Just how connected is Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, anyway?
Yesterday, I wrote a bit about speculation that Donald Trump has significant ties to the Russian government–that the praise he heaps upon Russian President Vladimir Putin is more than distant admiration, but a signal that he is the Russian government’s puppet. John Marshall of Talking Points Memo had an interesting piece about these connections, which then got a fact-checking rebuttal. Now, Marshall has followed up with a detailed rebuttal of the rebuttal, and the case he makes is rather compelling. Pulling out some highlights:
Trump reveals very little documentary information about his wealth or his company. Thus virtually everything we know is by definition "estimates." Read [the article and you'll see these numbers are not pulled out of the sky](http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-07-19/trump-is-richer-in-property-and-deeper-in-debt-in-new-valuation). It's a detailed, documentary analysis. ... **"There’s no evidence that Trump has been blackballed. There is[evidence](http://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2016/03/20/trumpwallst0320/) that some big U.S. banks don’t want to work with him, but Deutsche Bank has lent him $300 million since 2012." **This seems like largely a matter of semantics. "Blackballed" is certainly a charged word. Would you settle for: all major US banks except DeutscheBank have ceased to do business with Trump because of the high risk of lending him money and because of a long history of unscrupulous business practices? ... As I noted in my [original piece](http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/trump-putin-yes-it-s-really-a-thing), the money flows from Russia are not just individual purchases of luxury real estate. They also include providing capital for major projects. The fact that post-2014 sanctions have reduced the Russian purchase of high end real estate seems sort of beside the point and actually notable in a way I'll get to in a moment. ... Yes, [Trump campaign manager Paul] Manafort has worked for a lot of foreign dictators. This is the heart of his rep. But this is rather misleading. Ferdinand Marcos was _overthrown 30 years ago_. The 90s, well, they happened 20 years ago. This seems like an effort to make Yanukovych sound like one of many foreign kleptocrats Manafort works for. Perhaps so over the course of 40 years. But what's he done recently? Like in the last ten or 15 years? The big thing is working for Viktor Yanukovych. ... It does seem true that [Trump foreign policy advisor Carter] Page's prospects in Russia have dried up considerably since the sanctions imposed in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. But this hardly counters my argument. Page points to removing the sanctions as one of his major goals. “So many people who I know and have worked with have been so adversely affected by the sanctions policy,” he told Bloomberg News. Not surprisingly it's also one of Russia's major goals. ... The pro-Trump tilt of state-backed media in Russia, particularly English-language media intended for the Anglophone world, has been described and detailed basically everywhere. For this I suggest the Google. ... Trump's team mobilized the nominee's traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point:[changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations](https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/trump-campaign-guts-gops-anti-russia-stance-on-ukraine/2016/07/18/98adb3b0-4cf3-11e6-a7d8-13d06b37f256_story.html) in eastern Ukraine. ... Nowhere else did the Trump team put its foot down and insist and twist arms in a way that is not at all unprecedented (it's actually standard) but which conspicuously stood out in _this_ platform process.
Each point (except the one exhorting the reader to use “the Google” comes with well-established sources and they present a strong case that Trump’s campaign is influenced heavily by individuals with clear ties to the Russian government Putin himself.
This does not, however, suggest that Trump himself is a puppet of Putin. In no way would that characterization be accurate. Trump is his own man and makes his own decisions. But it appears more and more likely that his advisors would serve Russia’s interests because it suits them–it benefits them. I doubt it is out of any specific love for Russia, either, but because it’s where they get their money and support.
Trump can’t afford to turn down money and influence where he can get it, so he likely doesn’t ask too many questions about where such funding originates. Money is money, and his campaign needs it. As a businessman without a notable conscience, Trump probably isn’t bothered by his money coming from suspicious sources. Perhaps the most apt term for his role is “useful idiot.” He admires Putin’s authoritarianism and seeks to emulate it. At the same time, they are in no way friends or allies. Instead, Trump is surrounded by people who will ensure that, should Trump win the election, he won’t pose any problems to Putin’s future endeavors.
Trump himself would probably be fine with this, too. It wouldn’t make much sense for him to stand up to a man he endorses as strong and powerful. Instead, they would stick to their mutual interests, which would give Putin a free hand to meddle in Eastern Europe without fear of American retaliation. And even if the US did ultimately get involved, that would result in military escalation which, again, suits Putin’s purposes–it would allow him to whip up support among Russians against a foreign enemy.
Of course, this raises an obvious question: why doesn’t Putin want Hillary Clinton to be President? What makes Trump better? Apart from the fact that Trump would likely stay out of Putin’s areas of interest, a President Trump would be virtually guaranteed to alienate the US from our allies and isolate us, diplomatically. Clinton, by contrast, would be a consensus-builder with a very good chance of building up popular support in the international community against Putin’s goals. She would also do this without relying on brute military force, which makes producing propaganda more difficult for Putin.
Clinton’s middle-of-the-road, internationalist approach is exactly what Putin doesn’t want. Trump would destabilize the US, damage our foreign relations, destroy our credibility, limit our diplomatic options, and at the same time, Trump’s love for Putin would keep him out of the Russian leader’s business. A Trump Presidency would be a win all the way around for Putin.
Related to this is the DNC email leak, the timing of which is perfect to damage to Democratic Party’s image. Was it really the work of Russian intelligence, with WikiLeaks as willing dupes? This is not clear, though it’s entirely possible and there is evidence to suggest it. Edward Snowden notes that the NSA has the technology to authenticate the origins of the leak, as well, should they be willing to share that information (though they almost certainly won’t).
Perhaps the most bizarre element of all this is that the Russian government is, in effect, attempting to help a hawkish Republican win the Presidency in order to weaken America and strengthen Russia. It’s like something out of a spy novel. Ironically, if there is any truth to the notion that the Russian government is manipulating this election in favor of Republicans, it is the one conspiracy theory that GOP backers won’t be willing to believe.