Old over­tures from Obama in deep freeze

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Lib­er­als are con­demn­ing Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump and his peo­ple for sup­posed links to Vladimir Putin, but there was a time when Democrats were in­gra­ti­at­ing them­selves to the au­to­cratic Rus­sian leader and his coun­try’s money.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, for ex­am­ple, took $500,000 in speak­ing fees in 2010 from a Rus­sian fi­nance com­pany run by for­mer KGB spies closely tied to Mr. Putin, a for­mer KGB of­fi­cer. At the same time, Hil­lary Clin­ton, as sec­re­tary of state, was lead­ing the way in urg­ing U.S.-Rus­sia busi­ness ex­pan­sion, com­plete with an Amer­i­can high-tech del­e­ga­tion to Moscow and U.S. in­vest­ments in Rus­sian cy­ber­skills.

“We are com­mit­ted to broad­en­ing and deep­en­ing ties be­tween our two economies,” she said in Moscow with then Prime Min­is­ter Putin at her side.

But what was once a hall­mark of Pres­i­dent Obama’s for­eign pol­icy — an al­liance with Mr. Putin — is over.

The White House has joined lib­er­als who charge that Mr. Trump’s peo­ple’s deal­ings with and over­tures to Rus­sia are the rea­sons Mr. Putin al­legedly or­dered cy­ber­at­tacks against the Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee and Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man John Podesta.

Em­bar­rass­ing stolen emails ended up in the fold­ers of Wik­iLeaks. The anti-se­crecy group re­leased the emails in large batches dur­ing the cam­paign, in much the same way the State De­part­ment, un­der court or­der, re­leased reams of

“We be­lieve that this re­set of the re­la­tion­ship has led to much greater co­op­er­a­tion, co­or­di­na­tion and a con­struc­tive on­go­ing con­sul­ta­tion on nu­mer­ous is­sues that are im­por­tant to our bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship and to the global is­sues that we both are fac­ing.”

— Then-Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2010

Mrs. Clin­ton’s emails from her pri­vate server as sec­re­tary of state.

White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest, in what ap­pears to be an un­prece­dented role for a pres­i­den­tial spokesman dur­ing a tran­si­tion, has launched broad at­tacks from the brief­ing room lectern on the in­com­ing pres­i­dent and his staff.

Rus­sia was not al­ways ra­dioac­tive. It was the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that opened the gates to deeper busi­ness and per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with Mr. Putin, an elected strong­man who has all but elim­i­nated any real political op­po­si­tion to his power.

It was Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion that ac­cepted money from Rus­sian busi­ness peo­ple and Bill who ac­cepted Rus­sian speak­ing fees.

It be­gan in 2009, when newly con­firmed Sec­re­tary of State Clin­ton met with Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. She brought with her a gim­micky “re­set” but­ton sig­nal­ing the dawn of new Wash­ing­ton-Moscow re­la­tions that had been soured by Rus­sia’s 2008 mil­i­tary in­cur­sion into the for­mer Soviet re­pub­lic of Ge­or­gia.

Mrs. Clin­ton was thus jet­ti­son­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s cold shoul­der to Mr. Putin over his in­creas­ingly na­tion­al­is­tic rhetoric.

The Skolkovo Foun­da­tion

A year later, Mrs. Clin­ton trav­eled to Moscow when Mr. Putin switched seats from pres­i­dent to prime min­is­ter and his pro­tege, Dmitry Medvedev, was pres­i­dent. Mr. Putin won elec­tion to a third term in 2012.

It was dur­ing this visit that Mrs. Clin­ton called for ex­ten­sive U.S.-Rus­sian ties. The White House spokesman now is crit­i­ciz­ing the Trump team for do­ing the same thing.

“We be­lieve that this re­set of the re­la­tion­ship has led to much greater co­op­er­a­tion, co­or­di­na­tion and a con­struc­tive on­go­ing con­sul­ta­tion on nu­mer­ous is­sues that are im­por­tant to our bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship and to the global is­sues that we both are fac­ing,” she said.

“A United States del­e­ga­tion made up of ex­ec­u­tives from the in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies re­cently vis­ited Rus­sia to ex­plore joint pri­vate-sec­tor-led ini­tia­tives in ed­u­ca­tion, e-govern­ment and other fields,” she said. “We’re increasing part­ner­ships be­tween Rus­sian and Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties. And there are grow­ing in­ter­ac­tions be­tween Amer­i­can and Rus­sian peo­ple.”

Later, ap­pear­ing with Mr. Putin, Mrs. Clin­ton said, “I ap­pre­ci­ate your rais­ing the eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship be­cause we are com­mit­ted to broad­en­ing and deep­en­ing ties be­tween our two economies, our busi­ness lead­ers and in­vestors.”

That June, the Rus­sian em­brace con­tin­ued in Wash­ing­ton at a Civil So­ci­ety to Civil So­ci­ety sum­mit that Mr. Medvedev at­tended. Mrs. Clin­ton, not­ing that Mr. Medvedev had just vis­ited the Sil­i­con Val­ley tech world, said she would help Rus­sia cre­ate a sim­i­lar zone.

“I think it’s great that Rus­sia is look­ing to try to cre­ate that kind of cen­ter for tech­nol­ogy and growth right out­side Moscow, and we want to help be­cause we think that it’s in ev­ery­one’s in­ter­est do so,” she said.

What fol­lowed was the Rus­sian-run Skolkovo, a high-tech Moscow sub­ur­ban en­clave de­voted to all sorts of cy­bertech­nol­ogy re­search, along with a foun­da­tion in charge of rais­ing cash. At the urg­ing of Mrs. Clin­ton, high-tech firms such as Google and In­tel (also Clin­ton Foun­da­tion donors) pumped in mil­lions of dol­lars.

Mrs. Clin­ton helped Mr. Putin cre­ate a re­search and de­vel­op­ment cen­ter whose work would veer into the port­fo­lio of weapon sys­tems.

In­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Peter Sch­weizer’s Govern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity In­sti­tute said the Skolkovo Foun­da­tion was filled with Rus­sian and Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions that gave the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion money. Bil­lion­aire Vik­tor Vek­sel­berg, who headed the Skolkovo Foun­da­tion and is a Putin ally, con­trib­uted money through his Ren­ova Group.

Mr. Sch­weizer said the FBI warned tech com­pa­nies in 2014 that Skolkovo was a mech­a­nism for the Putin regime to steal U.S. in­dus­trial se­crets.

The Clin­ton Foun­da­tion

Around this time, eco­nomic ties were be­ing forged. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was help­ing man­i­fest Mr. Putin’s dream of con­trol­ling more of the world’s ura­nium. A leaked U.S. memo said he uses nu­clear fuel like he uses nat­u­ral gas and oil — as weapons to bend other states to his will or face a cut­off.

While Mr. Putin was gain­ing con­trol of ura­nium, Bill Clin­ton was snar­ing a $500,000 speak­ing fee for talk­ing in Moscow at an event or­ga­nized by Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, the firm run by ex-KGB agents.

Mr. Sch­weizer chron­i­cled the en­tire af­fair in his book, “Clin­ton Cash.”

The Putin prize was Ura­nium One, a Cana­dian firm that con­trolled large U.S. ura­nium de­posits.

The suitor was Rus­sia’s Rosatom State Nu­clear Agency, a pow­er­house of hun­dreds of nu­clear weapon and power en­ti­ties at home and abroad. It claims it ranks No. 2 glob­ally in con­trol­ling ura­nium re­serves and No. 1 in build­ing nu­clear re­ac­tors for a va­ri­ety of coun­tries. Rosatom built Iran’s first nu­clear power plant at Bushehr.

The Com­mit­tee on For­eign In­vest­ments in the U.S., of which Mrs. Clin­ton is a mem­ber, ap­proved the Rosatom takeover in 2013. She had been a hawk against such deals but did not ob­ject.

All the while, huge sums of money from peo­ple con­nected to Ura­nium One and Rosatom were flow­ing into the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, the $3 bil­lion char­ity op­er­at­ing in nearly 30 coun­tries.

The Clin­ton Foun­da­tion has served as the ex-pres­i­dent’s net­work­ing hub. It fi­nances his trav­els as he hob­nobs at con­fer­ences and din­ners with the rich in Europe and Asia.

Mr. Sch­weizer re­ported that Ura­nium One’s chief, Ian Teller, fun­neled more than $2 mil­lion to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion.

Rich peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with the Toronto-based Sal­ida Cap­i­tal, which in­vested heav­ily in ura­nium com­pa­nies, also con­trib­uted mil­lions to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion. Sal­ida it­self con­trib­uted $2.6 mil­lion. Rosatom lists a “Sal­ida Cap­i­tal” as a wholly owned sub­sidiary. The firm would not speak with Mr. Sch­weizer.

‘Give me space’

Mr. Obama con­tin­ued to de­fend the Putin regime at least as late as 2012. Dur­ing a tele­vised pres­i­den­tial de­bate in Oc­to­ber, he fa­mously ridiculed Repub­li­can Mitt Rom­ney for rank­ing the Putin-Medvedev regime as the No. 1 U.S. ad­ver­sary.

“Gov. Rom­ney, I’m glad you rec­og­nize al Qaeda is a threat, be­cause a few months ago when you were asked what is the big­gest geopo­lit­i­cal group fac­ing Amer­ica, you said Rus­sia — not al Qaeda. And the 1980s are now call­ing to ask for their for­eign pol­icy back, be­cause the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”

It was a planned zinger em­braced broadly by the lib­eral main­stream me­dia. (Mr. Rom­ney also said in 2012 that the U.S. needed to re­verse its com­plete troop pull­out and place more troops in Iraq, an idea Mr. Obama also re­jected.)

That spring, Mr. Obama sent a sim­i­lar em­brace to Mr. Putin via Mr. Medvedev. The two held a close-in con­ver­sa­tion un­aware of a “hot mic.”

“On all these is­sues, but par­tic­u­larly mis­sile de­fense, this, this can be solved, but it’s im­por­tant for him to give me space,” Mr. Obama said. The “him” re­ferred to Mr. Putin.

“Yeah, I un­der­stand. I un­der­stand your mes­sage about space. Space for you,” the out­go­ing Rus­sian pres­i­dent re­sponded.

Mr. Obama then said, “This is my last elec­tion. Af­ter my elec­tion, I have more flex­i­bil­ity.”

Mr. Medvedev as­sured Mr. Obama that he would tell “Vladimir,” the in­com­ing pres­i­dent.

Since then, Mr. Putin has in­vaded Ukraine and sent his forces into Syria, where his planes have in­dis­crim­i­nately bombed civil­ians, ac­cord­ing to NATO. The U.S. charges that hack­ing cadres un­der Krem­lin con­trol at­tacked com­puter net­works at the Pen­tagon, the White House and the State De­part­ment.

If there was any con­certed re­tal­ia­tory re­sponse by Mr. Obama, it has not come to light.

To­day, the Rus­sia rules in Wash­ing­ton have changed, and Mr. Putin is per­sona non grata.

Mrs. Clin­ton, who per­son­ally vouched for Mr. Putin as some­one with whom the U.S. can do busi­ness, ac­cused Mr. Trump of be­ing his “pup­pet” dur­ing the cam­paign.

“Now, maybe be­cause he has praised Putin, maybe be­cause he says he agrees with a lot of what Putin wants to do, maybe be­cause he wants to do busi­ness in Moscow, I don’t know the rea­sons,” Mrs. Clin­ton said at the sec­ond pres­i­den­tial de­bate. “But we de­serve an­swers. And we should de­mand that Don­ald re­lease all of his tax re­turns so that peo­ple can see what are the en­tan­gle­ments and the fi­nan­cial re­la­tion­ships that he has with the Rus­sians and other for­eign pow­ers.”

Mr. Trump did not bring up the Rus­sian-linked money that went to Mrs. Clin­ton’s foun­da­tion.

“The rea­son they blame Rus­sia is be­cause they think they’re try­ing to tar­nish me with Rus­sia,” Mr. Trump said. “I know noth­ing about Rus­sia. I know about Rus­sia, but I know noth­ing about the in­ner work­ings of Rus­sia. I don’t deal there. I have no busi­nesses there. I have no loans from Rus­sia.”

Rus­sia To­day

With the elec­tion over, Mr. Earnest has be­come an at­tack dog in a move­ment to dele­git­imize Mr. Trump’s vic­tory. At one White House brief­ing, he listed ties be­tween Rus­sia and Trump peo­ple and ar­gued that this was the rea­son sup­posed Rus­sian-di­rected hack­ers at­tacked the Democrats.

In the White House brief­ing room on Dec. 12, as lib­er­als cranked up a talk­ing point that Rus­sian hack­ing got Mr. Trump elected pres­i­dent, Mr. Earnest is­sued a broad­side against the Trump team.

“It was the pres­i­dent-elect who, over the course of the cam­paign, in­di­cated that he thought that Pres­i­dent Putin was a strong leader,” Mr. Earnest said. “It was the pres­i­dent-elect who in­di­cated the po­ten­tial that he would with­draw from some of our crit­i­cally im­por­tant NATO com­mit­ments. It was the pres­i­dent-elect who re­fused to dis­close his fi­nan­cial con­nec­tions to Rus­sia. It was the pres­i­dent-elect who hired a cam­paign chair­man with ex­ten­sive, lu­cra­tive, per­sonal fi­nan­cial ties to Rus­sia. It was the pres­i­dent-elect who had a national se­cu­rity ad­viser on the cam­paign that had been a paid con­trib­u­tor to RT, the Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda out­let.”

Mr. Earnest said, as ev­i­dence that Rus­sia was fa­vor­ing Mr. Trump, Mr. Podesta’s email ac­count was breached while that of Steven Ban­non, the pres­i­dent-elect’s chief strate­gist, was not.

Mr. Trump has said he has no fi­nan­cial ties in Rus­sia. He has been a global bil­lion­aire de­vel­oper for decades. As such, he has de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships with busi­ness peo­ple from all over the world, in­clud­ing Rus­sia.

His first cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort, left the team af­ter re­ports said he took $12 mil­lion for work he did for pro-Rus­sia Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych. The dis­graced for­mer Ukrainian leader lives in ex­ile in Rus­sia. Mr. Manafort de­nied he re­ceived the money and said he had no busi­ness ties with Mr. Putin or his govern­ment.

Re­tired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s pick for national se­cu­rity ad­viser, has been deemed by Democrats as too close to the Krem­lin. He views Mr. Putin, with whom he dined at an awards ban­quet on a Rus­sia visit, as a po­ten­tial ally in the fight against the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group. Mr. Flynn made ap­pear­ances on Rus­sia To­day, a state-run chan­nel that is now on U.S. cable providers as RT Amer­ica.

Larry King has his own show on RT, “Larry King Now.” “News with Ed Schultz” is a reg­u­lar RT show fea­tur­ing the ar­dent lib­eral. Demo­cratic strate­gists also ap­pear on RT.

Mr. Flynn has said he will re­lin­quish his con­sult­ing firm, Flynn In­tel Group, when he joins the White House team. The firm’s web­site is now in­ac­tive.

The Arab Spring

The move­ment to dele­git­imize Mr. Trump ar­gues that Mr. Putin di­rected hack­ers to pen­e­trate the DNC’s and Mr. Podesta’s emails and give them to Wik­iLeaks to tilt the elec­tion in fa­vor of the New York real es­tate mag­nate.

In­deed, the thou­sands of mes­sages proved em­bar­rass­ing to the Democrats. They in­clude emails that high­lighted Mr. Podesta’s ties to an en­ergy com­pany, Joule Un­lim­ited, that re­ceived Rus­sian in­vest­ments.

Mr. Podesta, Mr. Clin­ton’s White House chief of staff, was elected to the Joule ex­ec­u­tive board in 2011.

A Rus­sian govern­ment fi­nance firm, Rus­nano, pro­vided Joule with a $35 mil­lion in­vest­ment. Then, Ana­toly Chubais, Rus­nano USA’s chief, joined the Joule board, where he re­mains to­day. Two other board mem­bers have done ex­ten­sive bank­ing and in­vest­ment work for Rus­sian en­ti­ties.

Mr. Podesta at the time sat on a pol­icy board ad­vis­ing then-Sec­re­tary of State Clin­ton.

The Wik­iLeaks-pro­vided emails, as an­a­lyzed by Mr. Sch­weizer, show Mr. Podesta still main­tained ties to Joule af­ter he sup­pos­edly trans­ferred his stock shares to his daugh­ter in Cal­i­for­nia and joined the Obama White House in 2014 as a one-year coun­selor. Mr. Sch­weizer says Mr. Podesta was try­ing to evade fed­eral fi­nance dis­clo­sure laws.

What­ever the rea­son, the saga shows that the chair­man of Mrs. Clin­ton’s cam­paign had been more than will­ing to do the type of busi­ness with Rus­sia that the lib­eral press has judged as a neg­a­tive for Mr. Trump’s team.

Ja­cob Kipp, a long­time scholar of Rus­sian his­tory, ex­plains how the Obama love­fest with Mr. Putin turned sour by look­ing at one main rea­son: the 2011 Arab Spring.

“By 2012, the U.S.-Rus­sia re­set was in bad shape,” Mr. Kipp said.

Rus­sia backed a lim­ited bomb­ing cam­paign to pro­tect civil­ians in Libya, he said. But when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion rack­eted up the sor­ties into all-out war to oust leader Moam­mar Gad­hafi, Mr. Putin split.

Then came Syria. Rus­sia ally Bashar As­sad came un­der strong pres­sure from var­i­ous rebel groups and demon­stra­tors who wanted democ­racy. Mr. As­sad re­sponded with bru­tal tac­tics.

Said Mr. Kipp: “The regime’s use of force to re­press demon­stra­tions brought a wide range of re­sis­tance groups into the field.”

The en­su­ing civil war cre­ated a Wash­ing­ton-Moscow chess match pit­ting Mr. Putin on one side of the board and the U.S., which wanted Mr. As­sad gone, on the other.

By 2014, the White House and State De­part­ment com­puter net­works were un­der at­tack by hack­ing groups con­nected to the Krem­lin.

Repub­li­cans say to­day that Mr. Obama had lit­tle or no re­sponse to a bla­tant Rus­sian as­sault on the heart of U.S. govern­ment. Per­haps a com­pre­hen­sive overt coun­ter­mea­sure could have con­vinced Mr. Putin that con­tin­ued hack­ing was not in Rus­sia’s best in­ter­est.

Among a list of mo­tives for all the Rus­sian hack­ing is Mr. Putin’s be­lief that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ter­fered in Duma elec­tions in 2011 by aid­ing demon­stra­tors who took to the streets to protest the United Rus­sia party’s con­tin­ued par­lia­men­tary con­trol.

“Then the Arab Spring hit, and Wash­ing­ton found its abil­ity to con­trol very lim­ited,” Mr. Kipp said.


Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Putin hosted a re­cep­tion in 2009 for for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, who in 2010 took $500,000 in speak­ing fees from a Rus­sian fi­nance com­pany run by for­mer KGB spies closely tied to Mr. Putin, a for­mer KGB of­fi­cer.

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