Democratic ties to Russia are ample, and often ethically dubious

Democratic ties to Russia are ample, and often ethically dubious
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Nearly every day, it seems, analysts and reporters reveal new ties between American political figures and Russia or its leader, Vladimir Putin, and his political cronies.

The news is delivered in breathless tones with an air of suspicion.

There seems to be some confusion, because the following things are legal activities for Americans to do: Living in Russia, visiting Russia, talking to Russians, doing business in Russia and with Russians, consulting for Russia, advising Russia, having “ties” to Russia, lobbying for Russia, meeting with Russian leaders, “refusing to criticize Putin,” meeting with Russians connected to Putin, discussing politics with Russians, discussing U.S. policy and sanctions with Russians, consulting for the Russian government on political matters.

It’s true that certain conditions could make these activities illegal. For example, if an American works as a paid lobbyist for Russia but fails to register as a foreign agent, that violates U.S. law. If an American meets with a Russian spy for the purposes of committing a crime, that’s illegal, too.

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But most of what’s being reported in sinister overtones is not only perfectly legal; thousands of Americans are doing much the same every day. There’s room for disagreement as to whether these things should be legal, but the fact is that — today — they are. Even “colluding” with Russia, or any country, isn’t necessarily illegal. It depends on the facts.

 

Without yet knowing the findings of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation into alleged Trump-Russia collusion, we have only the public evidence to date. 

Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about what appears to have been a legal conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Two Trump associates, Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortCohen released from federal prison to home confinement due to coronavirus concerns Advocates call on states to release more inmates amid pandemic Michael Cohen to be moved to home confinement due to coronavirus concerns: report MORE and Rick Gates, have been indicted by a grand jury for allegedly failing to report their lobbying work and avoiding paying taxes on its multimillion-dollar income. (It wasn’t Russia, it was Ukraine; and it was prior to their work on the Trump campaign, but close enough.)

In the absence of any public evidence implicating President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE in illegal activities, much has been written about his and his associates’ “ties” to Russia, as if that is itself evidence of some sort of crime. 

One such article in Time is entitled, “Donald Trump’s Many, Many, Many, Many Ties to Russia.” Three “many’s” obviously weren’t enough to convey the true depth of the “ties.” It took four.

It’s less easy to find comprehensive accounts denoting the Russian ties that some of Trump’s detractors have.

Here are just a few examples:

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Trump signs order targeting social media firms' legal protections MORE (D-Va.), had extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch to help connect with the author of the anti-Trump “dossier.” Warner reportedly texted at the time that he didn’t wish to “leave a paper trail.” Warner allegedly waited six months before disclosing the contacts to the committee, which is investigating Russia matters. 

The anti-Trump “dossier” that the FBI secretly used to justify wiretaps on a Trump adviser was compiled by a man at a political opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, who relied on and quoted Russian sources who are close to President Putin.

According to anonymous intel officials quoted in the New York Times, U.S. intelligence officials made a deal with Russians who offered unverified, compromising material on Trump.

A Washington lobbying/consulting firm, the Podesta Group, founded by Obama adviser and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Van Jones: A 'white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter' can pose a greater threat to black Americans than the KKK Taylor Swift slams Trump tweet: 'You have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence?' MORE campaign chairman John Podesta and his brother, lobbied for Russia’s largest bank, owned by the government (or, as you like, President Putin). John’s brother, Tony, also lobbied for Ukrainian interests (reportedly in partnership with Trump associates Manafort and Gates). John Podesta left the firm years ago; Tony stepped down last November amid controversy over the lobbying. He has not been charged with any crimes.

The Podesta Group also represented Russia-owned Uranium One, which received approval from a federal oversight board that included the State Department under Hillary Clinton to buy about one-fifth of the U.S. production capacity of uranium, a key material for making nuclear weapons.

Uranium One interests reportedly contributed $145 million to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s charitable foundation.

Former Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) lobbied for Russia’s banking giant, Gazprombank, owned by Putin’s government.

The lead Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFlynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (D-Calif.), engaged with a Russian caller posing as a Ukrainian contact offering Russian blackmail material against President Trump. Afterward, Schiff made arrangements for his staff to try to collect the material. It turns out the caller was a Russian radio-host spoofer. Schiff has said he was not really fooled by the call.

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersMcCarthy yanks endorsement of California candidate over social media posts Top bank regulator announces abrupt resignation GOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Graham announces hearing on police use of force after George Floyd killing In a new cold war with China, America may need to befriend Russia MORE (R-S.C.) and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainHow Obama just endorsed Trump Former Texas Rep. Sam Johnson dies at 89 Trump's needless nastiness and cruelty will catch up with him MORE (R-Ariz.) also reportedly engaged in conversations with Russian comedians who posed as Ukrainian officials.

McCain secretly delivered to the FBI a copy of the anti-Trump “dossier” opposition research, which quoted Russian sources.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign funded the anti-Trump “dossier” that relied on Russian sources, who were close to Kremlin officials.

None of the above-mentioned “Russian ties” are illegal on their face, although, in some instances, there could be conditions that make them illegal. Other than Gates, Manafort and Flynn, nobody mentioned has been accused of a crime.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program “Full Measure.”