Republicans incriminate Trump, decimate his ‘Russia hoax’ narrative

In 2018, Steve Bannon accused Donald Trump’s top campaign officials of “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” conduct, according to author Michael Wolff. Bannon, like a long list of former Trump associates, is now in a world of legal trouble. But thanks to the Republican-led Senate, we know that his characterization of the Trump campaign’s links to Russia was spot-on.

In a bombshell report, the GOP-led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that Trump campaign contacts with Russian spies amounted to “a grave counterintelligence threat.”

But that stunning conclusion is merely the tip of an iceberg of lies and treacherous behavior by Trump and his top advisers detailed by the report. 

Over the course of nearly 1,000 pages, the Senate report pulverizes President Trump’s endless claims that the “Russia collusion hoax is the greatest political scandal in the history of this country.”

Indeed, new evidence makes it abundantly clear: Not investigating the vast number of “alarming” Trump connections to Russian intelligence operatives would have amounted to a “dereliction of duty and responsibility” by America’s law enforcement agencies.

More importantly, the Senate report shows that the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign and special counsel Robert Mueller did not go nearly far enough. More on that shortly.

First, the collusion. “On numerous occasions,” former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort passed “sensitive Campaign polling data and the Campaign’s strategy” to a man who – according to the Republican-led committee – was a Russian intelligence officer.

What could possibly justify Trump’s top campaign adviser handing highly confidential election information directly to a Russian spy?

It gets worse. The Senate report linked Manafort’s Russian spy-confidant directly to the Kremlin’s brazen campaign to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

Moreover, the GOP-led committee alludes to two pieces of classified information which “raise the possibility” of “Manafort’s potential connection” to Russia’s hack and leak of tens of thousands of “sensitive political documents” pilfered from Democrats.

After years of stunning revelations about Trump World links to Russia, the specter of the president’s top campaign adviser participating in the most egregious assault on American democracy would be a truly breathtaking development.

As others have rightly noted, Senate Republicans have no incentive to make up such explosive assertions out of thin air.

More importantly, the extent of Manafort’s collusion with Russia is likely far worse than publicly known. According to the GOP-led committee, Manafort’s “obfuscation of the truth” prevented “direct insight” into “the single most direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”

Why would Manafort willingly “face more severe criminal penalties rather than provide complete answers about his interactions” with a man the committee described as a Russian spy?

Why did he use four different encrypted messaging applications, “burner” phones, coded signals and a surreptitious method of passing messages – all hallmarks of espionage tradecraft – to communicate with this alleged Russian intelligence officer? Why did this Russian fly to the United States just to discuss ultra-sensitive topics with Trump’s top campaign adviser?

What were they hiding?

Since many “interactions between Manafort and [the Russian intelligence officer] remain hidden” and Manafort’s motives for lying to investigators are “unknown,” one conclusion is glaringly obvious: The FBI’s investigation of Manafort did not go far enough.

Let’s face it: The Bureau may have fallen victim to an ingenious Russian disinformation campaign. Knowing that its sweeping election interference campaign would inevitably be discovered, the Kremlin may have planted explosive red herrings and approached low-level Trump campaign staff to divert the FBI’s primary focus away from Manafort.

One can only imagine what the bureau would have found had it surveilled Manafort instead of Carter Page; another Trump campaign staffer with ties to Russia.

Next, the lies.

Beyond the revelations of a “potential connection” between Trump’s campaign chairman and Russia’s hack and release of tens of thousands of stolen emails, the Republican-led Senate intelligence committee provides stark evidence that President Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller.

While Trump claims that he has “no recollection” of speaking to a senior adviser – Roger Stone – about the Russian-hacked emails, the Senate report “assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about” when they would be leaked.

For the Trump campaign, the strategic release of stolen Democratic emails became critical.

On Oct. 7, 2016, the Washington Post released a video in which Trump makes vulgar comments about women. Half an hour later, 2,050 emails allegedly stolen by Russian intelligence from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman leaked, minimizing the political damage from the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. 

As the Senate committee’s findings make clear, Trump was very likely involved in this release of Russian-hacked documents. In fact, Trump may have instructed Stone to orchestrate the release during a call the day before the “Access Hollywood” tape went public.

Stone, according to one witness cited by the committee, demanded that WikiLeaks release “the [hacked] emails immediately.”

Beyond Trump’s lies to Mueller, the president and his allies relentlessly pushed Russian disinformation and conspiracy theories alleging that Ukraine – rather than Russia – interfered in the 2016 election.

But these absurd claims, which distracted from Moscow’s culpability and a litany of shady Trump-Russia contacts, were thoroughly debunked by the Republican-led committee. It “found no reliable evidence that the Ukrainian government interfered in the 2016 election.”

Of particular note, some of Trump’s staunchest defenders reportedly continue to promote Russian disinformation in an attempt to provide political cover for the president.

And, finally, the treachery.

Thanks to the GOP-led report, we know that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with two individuals with “extensive and concerning” ties to Russian intelligence for the sole purpose of securing Russian dirt on Trump’s political opponent.

In other words, Trump’s campaign leadership team demonstrated the “mindset, intent and willingness to work with Russia in hopes of influencing the U.S. election to their benefit.”

If that is not the definition of “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” activity, then those words no longer have meaning.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign Foreign electoral intervention Hillary Clinton Jared Kushner Joe Biden Marco Rubio Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Roger Stone Russia Russian hacking scandal Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections Steve Bannon

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