Despite the ongoing partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia continue to attract close scrutiny. This week on CNN, Obama administration security official turned analyst Samantha Vinograd asserted that there’s already evidence that the president was “aiding and abetting” the Kremlin in their policy aims, even while in office.
She claimed as much while commenting on the recent report that Trump confiscated his interpreter’s notes after a private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and demanded the aide not share what they’d seen. Although that particular step was only reported to have been undertaken once, thanks to the overall veil of secrecy that Trump has held around his multiple private meetings with Putin, there is reportedly no detailed accounting of what the two leaders have discussed, even in classified files.
The Trump administration has come under scrutiny for their failure to command a narrative after bilateral meetings between Trump and other leaders before. In the case of Putin, they have simply declined to offer basically any concrete information — let alone anything detailed — to the American public. After Trump and Putin met in Helsinki for some two hours with nobody but their translators present, there was no White House account of the meeting at all.
Vinograd explains that this completely breaks with precedent that’s in place for a very good reason:
‘By failing to allow your team in the room, by failing to establish a firm record in line with existing U.S. law of what actually happened, you are ceding the narrative to Russian intelligence and Vladimir Putin without having any bit of evidence or a foundation of establishing a narrative on your own… If [Trump] took the extraordinary step of asking his interpreter to destroy notes from the meeting, he is again aiding and abetting the Russian intelligence services in manipulating the narrative around what happened.’
Trump has carried on similarly in the past, repeatedly dismissing charges that the Kremlin had meddled in the 2016 elections at the expense of understanding the scope of those cyberattacks and preventing them from happening again. He has not taken much of any sort of personal lead in the matter beyond the eventual — late — approval of Congressionally-mandated sanctions.
He has repeatedly, including after that Helsinki meeting, insisted he believed Putin’s denials of his team having meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections, despite the mountains of evidence confirming as much. That evidence ropes in a number of members of his own team, like George Papadopoulos, Jared Kushner, and even Donald Trump Jr., who met with Kremlin lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya hoping to get dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton.
That’s collusion. In that case, Trump again helped along Russian intelligence interests by trying to help his son conceal the true nature of the meeting and the concurrent Russian work for Trump and against Clinton.
These hefty pieces of evidence could be addressed by a potential push for impeachment, pending issues like the still incoming final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, although that could run aground in the still Republican-controlled Senate.
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