Maybe the president is exactly as compromised as he looks... No matter how low your expectations for the summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on Monday, it was hard not to be staggered by the American president’s slavish and toadying performance... Dan Coats, gave a speech about America’s vulnerability to cyberattacks, particularly from Russia. “I’m here to say, the warning lights are blinking red again,” he said, comparing the threat to the one that preceded Sept. 11... Trump sided with the Russian president against American intelligence agencies while spewing lies and conspiracy theories. “He just said it’s not Russia,” he said of Putin’s denials. “I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.” Continuing in a free-associative fugue, he asked, “What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the D.N.C.?” referring to a debunked right-wing claim about a former Democratic I.T. staffer... Perhaps the most sinister part of the news conference was Trump’s seeming openness to a deal in which F.B.I. investigators could question people in Russia in exchange for letting Russians question Putin critics in America... Putin referred specifically to associates of his arch-nemesis Bill Browder, a businessman (and British citizen) who has succeeded in getting seven countries, including the United States, to pass laws punishing Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption. (The Russians who met with members of the Trump campaign at Trump Tower in June 2016 wanted to discuss this law, the Magnitsky Act.).. “I’ve known for a long time that Putin has been trying to use every trick in the book to get me arrested in a foreign country and extradited back to Russia,” Browder told me after the news conference. It’s chilling that Trump appeared willing to help Putin with his vendetta... John McCain, Republican of Arizona, described it as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Even some Trump partisans were aghast. Newt Gingrich decried it as the “most serious mistake” of Trump’s presidency... Trump’s behavior on Monday recalled his outburst at Trump Tower after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when he insisted there were “very fine people” among the racist demonstrators... everything Trump said was in keeping with things he’d said before. The shocking part was his frankness... it forced, if just for a moment, a collective apprehension of just what a repulsive abomination this presidency is... It’s always been obvious that Trump does not hold Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election, which he publicly encouraged and gleefully benefited from, against Putin... None of us yet know the exact contours of Trump’s relationship with Russia, whether Putin is
- his handler,
- his co-conspirator
- or just his hero.
But it’s clear that Trump is willing to sell out American democracy for personal gain.
.. on July 27, 2016, he publicly called for Russia to find Clinton’s emails, and, thanks to Friday’s indictments, we now know Russia started trying to hack the domain used by her personal office that very day.
.. Trump’s collusion with Russia has always been out in the open, daring us to recognize what’s in front of our faces.
.. Some doubt that Trump is a Russian puppet precisely because his fealty to Putin is so blatant and undisguised.
.. Mariia Butina
.. who worked for the Russian politician and alleged organized crime figure Alexander Torshin, presented herself as a Russian gun rights activist, and spent years cultivating links to the National Rifle Association.
.. She became a fixture in some pro-Trump circles and was reportedly especially close to a conservative operative named Paul Erickson.
.. hosting a birthday costume party that was attended by Trump aides.
“She dressed as Russian Empress Alexandra while Erickson was dressed as Rasputin,”
.. At the party, Butina reportedly boasted that she’d helped the Trump campaign communicate with Russia. If there was a reason to doubt that she was a Russian spy, it was only that one would expect a Russian spy to be subtler.
.. This weekend, Butina was arrested in Washington, and on Monday a criminal complaint against her for acting as a Russian agent was unsealed. She was accused of conspiracy to “exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”
.. Sometimes things are exactly as bad as they appear.
For seven years, Gerhard Schröder was the leader of the most populous democracy in Western Europe. He modernized the country’s social security system, angered George W. Bush by refusing to participate in the invasion of Iraq and was only narrowly ousted in an election defeat to Angela Merkel in 2005. Schröder could have easily spent the rest of his career as an elder statesman, attending summits and writing books.
Instead, Schröder — a friend of Vladimir Putin who has defended Moscow’s top man as a “flawless democrat” — opted for a career in the Russian business world.
Schröder has spent much of the past decade working for the Russian energy industry, serving as a board member of several consortia in which Russian-government-controlled energy company Gazprom is either the majority or sole shareholder
.. At a time when Russian business connections among members of Trump administration have come under growing scrutiny, Schröder’s case stands out as the perhaps most blatant example of a Western politician having conflicts of interests when it comes to Moscow. “By becoming a well-paid official of a foreign, aggressive power he has damaged the reputation of the political class more than any other living politician,”
.. he went on to criticize the United States’ “monstrous” political influence, and he urged Germans to ignore Trump’s demands to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. There was long applause for his remarks, which implied the need to improve relations with Russia.
.. Schröder’s renewed popularity among parts of the German left has also stunned conservatives, who are concerned about possible Russian election interference in September.
.. As chancellor, Schröder championed the North Stream pipeline deal with Russia. The German government pursued the offshore pipeline between Russia and Germany to cut energy costs and establish a reliable supply route, but the U.S. largely viewed it as a Russian attempt to make Europe more dependent on the Kremlin.
.. Fears in Washington over the pipeline date back to 2005, when Schröder hastily signed the deal during his last days in office. Then, just weeks after leaving politics, he began to oversee the implementation of the gas pipeline project himself — this time as a businessman in Russia and as the head of Nord Stream AG’s shareholder committee.
.. In 2014, at the height of the Ukraine crisis, Schröder celebrated his 70th birthday with Putin, sparking an international backlash. By opting for a post-politics business career in Russia, his critics said, Schröder had essentially chosen to join the Putin administration.
.. He’s also remembered as a “fighter with guts,” as Benner put it, for standing up to the U.S. during the Iraq War — something the Trump era may call for again.
.. Schröder’s rehabilitation also fits in with the traditional patterns of German politics. “Germans on the left and the far right have always had a weak spot for Moscow
.. “If Putin had not invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine, many Germans would see him as a natural ally in times of transatlantic estrangement.”
.. With global confidence in the U.S. in free-fall due to the Trump administration’s policies, Schröder and other pro-Russian voices in Germany are finding it easier again to defend Putin, said Bierling — and so, too, are many Germans finding it easier to forgive and forget when it comes to their former leader.