It’s well established at this point that President Donald Trump’s closest allies will go to great lengths to try and cover for his and his team’s ties to Russia — and in so doing, they remain far off course from any established decent path in American politics. This Wednesday, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) claimed at a House Intelligence Committee hearing covering the final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe that the Trump-Russia ties that document outlines are “ordinary.” Nunes almost immediately got shot down by fellow committee member Rep. Jim Himes (D-Ct.), who passionately pointed out just how far off the rails the Trump team had really gone with their relationships with Russia.
After explaining some of the story behind former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort having shared internal campaign polling data with Russian contacts in the hopes of resolving a dispute with an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Himes asserted:
‘That is not what campaigns do! Sharing internal polling data with a hostile foreign power is not what campaigns do. I’m willing to bet you… my next paycheck that not a single member of the United States Congress.. ever asked our campaign managers to share our internal polling data with a hostile foreign power.’
Himes went on to ask the witnesses there for that hearing to explain in detail how the ties Manafort had to Russia could have been exploited to advance the Kremlin’s ends inside the United States. Himes first heard from former Executive Assistant Director of the National Security Branch of the FBI Robert Anderson, who explained that Russian intelligence services would not at all have been subtle in the face of financial leverage like was available covering an individual relevant to their aims, Paul Manafort, who was in debt to that Putin ally he was trying to get on good terms with, Oleg Deripaska.
Himes also heard from witness Stephanie Douglas, who is a former occupant of the same position Anderson held with the FBI. She called Manafort sharing that polling data “a small step that illustrates his willingness to provide information to someone he knows he’s beholden to financially.”
As Himes noted, Manafort is currently serving a seven and a half year prison sentence for his dealings overseas, although not specifically for any criminal charges covering any conspiracy between the Trump team and Russia. Still, he engaged in widespread money laundering to hide assets garnered from working for pro-Kremlin interests overseas — and worked for months on the campaign of the now president of the United States.
Trump, for his part, has alternated between defending Manafort’s supposed integrity and trying to paint the relationship he had with his campaign as minimal, despite the months he spent on board.
Manafort is not the only Trump associate to have faced charges stemming from the Russia probe, even in the absence of a criminally prosecutable conspiracy between the Trump team and Russia. Trump’s former longtime “fixer” Michael Cohen is currently in jail for crimes including lying about efforts to construct a Trump Tower Moscow, and others to face charges include former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
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