Through The Smog: Special Russia Edition — December 11, 2016

The Weekly Windshield Wiper Clearing Through Media B.S.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on the 2016 budget at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. (Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on the 2016 budget at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. (Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Democracy in the United States has been effectively destabilized through both Russia’s interference in our election and the apathy, fueled by dangerously partisan interests, toward this unprecedented national crisis. This is not an alarmist statement — this is a sentiment that should be headlined nationwide considering the CIA’s confirmation that Russia acted covertly to help Donald Trump win the presidential election and the debatable legitimacy of his incoming administration.

Instead, most mainstream media are taking a laid-back, below the fold approach, with only four of thirteen mega news outlets finding the story worthy of a push update, some outlets leading their web editions with arguably less significant stories on Twinkies, and others dismissing the CIA’s report as “payback for Benghazi.”

Prior to Election Day many of these journalists complacently dismissed Russia’s ploy to help Trump pull off a victory — The New York Times even tossed an interview with Senator Harry Reid in which his comments on Russia’s actions were contrary to their report. Now, despite confirmation, the reporters have neither stepped up to apologize for such irresponsibility nor corrected to accurately reflect this situation’s importance.

We have been infiltrated by a foreign nation and must dutifully react. Truth needs to be sought and published, not devalued or polished. All of us have an obligation to put country over party and together resist this anomalous attack on America’s most fundamental values.

With that said, we bring you this special edition of Through The Smog, focused solely on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and the many intertwined facets at play.

CIA Concludes Russia Interfered With 2016 Election

After President Obama ordered a full review of election-related hacking, the CIA on Friday confirmed Russia acted covertly to interfere with the U.S. presidential election and help Donald Trump win the White House.

“Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials,” according to a report broke by The Washington Post.

Agency officials disclosed this information with key senators in a closed-door meeting last week on Capitol Hill. Referencing growing intelligence from multiple sources, officials announced their “consensus view” that “Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected.”

Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House

Beginning in mid-August both candidates and both parties’ leadership and surrogates were briefed on the Russian government’s attempts to undermine the election, a senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News.

At the first debate on September 26, when the candidates were asked who was behind and how to fight the cyber-attacks on America, Trump doubted Russia’s role, instead blaming China or “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

In October, 17 intelligence agencies released a joint statement tying Russia to the DNC hacks and asserting Russia was seeking to undermine the election. Hillary Clinton stressed the concern for this letter at the third debate, while Trump once again downplayed Russia’s role, despite his continued briefings on their activities, undermining the conclusions from intelligence officials and proclaiming “our country has no idea” who is behind the hacks.

Trump Denies CIA Assessment; Doubles Down on His Refusal To Accept Intel Briefings Because He’s “like, a smart person”

On Fox News Sunday, President-elect Trump reiterated his distrust of the American Intelligence Community by asserting that he doesn’t believe the CIA’s assessment that Russia was behind the hacking and dissemination of private emails from the DNC and key Clinton staffers. Trump told host Chris Wallace “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.”

In the same interview the President-elect claimed that he doesn’t need daily intelligence briefings because he’s “a smart person” and doesn’t “need to be told the same thing in the same way for eight years”. Rantt has previously covered the inherent dangers of the President of the United States willfully ignoring the intelligence that comes across his desk.

While some Republicans have expressed alarm over Trump’s refusal to accept the findings of the Intelligence Community, others have rallied to his side, raising questions about the party’s relationship with America’s top spies.

Trump & His Campaign’s Russian Ties

After news of the CIA’s assessment broke, many important questions were raised. A few of them being, was Trump and his campaign aware of Russia’s coordinated efforts to help him win? And if so, did they play a part in it? In order to answer these questions, we must break down their ties to Russia.

We start with the man himself. President-elect Donald Trump’s very pro-Russia assertions have puzzled many, and now with the reality of Russia’s interference in our democracy confirmed by the intelligence community, these assertions have gone from puzzling to worrisome.

During his campaign, Trump stated that if he were to be elected President he would consider lifting sanctions against Russia, pulling out of NATO, and recognize their controversial annexation of Crimea. Trump has also been very complimentary of Vladimir Putin, calling him a strong leader and said he would would be willing to work with Russia and Assad in Syria, despite their continuous humanitarian violations in Aleppo and elsewhere.

Before he was President-elect Donald Trump he was Billionaire-businessman Donald Trump, and he enjoyed to tout his relationship with Vladimir Putin. While he was campaigning, Trump repeatedly denied this relationship existed but words can’t erase history. On many occasions Trump has bragged about having “indirectly and directly” spoken to Putin while he was in Moscow for his Miss Universe Pageant. And on one occasion he appeared to be referencing an ongoing relationship:

When asked, by MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts in 2013, if he had a relationship with Putin, Trump’s response was, “I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what you and I am saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.”

According to the Washington Post, Trump has made numerous trips to Moscow to explore business opportunities and has relied on Russian investors to buy his properties around the world.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump is far from the only person in his circle with ties to Russia.

Paul Manafort is currently under investigation by the FBI for this very reason. Manafort reportedly received millions in cash while representing a pro-Russian politician in the Ukraine. Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager before being fired after reports of his foreign ties. Manafort’s ousting may not have fully severed his influence with Trump, seeing how he lives on the 43rd floor of Trump Tower.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who worked on Trump’s campaign and is his current pick for the position of National Security Advisor, attended the 10th anniversary of RT (the Russian government’s propaganda network). Flynn sat at the same table as Vladimir Putin and acknowledged that he was paid to attend the event.

Roger Stone, a former campaign advisor of Donald Trump, boasted about being in regular contact with Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, through “mutual friends.” This boast appeared to be validated by his eerie knowledge of upcoming Wikileaks centering around Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails. Several months before it occurred, Stone spoke of an October surprise involving Podesta, that would disrupt Clinton’s campaign.

So, we’ve established that Trump and his campaign do indeed have ties to Russia and that Roger Stone may have even been aware of their efforts to undermine our democracy. But the still question remains, were they in on it? The potential answer to that question comes from an unlikely source, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabko. In a conversation with Interfax News Agency, Ryabko confirmed that the campaign was in contact with Russian representatives throughout the course of the 2016 campaign:

“There were contacts,” Interfax cited Ryabkov as saying. “We are doing this and have been doing this during the election campaign.”

Such contacts would continue, he added, saying the Russian government knew and had been in touch with many of Trump’s closest allies. He did not name names.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from his (Trump’s) entourage. Those people have always been in the limelight in the United States and have occupied high-ranking positions,” he said.

“I cannot say that all of them, but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.”

We will see what is revealed in the coming weeks, but if it is confirmed that some Americans were involved in a coordinated operation led by a foreign nation to undermine our democracy, surely there will be consequences…right?

Rex Tillerson: The Russia Friendly Secretary Of State

Rex W. Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil and 2013 recipient of Russia’s Order of Friendship award, is reportedly President-elect Donald Trump’s upcoming pick for Secretary of State. Reports of this pick emerged the day after reports of the CIA’s assessment. Not the best timing, seeing how Tillerson has closer ties to Russia than anyone else who was being considered for this position.

Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin

Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin

Exxon has made deals with Rusisa for decades, and that didn’t stop when Rex Tillerson became CEO in 2006. Tillerson negotiated a 2011 energy partnership with Russia that Putin said could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion.

In 2014, Tillerson’s growth in Russia was frozen by tougher sanctions. These sanctions against Russia have hurt Exxon, and has reportedly cost the company as much as a billion dollars. Exxon is unable to collect revenue from an investment in an oil and gas project that operates off Sakhalin Island or develop any new projects in Russia.

With this in mind, it’s obvious why Tillerson has been strongly opposed to the sanctions imposed on Russia. Since lifting Russian sanctions would benefit his previous company, this poses a unique conflict of interest that Tillerson would face as Secretary of State.

Tillerson’s close relationship with Putin is undeniable, and has come under fire by many:

“He has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American with the exception of Henry Kissinger,” said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary during the Clinton administration and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank where Mr. Tillerson is a board member.

Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona said that Tillerson’s ties to Putin were “a matter of concern to me.” “I’d have to examine it,” he said on Fox News, adding that “Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R) of Florida took to Twitter to speak out against Tillerson:

In light of the news surrounding the CIA assessment and growing concern over Russia’s interference in our democracy, it’s looking like Tillerson’s confirmation hearing won’t go as smoothly as Donald Trump would hope. Trump sent out a tweet that seemed to open up the possibility for him to back out of appointing Tillerson, leaving it up in the air:

Rex Tillerson is riddled with countless Russian ties and conflicts of interest. The Secretary of State is the most powerful diplomat in the world has a hand in shaping America’s foreign policy and heavily impacts world events. If Trump were to select Tillerson for the position of Secretary of State, he would be appointing a man who’s interest are aligned with Putin’s.

The Senate’s Bipartisan Probe

On Sunday, a group of patriots banded together to champion this country and stare down one of the biggest threats to American sovereignty in decades. A bipartisan effort is being led by four high-profile senators whom are demanding that a probe is launched to get to the bottom of Russia’s long suspected election interference.

Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ & chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee), rising Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Jack Reed (D-RI) have called for an investigation into certain independent intelligence agencies that found substantial evidence that the Russian government intentionally launched a cyber-assault on the 2016 election with the goal of getting Donald Trump elected.

Shortly after Trump announced Rex Tillerson, someone with close ties to Russia, for Secretary of State, the Sens. released this statement:

“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American.

Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks.

This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country.

We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.”

However, there is a certain key republican who has shown a willful reluctance to this Russian opposition, and now dots are being drawn that point to possible suspicious and self-interested motives.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with congressional leaders, for a secret briefing in September, where he vocally dismissed the notion that Russia was actively interfering in the 2016 election. McConnell expressed, if the Obama administration confronted Russia over these allegations, that this would be a display of partisan politics.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that after the election McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, was nominated by our President-elect to be his Transportation Secretary.

News // CIA / Donald Trump / Politics / Russian / Underreported