Proof pos­i­tive of se­cret Rus­sian con­nec­tion

The Day - - OPINION - The Wash­ing­ton Post

Ev­i­dence that then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump was pur­su­ing a lu­cra­tive busi­ness deal with Rus­sia and that his per­sonal at­tor­ney, Michael Cohen, emailed Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s per­sonal spokesman to in­ter­vene raises the stakes in Robert S. Mueller III’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ports: “Cohen’s email to (Dmitry) Peskov pro­vides an ex­am­ple of a Trump busi­ness of­fi­cial di­rectly seek­ing Krem­lin as­sis­tance in ad­vanc­ing Trump’s busi­ness in­ter­ests . . . . Cohen said he dis­cussed the deal three times with Trump and that Trump signed a let­ter of in­tent with the com­pany on Oct. 28, 2015. He said the Trump com­pany be­gan to so­licit de­signs from ar­chi­tects and dis­cuss fi­nanc­ing.”

Ethics ex­pert Nor­man Eisen warns: “Now we have a sec­ond group of emails from those in Trump’s or­bit sug­gest­ing high-level out­reach to Rus­sia in and around the elec­tion sea­son. Like the now-fa­mous email ex­change with Don Jr. about Rus­sia’s ‘sup­port for Mr. Trump,’ these new doc­u­ments promis­ing that ‘Putin’s team’ will ‘buy in’ on Trump raise the ques­tion of what the pres­i­dent knew of all this and when he knew it.”

He tells me, “The emails add im­por­tant ad­di­tional ev­i­dence to the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, both as to pos­si­ble col­lu­sion and as to ob­struc­tion of jus­tice, inas­much as they deepen the sus­pi­cion of a pos­si­ble ma­lign Trump mo­tive for at­tempt­ing to block the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Cohen in­sists to The Post that the Trump Tower Moscow pro­posal was “not re­lated in any way to Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.”

We don’t know that and nei­ther does he. Mueller, how­ever, will be look­ing for ev­i­dence, as Eisen puts it, “that Trump or his agents ac­tu­ally agreed to bet­ter treat­ment for Putin and Rus­sia in ex­change for a present or fu­ture Trump Tower Moscow.”

That would, he says, “go be­yond col­lu­sion to out­right cor­rup­tion.” But even with­out a smok­ing gun show­ing a quid pro quo, the ex­tent to which Trump was com­pro­mised — and may re­main so — should con­cern Congress and the vot­ers.

Was Trump try­ing to keep on Putin’s good side to ad­vance his deal? Did he think Putin was some­one the United States could do busi­ness with be­cause he was seek­ing to do busi­ness with Rus­sians? Trump’s ef­fort to con­ceal his fi­nances and mis­lead the public about busi­ness deal­ings, with a foe of the United States no less, may have af­fected his rhetoric and de­ci­sions in ways we have yet to dis­cover.

As we learn more about Trump’s Rus­sian deal­ings, his ac­tions in try­ing to shut down the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­come more un­der­stand­able.

“These new emails make the ob­struc­tion charge more sub­stan­tial, be­cause it gives heav­ier con­text to the cover-up,” says Ford­ham law pro­fes­sor Jed Shuger­man. “There was fire un­der all that smoke. The fir­ing of Comey was al­ready im­peach­able as ob­struc­tion, but it’s po­lit­i­cally more pow­er­ful in con­nect­ing the cover-up to real cor­rup­tion.”

The ex­tent of Trump’s po­lit­i­cal and le­gal jeop­ardy slowly comes into fo­cus with new, daily dis­cov­er­ies. Clint Watts, a for­mer FBI spe­cial agent (who has tes­ti­fied on Rus­sian med­dling) and now a fel­low with the For­eign Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute, tells me, “Trump’s claims to have noth­ing to do with Rus­sia are clearly false with rev­e­la­tions Cohen emailed the Krem­lin di­rectly to gain sup­port for a Trump Tower Moscow. Trump’s lauda­tory com­ments of Putin came at times when Trump’s com­pa­nies also sought Krem­lin-as­sisted busi­ness help.”

All of this comes in the con­text of Trump’s ea­ger­ness dur­ing the cam­paign for Rus­sia to hack and re­lease Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails. “(The Cohen) emails came at a time when Rus­sia’s hack­ing teams breached the DNC and nu­mer­ous other Amer­i­can tar­gets and Rus­sian me­dia be­gan pro­mot­ing Trump even though he seemed noth­ing more than a re­al­ity TV star look­ing for at­ten­tion,” Watts ob­serves. “For those that con­tinue to deny Rus­sian med­dling, I can’t imag­ine what ad­di­tional ev­i­dence they would need to know that Rus­sia sought to elect Trump, and Team Trump wasn’t ad­verse to it and maybe even hope­ful for it.”

The in­ter­ac­tion of Trump’s per­sonal fi­nances with for­eign pow­ers should also re­mind Congress and vot­ers that Trump con­tin­ues to re­ceive money through his busi­nesses from for­eign gov­ern­ments, be they in the form of book­ings at his ho­tel or ben­e­fits de­rived from ex­pe­dited trade­marks. This is the essence of fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion — when some­one ben­e­fits fi­nan­cially be­cause of his of­fi­cial po­si­tion.

Repub­li­cans have re­fused to address this is­sue in any se­ri­ous way, al­low­ing the con­flicts to fes­ter and Trump’s fi­nances to re­main opaque.

So long as Repub­li­cans re­tain the ma­jor­ity in both houses, the prob­lem will deepen. Ei­ther their in­dul­gence of Trump or their ma­jori­ties must go if we are to re-es­tab­lish nor­mal gov­ern­ment and re­ject for­eign cor­rup­tion of our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

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