Time to shine a bright light on Russia’s influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Russia’s malignant influence on American foreign policy is finally becoming a relevant issue in the 2016 presidential election, and that is definitely a positive development. Based upon their actions and associations, neither candidate has shown a sufficient understanding of — or worse, they have ignored — the nature of the Russian regime and its threat to America’s national interest. These deficiencies ought to be of grave concern to the American people.As the Government Accountability Institute lays out in a recent report, Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia while serving as secretary of State appear to represent the worst kind of cronyism: sacrificing America’s national interest for her own and Russia’s benefit. As the Executive Summary of the report explains:
- A major technology transfer component of the Russian reset overseen by Hillary Clinton substantially enhanced the Russian military’s technological capabilities, according to both the FBI and the U.S. Army.
- Russian government officials and American corporations participated in the technology transfer project overseen by Hillary Clinton’s State Department that funnelled (sic) tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.
The report also notes that Hillary’s presidential campaign chairman, Tony Podesta, had dubious ties with the Russian regime:
- A Putin-connected Russian government fund transferred $35 million to a small company with Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta on its executive board, which included senior Russian officials.
- John Podesta failed to reveal, as required by law on his federal financial disclosures, his membership on the board of this offshore company.
- Podesta also headed up a think tank which wrote favorably about the Russian reset while apparently receiving millions from Kremlin-linked Russian oligarchs via an offshore LLC.
Building upon Peter Schweizer’s work in his book, “Clinton Cash,” The New York Times revealed another alleged quid pro quo detrimental to America’s national interest — but again, benefitting Hillary and Russia — with the infamous Uranium One deal.
Recall that the Russians took control of Uranium One and thus one-fifth of all U.S. uranium production capacity through three separate transactions between 2009 and 2013. Given the strategic importance of uranium, authorizing Russian control required the approval of various government agencies, including Hillary’s State Department.
Meanwhile, the Clinton Foundation received contributions totaling more than $100 million from Uranium One’s chairman and several of its shareholders in addition to those with ties to Uranium One or UrAsia, which had originally acquired Uranium One’s valuable Kazakh mine assets. Secretary Clinton also received $500,000 for a speech she gave at Renaissance Capital — a Kremlin-linked investment bank, which had recommended purchasing Uranium One stock soon after the Russians announced their intent to acquire a majority stake in the company.
Just how far back does the Clinton-Kremlin connection go? It’s worth investigating.
Concerning Donald Trump, even if we were gracious and excused his praise of Vladimir Putin as mere rhetoric (intended as a dig at Barack Obama and by extension Hillary), or just “Trump being Trump,” his substantive actions and associations are more troubling.
Even though the Trump campaign contributed little to the 2016 Republican Party platform changes, despite protestations to the contrary it did intervene regarding language about American support for Ukraine against Russian aggression. Trump officials reportedly watered down a portion of the platform calling for GOP support of “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainians in the face of Russian intervention, replacing the phrase with the softer provision, “appropriate assistance.”
Previously, Trump wavered on whether the U.S. would fulfill its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) obligations to defend Baltic nations against Russian aggression, giving a standoffish response to The New York Times that amounted to the following: I would not tell Vladimir Putin what we would do in the event of Russian intervention in the Baltics, but we cannot ignore the fact that irrespective of our own treaty obligations, NATO members must fulfill their obligations in terms of funding NATO.
Again, we could charitably chalk this up to mere rhetoric, consistent with Trump’s narrative on globalism and deal-making. By Trump’s logic, NATO is just another international deal in which America has gotten ripped off by freeloader nations, and Trump will be the only negotiator that drives a hard enough bargain to fix the deal — including threats to not fulfill its terms.
Leaving aside the not-so-small issue of honoring treaties, the central problem here is that NATO’s purpose is, in large part, to counter Russia. And Trump’s advisors have significant ties to that nation, casting a pall over everything Trump says and does relating to it.
What does Russia itself actually want out of the 2016 presidential election? On its face, it would appear that Russia seeks to damage Hillary, while promoting Trump.
Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has done substantial work for Viktor Yanukovych — former president of Ukraine and backed by Putin. That Yanukovych pulled Ukraine closer into Putin’s orbit is well-documented. Manafort has also partaken in business dealings with oligarchs loyal to Putin.
Trump’s advisor on Russia, Carter Page, is a big investor in Gazprom, an energy company and one of the crown jewels of Putin’s kleptocracy. Page has railed against U.S. foreign policy towards Russia with all manner of calumnies — notably at times while in Russia — and called for the easing of sanctions against Russia that affected Gazprom and other companies.
What does Russia itself actually want out of the 2016 presidential election?
On its face, it would appear that Russia seeks to damage Hillary, while promoting Trump.
Authorities allege that it was Russian hackers responsible for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hack that led to the release of emails damaging to the Democratic Party on the eve of Clinton’s convention coronation, effectively forcing the resignation of Clinton surrogate and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and bringing to light all manner of unsavory and embarrassing correspondences. These hackers may very well release more emails prior to election day that specifically target Hillary.
What are we to make of Russia’s view of the 2016 election given the backgrounds of Hillary and Trump with respect to Russia, and Russia’s public positions with respect to the two candidates?
On the one hand, as author and eminent Cold War historian Paul Kengor has intimated in his writings, the Russians may believe Trump can be duped through flattery. The Russians could also believe based upon his words and associations that Trump is naïve with respect to Russia’s aims or that he is a genuine believer in a retrenchment that will create a power vacuum for Russia to fill and project its own strength.
On the other, the Russians may believe that Hillary can be manipulated on account of her corruption and past dealings.
I believe it would be folly to assume Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, is not prepared for either of the two candidates to be president. To study the way in which the Russian government and its intelligence apparatus has historically operated — under which Putin labored for decades — is to know that his regime has studied extensively the strengths and weaknesses of its American counterparts and will be prepared to achieve its objectives under either president.
The broader subtext to Russia’s actions in 2016 is that Russia has shown it can influence American elections. Ultimately, it is reasonable to assume that Russia’s broader objective — as it has been throughout Europe — may be to cause chaos within our body politic and thereby discredit and delegitimize fundamental institutions like our executive branch. The goal is to destabilize and undermine the Republic.
One job we as conservatives must do is scrutinize the records of Republican candidates and, where they create areas of concern, advocate for course corrections. With respect to Russia, this means pushing Trump to advocate for policies that counter Putin’s aggression and surround himself with those who understand the nature of the Putin regime — its goals, tactics, and strategies.
Ignorance, willful blindness, or genuine friendliness toward Putin and the Russian regime presents a grave danger to America and our interests.