Trump Rus­sia deals once en­cour­aged

Pres­i­dent used Clin­ton’s busi­ness plan

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

When Don­ald Trump and his global real es­tate com­pany were mak­ing what ap­pears to be a lim­ited num­ber of fi­nan­cial deals in the 2000s with Rus­sians, the po­lit­i­cal at­mo­spher­ics were much more per­mis­sive.

But what was done then with the en­cour­age­ment of Wash­ing­ton is be­ing judged harshly today as in­ves­ti­ga­tors still look for hints of col­lu­sion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia.

Any Trump as­so­ciate who ever talked to a Rus­sian is in dan­ger of be­ing sub­jected to an FBI in­ter­view. Any deal the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion may have made five or 10 years ago might be fod­der for spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and his large team of prose­cu­tors.

Dur­ing the 2000s and early 2010s, Wash­ing­ton and its lib­eral press corps seemed to bless ev­ery­thing Rus­sia. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion openly urged en­trepreneurs such as Mr. Trump to do busi­ness with Moscow.

“We are com­mit­ted to broad­en­ing and deep­en­ing ties be­tween our two economies,” Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton

said in Moscow with then-Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Putin at her side in 2009.

Money did and would con­tinue to flow from Rus­sian-con­nected busi­ness­men to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, Mrs. Clin­ton and for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s multi­bil­lion-dol­lar char­ity.

“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 in the early days of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ten­ure. “We’re in­creas­ing part­ner­ships be­tween Rus­sian and Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties. And there are grow­ing in­ter­ac­tions be­tween Amer­i­can and Rus­sian peo­ple.”

What changed was Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin’s de­ci­sion to in­vade Ukrainian ter­ri­tory in 2014 and then the Rus­sian hack­ing of Demo­cratic Party head­quar­ters dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion.

With Democrats and lib­eral ac­tivists lev­el­ing un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims that Trump peo­ple col­luded with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence, any deal Mr. Trump’s com­pany did with a Rus­sian years ago is now a tar­get. The rules changed — retroac­tively.

Trump loy­al­ists see the pres­i­dent be­ing pun­ished for do­ing ex­actly what Mrs. Clin­ton en­cour­aged.

“Ev­ery pres­i­dent and sec­re­tary of state since the Cold War tried to im­prove re­la­tions with Rus­sia,” said J.D. Gor­don, a for­mer Pen­tagon spokesman and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to the Trump cam­paign.

“Many Democrats, ‘Never Trump’ Repub­li­cans and the main­stream me­dia have car­ried out thinly dis­guised char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tions against Trump as­so­ciates for any whiff or hint of con­tact with Rus­sians in their past, no mat­ter how rou­tine or be­nign,” Mr. Gor­don told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Mr. Gor­don knows first­hand. Dur­ing the GOP con­ven­tion in Cleve­land last July, he had a chance en­counter with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak. He hap­pened to meet the diplo­mat in a buf­fet line for hors d’oeu­vres. They then joined oth­ers at a ta­ble and talked for­eign af­fairs in what Mr. Gor­don de­scribed as an in­nocu­ous en­counter.

In March, as the probe into TrumpRus­sia con­nec­tions in­ten­si­fied, Mr. Gor­don re­ceived sen­sa­tion­al­ized me­dia cov­er­age that he had “met with” the now ra­dioac­tive Mr. Kislyak. The neg­a­tive cov­er­age came de­spite the fact the Rus­sian am­bas­sador and 80 other diplo­mats were brought to Cleve­land by the Obama State Depart­ment in a pro­gram called Global Part­ners in Diplo­macy.

“The al­leged high crimes and mis­de­meanors even in­clude en­coun­ter­ing the Rus­sian am­bas­sador at widely at­tended pub­lic events,” he said.

Mr. Gor­don told The Times he knows of no col­lu­sion by Trump peo­ple in the Demo­cratic Party hack­ing, or in any other co­or­di­na­tion.

‘Rus­sian plan for Rus­sian in­ter­ests’

Bloomberg News re­ported that Mr. Mueller has ex­panded his probe into just about any deal the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion did with a Rus­sian, in­clud­ing the sale of con­dos a decade ago and the Trump-owned 2013 Miss Uni­verse con­test held near Moscow.

Mr. Trump ne­go­ti­ated the venue with Rus­sian bil­lion­aire and fel­low real es­tate mag­nate Aras Agalarov. The me­dia buildup to the pageant found Mr. Trump prais­ing Mr. Putin and Rus­sia’s grow­ing oli­garch class.

Trump loy­al­ists told The Times they do not believe Mr. Mueller has ex­panded his probe into the condo sales or into Miss Uni­verse, which Mr. Trump sold shortly after the pageant.

At that point in 2013, Rus­sian re­la­tions with Wash­ing­ton had be­gun to sour. Mr. Putin, who had re­sumed the pres­i­dency, was crack­ing down on dis­sent at home and aid­ing Syr­ian leader Bashar As­sad in his des­per­ate at­tempt to hold power in a bloody civil war.

Still, then-Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry said he told Mr. Putin: “The United States be­lieves that we share some very sig­nif­i­cant com­mon in­ter­ests with re­spect to Syria.”

In fact, Mr. Kerry ac­cepted a deal pro­posed by Mr. Putin: let the United Na­tions re­move all of Mr. As­sad’s chem­i­cal weapons and com­po­nents. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had been set to launch airstrikes to pun­ish Mr. As­sad’s mil­i­tary, but then took the deal and called them off.

Repub­li­cans did not like Mr. Kerry’s co­zi­ness with Mr. Putin then, just as Democrats crit­i­cize Mr. Trump’s out­reach to the au­to­cratic leader now.

“This is a Rus­sian plan for Rus­sian in­ter­ests,” Rep. Mike Rogers, who then led the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, told CNN. “They got ex­actly what they wanted: As­sad here for a year at least, and not one ounce of chem­i­cal weapons came off the bat­tle­field, but we have given up a lot of lever­age … Putin is play­ing chess and we’re play­ing tic-tac-toe.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the top Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee, has men­tioned a num­ber of Trump-Rus­sia con­tacts as “cir­cum­stan­tial” ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion.

In May 2013 he said: “I don’t know if I trust the Rus­sians, but this agree­ment is a very pos­i­tive step. It’s been ugly get­ting here. If your goal is to use mil­i­tary force, it’s a bad deal, but if your goal is to stop the use of chem­i­cal weapons, this is about as good a deal as you are go­ing to get.”

Mr. Gor­don, the Trump cam­paign’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, thought he was do­ing ba­sic out­reach in Cleve­land when he at­tended a Global Part­ners in Diplo­macy re­cep­tion at a law firm.

“We ate chicken sa­tays for a few min­utes while stand­ing at a small cir­cu­lar ta­ble among a cou­ple other am­bas­sadors and Carter Page,” he said. “I said we ought to have bet­ter re­la­tions with Rus­sia, in­creased co­op­er­a­tion on coun­tert­er­ror­ism against rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror net­works and should have never had the Bos­ton Marathon at­tack. That was it.”

(The Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ser­vice FSB warned the FBI twice about marathon bomber Tamer­lan Tsar­naev, but the bureau failed to ques­tion him when he re­turned from Rus­sia, where it is thought he was fur­ther rad­i­cal­ized.)

Mr. Page is an­other Trump as­so­ciate who be­lieves he has been un­fairly caught up and tar­geted by Democrats by the new rules that say, in ret­ro­spect, you can­not talk to the Rus­sians.

Mr. Page, a for­mer Navy of­fi­cer and en­ergy in­vestor, lived in Moscow as a Mer­rill Lynch banker and has in­vested in Rus­sian firms. His busi­ness con­tacts seemed nor­mal un­til he vol­un­teered for the Trump cam­paign as a sur­ro­gate and trav­eled to Moscow to give a speech at the New Eco­nomic School.

Mr. Obama spoke at the same school his first year in of­fice, declar­ing, “Let me be clear: Amer­ica wants a strong, peace­ful and pros­per­ous Rus­sia.”

A Demo­cratic-fi­nanced dossier built on Krem­lin sources and handed out in Wash­ing­ton ac­cused Mr. Carter of col­lud­ing with two Krem­lin-con­nected men in Moscow. Mr. Page said he does not know them. It fur­ther said he co­or­di­nated the Rus­sian hack­ing. He said he had no knowl­edge un­til sto­ries ap­peared last June.

A trip that would have been nor­mal Rus­sian-Amer­i­can in­ter­ac­tion, the type en­cour­aged by Mrs. Clin­ton as sec­re­tary of state, be­came Mr. Carter’s night­mare.

“Peo­ple are still miss­ing the big fac­tor,” Mr. Carter told The Times. “This is re­gard­ing their com­plete for­eign pol­icy and do­mes­tic pol­icy fail­ures that pre­cip­i­tated last year’s events and, sec­ondly, the ar­ro­gant, un­con­sti­tu­tional moves made by Clin­ton-Obama-[for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James B.] Comey op­er­a­tives de­spite the fact that they were un­suc­cess­ful as usual. This rep­re­sented the real il­le­gal in­flu­ence on the 2016 elec­tion.”

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