem right now, it would help a lot,” he said.

“You know you are talking about millions and millions of lives,” Trump said, adding that good relations with Moscow were also vital to resolving other conflicts.

“When we can save many, many, many lives by making a deal with Russia having to do with Syria, and then ultimately getting Syria solved, and getting Ukraine solved, and doing other things, having a good relationship with Russia is a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way. It gets in the way. And that’s a shame. Because people will die because of it, and it’s a pure hit job, and it’s artificially induced and that’s shame.”

After Trump’s comments, Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, posted a tweet saying current CIA leadership agreed with the general intelligence community assessment about Russian interference in the election.

“CIA just told me: the [director] stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” he wrote. “The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.

Trump met Putin briefly on three occasions at Da Nang, having scheduled no formal meetings with him during the summit. The two exchanged a jovial handshake at the gala dinner on Friday and stood next to one another in a “family photo” of leaders on Saturday.

The US press pool including photographers were blocked from covering the day’s events, including the Trump-Putin meetings. Only Fox News and the official White House photographer were granted access.

Putin dismissed accusations Moscow meddled in the US election as “fantasies” intended to undermine Trump. “Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the US is a manifestation of continuing domestic political struggle,” he said.

Putin was asked if he had followed the mounting investigation into alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign team and Russians, including a woman who claimed to be Putin’s niece.

“Regarding some sort of connections of my relatives with members of the administration or some officials,” he said, “I only found out about that yesterday from [his spokesman Dmitry] Peskov.”

He also said: “I don’t know anything about [the investigation]. I think these are some sort of fantasies.”

The two leaders produced a joint statement on Syria, restating their determination to defeat Islamic State and their desire for a United Nations-brokered solution.

“It’s going to save tremendous numbers of lives and we did it very quickly, we agreed very quickly,” Trump said.

The statement lists longstanding areas of agreement between the US and Russia on the importance of reviving mostly dormant UN-mediated negotiations known as the Geneva process, which envisages constitutional reform and free elections. In the past, Washington has disagreed with Moscow on how the process should be carried out and what role Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad would play.

Assad’s forces, with Russian and Iranian support, have been gaining ground. The Syrian president has consequently shown little real interest in a peace deal. Asked if Russia would be able to bring Assad to the table, a state department official, quoted on CNN, said: “We’re going to be testing that, we’re going to find out.”

Trump renewed his assault on the Mueller investigation at a time when it is making significant advances, each time a step closer to the president. His former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and a senior fundraiser have been indicted for money laundering and conspiring to defraud the authorities.

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is under investigation. His lawyer on Friday denied a report that he had negotiations with Turkish representatives about kidnapping a dissident cleric living in the US.

A former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, has pleaded guilty to perjury about his contacts with Russian surrogates and officials. Although he personally announced Papadopoulos’s hiring in March 2016, describing him as “an excellent guy”, since the guilty plea was made public the president has said he was a “young, low-level volunteer” who “few people knew”.

However, court papers show Papadopoulos was in frequent contact with senior campaign staff, mostly about plans to bring Trump and Putin together. He met a UK foreign office minister, Tobias Ellwood, at the UN in September 2016. The New York Times reported on Saturday that Papadopoulos helped edit a major foreign policy speech in April of that year, and that one of the officials he was in touch with was Stephen Miller, still one of Trump’s closest advisers.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/11/putin-and-trump-want-political-solution-to-syria-conflict-kremlin-says

Russians here and Russians there, more confirmation of the Steele dossier

Carter Page’s bizarre testimony before the House Intelligence Committee supported some key elements of the infamous dossier compiled by a former British spy.

The former foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign told lawmakers last week about his visits to Russia before and after the election, when he met with government and business leaders, reported Business Insider.

Page confirmed he had emailed campaign adviser J.D. Gordon July 8, 2016, from Moscow — on a trip approved by former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — to say he had gotten “incredible insights and outreach from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here.”

That seems to confirm findings by former British spy Christopher Steele, who reported in his dossier that “official close to Presidential Administration Head, S. Ivanov, confided in a compatriot that a senior colleague in the Internal Political Department of the PA, Divyekin (nfd) also had met secretly with Page on his recent visit.”

According to Steele’s source, Diveykin told Page the Kremlin had damaging information on Hillary Clinton that they wanted to turn over to the Trump campaign.

Page denied meeting with Diveykin and told the committee that “senior members of the presidential administration,” as described in his email, was actually just a brief chat with deputy Prime Minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich.

He also claimed his reference to legislators meant only a few people shaking his hands in passing during the trip.

Page also confirmed that he “possibly” had contacted the head of investor relations at the Russian oil company Rosneft in advance of his July 2016 visit.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the committee’s ranking Democrat, pointed out that Rosneft’s CEO, Igor Sechin, was under U.S. sanctions as part of the Magnitsky Act.

A U.S. intelligence source claimed in September 2016 that Page met with Sechin, who raised the issue of lifting those sanctions after the election.

A Russian source told Steele that Sechin and Page held a secret meeting to discuss “the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.”

Steele alleged that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for getting U.S. sanctions lifted against oligarchs close to Russian president Vladmir Putin.

Page denied “directly” expressing support for lifting sanctions, but he admitted

that Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations, “may have briefly mentioned” the sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft in July.

A 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft changed hands in December under mysterious circumstances, and Page returned to Moscow the day after the deal was signed to meet with “some top managers” at the company.

He has denied meeting with Sechin while there, but agrees it would have been “a great honor.”

also

J.D. Gordon Quote from NBC news “ I discouraged Carter from taking the trip to Moscow in the first place because it was a bad idea. Since I refused to forward his speech request form for approval, he eventually went around me directly to campaign leadership

That unregulated reservoir of money we call Russia almost certainly elected Trump

Russia almost certainly made Donald Trump president — and here’s how we know

Many Americans are unhappy about President Donald Trump’s decisions, but defenders of his administration dismiss these criticisms as irrelevant. Elections have consequences, they argue. Trump promised to change Washington when he was on the campaign trail. Voters liked what he said, and now the President is delivering on those promises. Get over it, critics. Trump won. Clinton lost.

This argument in defense of Trump’s leadership sounded more compelling immediately after the election than it does now. New evidence has surfaced in recent months that suggests Trump may not have won the 2016 race primarily because he offered voters a more appealing message than the Democratic candidate. The Kremlin backed numerous communications on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube that boosted Donald Trump’s campaign with words and images that damaged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Russian agents appreciated a condition of modern-day electioneering that many politicians, journalists, and citizens in the United States fail to recognize adequately when assessing the results of presidential elections. Russia’s meddlers understood that voters are not simply influenced by the good works a candidate promises to perform. Voters’ decisions are influenced to a considerable degree by strongly negative impressions they have about an opposing candidate’s personality, behavior, and ideas.

In the light of newly released details about Russia’s manipulation of the Internet, pundits who seek “lessons” from the 2016 presidential election should question some of their favored interpretations. When trying to explain why Trump won a very close election, they typically cite the Republican candidate’s promises to “Make America Great Again” and create “good jobs,” his nostalgic references to America’s past, his image as a successful businessman and Washington outsider, and his appeals to ordinary Americans, including white men. They point out, as well, that Hillary Clinton was not an ideal candidate. She lacked the political charisma of her husband. Mrs. Clinton also failed to heed the message that James Carville emphasized during her husband’s successful 1992 campaign – Americans care about “the economy, stupid.”

Trump’s messaging and Clinton’s shortcomings were factors in the outcome, of course. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton attracted almost three million more votes than Trump, and her loss can be traced largely to Trump’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by a combined total of less than 80,000 votes. Absent Russia’s abundant messages spreading across the Internet, Hillary Clinton would likely be handling the nation’s affairs now in the Oval Office.

The reach of that foreign-based propaganda was impressive. The Internet Research Agency, an organization linked to the Kremlin, reached 126 million users of Facebook. Many of its communications aimed to undermine confidence in Hillary Clinton. Russian agents published more than 1.4 million election-related tweets. Those messages received 288 million views. Russia’s intervention resulted in the publication of more than 120,000 images on Instagram, the photo-sharing platform, and it produced more than 1000 ads on YouTube. Americans who liked these messages passed them on to friends. Agents associated with the Kremlin exploited Internet freedom brilliantly during America’s 2016 election campaign. The Internet remained a free-wheeling, largely unregulated communications network. It did not require sponsors of political messages to identify themselves, as television advertising required.

We should not be surprised that Russians sought to boost Trump’s chances principally by circulating negative impressions of Hillary Clinton rather than positive judgments about Donald Trump. In recent decades, American campaign advertising has accentuated the negative rather than the positive. Strategists recognized that efforts to demonize the opposition can pay off handsomely. The negative approach has been especially evident since the 1988 presidential race. This was not a new trend, of course. The 1800 presidential campaigns involving Thomas Jefferson and John Adams featured plenty of nasty personal attacks, and similar practices affected later presidential contests. Since 1988, though, both major parties put this strategy on steroids.

Republican leaders were nervous in late May of 1988. Democrat Michael Dukakis was far ahead of the President George H. W. Bush in the polls. GOP strategists decided to respond with hard-hitting attack ads against the Democratic candidate. They branded Dukakis as a Massachusetts “liberal” and portrayed him as weak on national defense. “Willie Horton” ads also wrecked Dukakis’s image. They drew attention to a Massachusetts furlough program that allowed the temporary release of state prisoners. Horton, an African American and convicted murderer, committed assault, armed robbery and rape at the time of his furlough. Michael Dukakis made numerous mistakes, but the GOP’s powerful assault on his character and leadership hurt even more. George H. W. Bush overcame Dukakis’s initial advantages, winning the electoral college by a whopping count of 426 to 111. President Bush’s turnaround in the 1988 contest delivered a poignant message. Efforts to promote frightening characterizations of the opposing candidate can make an impact on voters’ opinions.

Negative advertising helped Republicans in the close presidential contest of 2004. Democrats seemed to have a good chance for victory when they nominated John Kerry, an articulate, rugged-looking, war veteran who received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Combat V and Three Purple Hearts for military service in Vietnam. But Kerry went down to defeat, in large part because of the way Republican strategists portrayed him – as a tax-raising, flip-flopping wimp. An attack group finished off the wounded Kerry by claiming that he lied about his achievements in Vietnam.

Democrats gained leverage in 1992 and 2012 by employing attack strategies. In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign suggested President George H. W. Bush was out of touch with ordinary people. Democrats blamed President Bush for the hard times Americans experienced during a recession. In 2012 Barack Obama’s team quickly defined the character of Mitt Romney for voters before Romney had a chance to make his case. Democrats portrayed Romney as an aloof millionaire who did not truly care about average people. Romney viewed corporations as “people,” Democrats stressed, and they drew attention to Romney’s video-recorded claim that 47% of American voters “are dependent on the government” and “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”

It is difficult for political analysts and citizens to revise their familiar narrative about lessons drawn from political campaigns, including their conclusions about the 2016 election. When discussing the reasons for victory or defeat, they give primary weight to the appeal of individual personalities and the candidates’ promises to improve voters’ lives. Commentators stress the importance of a candidate’s likeability and communication skills. But the latest evidence of extensive meddling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube suggests that analysts need to think differently when assessing election results in the years to come. The winning candidate’s personality and message do not always establish the winning margin. Quite often, negative characterizations serve as keys to victory.

Debates about the reasons for Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss will continue to animate conversations for a long time, but new evidence supports an astonishing judgment. Hillary Clinton probably would have won – in fact, she might have won handily and benefited the candidacy of Democrats for the House and Senate – if Russian interference had not created strong doubts about her character and competence.

Russia almost certainly made Donald Trump president — and here’s how we know

Robert Brent Toplin is Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Toplin was also professor at Denison University and recently has taught occasional courses at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books about film, history, and politics and has commented on history in several nationally broadcast radio and television programs. Contact: Rt2b@virginia.edu.
This article was originally published at History News Network

As Trump goes apoplectic; is he looking for a scapegoat at the White House

Is the stage being set to throw Jared Kushner under the bus for the Russian collusion fiasco? On Monday the big news was foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos cutting a deal with Mueller. Papadopoulos reportedly clear everything he did with Russians with a “senior” policy advisor, was that Kushner? Recently it has also been noticed that Ivanka has all but disappeared from photos of the inner circle. So is Jared being set up for being the fall guy? -TE

After Monday’s indictments, the president blamed Jared Kushner for Mueller

Until now, Robert Mueller has haunted Donald Trump’s White House as a hovering, mostly unseen menace. But by securing indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and a surprise guilty plea from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Mueller announced loudly that the Russia investigation poses an existential threat to the president. “Here’s what Manafort’s indictment tells me: Mueller is going to go over every financial dealing of Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg. “Trump is at 33 percent in Gallup. You can’t go any lower. He’s fucked.”

The first charges in the Mueller probe have kindled talk of what the endgame for Trump looks like, according to conversations with a half-dozen advisers and friends of the president. For the first time since the investigation began, the prospect of impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome and not just a liberal fever dream. According to a source, advisers in the West Wing are on edge and doing whatever they can not to be ensnared. One person close to Dina Powell and Gary Cohn said they’re making sure to leave rooms if the subject of Russia comes up.

The consensus among the advisers I spoke to is that Trump faces few good options to thwart Mueller. For one, firing Mueller would cross a red line, analogous to Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox during Watergate, pushing establishment Republicans to entertain the possibility of impeachment. “His options are limited, and his instinct is to come out swinging, which won’t help things,” said a prominent Republican close to the White House.

Trump, meanwhile, has reacted to the deteriorating situation by lashing out on Twitter and venting in private to friends. He’s frustrated that the investigation seems to have no end in sight. “Trump wants to be critical of Mueller,” one person who’s been briefed on Trump’s thinking says. “He thinks it’s unfair criticism. Clinton hasn’t gotten anything like this. And what about Tony Podesta? Trump is like, When is that going to end?” According to two sources, Trump has complained to advisers about his legal team for letting the Mueller probe progress this far. Speaking to Steve Bannon on Tuesday, Trump blamed Jared Kushner for his role in decisions, specifically the firings of Mike Flynn and James Comey, that led to Mueller’s appointment, according to a source briefed on the call. When Roger Stone recently told Trump that Kushner was giving him bad political advice, Trump agreed, according to someone familiar with the conversation. “Jared is the worst political adviser in the White House in modern history,” Nunberg said. “I’m only saying publicly what everyone says behind the scenes at Fox News, in conservative media, and the Senate and Congress.” (The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.)

As Mueller moves to interview West Wing aides in the coming days, advisers are lobbying for Trump to consider a range of stratagems to neutralize Mueller, from conciliation to a declaration of all-out war. One Republican explained Trump’s best chance for survival is to get his poll numbers up. Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb has been advocating the view that playing ball will lead to a quick resolution (Cobb did not respond to a request for comment). But these soft-power approaches are being criticized by Trump allies including Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, who both believe establishment Republicans are waiting for a chance to impeach Trump. “The establishment has proven time and time again they will fuck Trump over,” a Bannon ally told me.

In a series of phone calls with Trump on Monday and Tuesday, Bannon told the president to shake up the legal team by installing an aggressive lawyer above Cobb, according to two sources briefed on the call. Bannon has also discussed ways to pressure Congress to defund Mueller’s investigation or limit its scope. “Mueller shouldn’t be allowed to be a clean shot on goal,” a Bannon confidant told me. “He must be contested and checked. Right now he has unchecked power.”

Bannon’s sense of urgency is being fueled by his belief that Trump’s hold on power is slipping. The collapse of Obamacare repeal, and the dimming chances that tax reform will pass soon—many Trump allies are deeply pessimistic about its prospects—have created the political climate for establishment Republicans to turn on Trump. Two weeks ago, according to a source, Bannon did a spitball analysis of the Cabinet to see which members would remain loyal to Trump in the event the 25th Amendment were invoked, thereby triggering a vote to remove the president from office. Bannon recently told people he’s not sure if Trump would survive such a vote. “One thing Steve wants Trump to do is take this more seriously,” the Bannon confidant told me. “Stop joking around. Stop tweeting.”

Roger Stone believes defunding Mueller isn’t enough. Instead, Stone wants Trump to call for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s role in approving the controversial Uranium One deal that’s been a locus of rightwing hysteria (the transaction involved a Russian state-owned energy firm acquiring a Canadian mining company that controlled a large subset of the uranium in the United States). It’s a bit of a bank shot, but as Stone described it, a special prosecutor looking into Uranium One would also have to investigate the F.B.I.’s role in approving the deal, thereby making Mueller—who was in charge of the bureau at the time—a target. Stone’s choice for a special prosecutor: Rudy Giuliani law colleague Marc Mukasey or Fox News pundit Andrew Napolitano. “You would immediately have to inform Mueller, Comey, and [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein that they are under federal investigation,” Stone said. “Trump can’t afford to fire Mueller politically. But this pushes him aside.”

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/11/the-west-wing-trump-is-apoplectic-as-allies-fear-impeachment

Sinister new White House – Russian “Collusion”?

Prominent anti-Putin whistleblower Bill Browder says he was barred from entering the US

Bill Browder. CNN/screenshot

Banker turned human-rights activist Bill Browder says his authorization to travel to the US using his British passport via an ESTA visa was revoked on the same day that Russian prosecutors issued an Interpol warrant for his arrest on charges of tax evasion and murder.

Browder tweeted over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin had managed, on the fifth attempt, to place him on the Interpol list after four previous rejections by the International Police Organization.

Interpol did not immediately return a request for comment. But Browder said Russian officials had used a “loophole” known as a diffusion notice to bypass scrutiny by Interpol HQ. A diffusion notice is similar to, but less formal than, a red notice, which is “the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today,” according to the Justice Department.

The same day the warrant was issued, Browder said, he was notified that his ESTA had been revoked. Browder gave up his US citizenship in 1998 and became a British citizen.

ESTA, or the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is an automated system that allows tourists from a Visa Waiver Program country to travel to the US for business or pleasure for 90 days or less.

It is still unclear why Browder was effectively barred from the US following the Interpol warrant. A spokesperson for the US Customs and Border Protection Agency said in a statement following this article’s publication that Browder’s ESTA “was manually approved by CBP on Oct. 18—clearing him for travel to the United States.” The spokesperson said it “remains valid.”

But Browder told Business Insider that he “got the message from DHS of my Global Entry revocation and my ESTA (visa waiver) cancellation on October 19th.”

He also said the Department of Homeland Security “refused to provide any answers” when he initially asked last week why his ESTA had been revoked.

“They suggested I file a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request and wait for the answer, which can take as long as six months,” Browder said. Browder explained that he first discovered the visa problems after receiving an email from DHS about “a change in global entry status” — his global entry pass had been revoked, according to the website. He then tried to book a flight to the US to check whether his ESTA authorization was still valid, but United Airlines “refused to check me in because of visa problems.”

“I checked with law-enforcement contacts and learned that Russia added me to the Interpol system via a diffusion notice on October 17,” Browder said.

Russian investigators have accused Browder of several crimes over the past decade, including tax evasion and a scheme to bypass the Kremlin to buy up Gazprom shares for foreign investors, in an effort to undermine his credibility.

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya detailed Browder’s alleged misconduct in a memo that she brought with her to a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower last June. The document closely mirrored a memo written by the Russian prosecutor’s office months earlier that was given to US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher while he was in Moscow.

Browder spearheaded the 2012 sanctions legislation known as The Magnitsky Act, which was passed to punish high-level Russian officials suspected of being involved in the death of his tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

A memorial for Sergei Magnitsky in Russia. AP

Magnitsky is believed to have uncovered a $230 million tax-fraud scheme in 2008 on behalf of Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital, which quickly snowballed into one of the biggest corruption scandals of Putin’s tenure. Putin on Thursday called the Magnitsky Act the product of “anti-Russian hysteria.”

Magnitsky was jailed by some of the same Russian officials he had accused of corruption, Browder has said, and was beaten to death by prison guards after failing to receive medical treatment for pancreatitis and other serious ailments.

Russia has claimed Magnitsky died of natural causes and, in a new twist, is now accusing Browder of colluding with a British spy in 2009 “to cause the death of S. L. Magnitsky by persuading Russian prison doctors to withhold care,” according to The New York Times.

“The new accusation is made all the more sinister for its absurd and at times cartoonish details,” The Times reported.

http://www.businessinsider.com/bill-browder-us-visa-revoked-and-accused-of-murder-by-russia-2017-10

Quid pro quo, collusion, corruption, just a normal day in Trumpland

Sure whatever you guys want

The White House has blown by an October 1 deadline for beginning to implement new sanctions targeting Russia, drawing concern in Congress that President Donald Trump is planning to ignore parts of a bill he grudgingly signed in August.

“The delay calls into question the Trump administration’s commitment to the sanctions bill which was signed into law more than two months ago, following months of public debate and negotiations in Congress,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a joint statement Wednesday. “They’ve had plenty of time to get their act together.”

The bill required the Trump administration to issue by October 1 “regulations or other guidance to specify the persons that are a part of, or operate for or on behalf of, the defense and intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.” The administration has yet to do so. The Treasury and State departments also have not issued guidance on their plans for imposing the measure, a Senate aide said. The aide said that members of the White House’s National Security Council have assured senators that they are “getting to” the sanctions and “it’s gonna happen.” But lawmakers are wary.

Cardin and McCain said the White House has also ignored a September 28 letter they sent asking for information on implementation plans. “In addition to the administration’s lack of responsiveness on this deadline, there does not appear to be a significant diplomatic effort to engage our allies in Europe and lead an effort to increase pressure on Moscow,” they said in their joint statement. “Congressional intent was clear, reflected in the overwhelming bipartisan majority in favor of the legislation.”

The legislation’s primary thrust was to prevent the president from removing sanctions without congressional approval. Trump has mulled unilaterally rescinding earlier US sanctions imposed on Russia after its incursion into Ukraine. The new sanctions bill passed both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly amid bipartisan concern about Trump’s frequent praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and congressional and Justice Department investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during last year’s presidential race.

Trump opposed the new legislation, agreeing to sign it only after it became clear Congress could override his veto. But he also issued a presidential signing statement suggesting he might ignore what he said were “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” in the legislation. “My administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations,” the statement said. The White House did not respond Wednesday to questions about its plans concerning the Russian sanctions.