Congress Must Act: Trump’s Russia Ties a Full-Blown Crisis for U.S. Democracy

Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA via AP Images

Paul Manafort, former senior aid to Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, attends an event on foreign policy in Washington. 

If the United States Congress were doing its job, right now nearly all business before the House and Senate would grind to a halt as leaders addressed a rapidly-unfolding crisis: whether the current administration is acting in the interests of the nation whose Constitution its members have sworn to defend. The nomination hearings of a new Supreme Court justice would be forestalled while national law enforcement and intelligence agencies investigated the current administration’s ties to a foreign government that attempted to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of the president who appointed that nominee. An independent select committee would be quickly convened.

A congressional leadership with a shred of patriotism would take a break from trying to revoke health care from everyday Americans to take up an all-hands-on-deck approach to the question of just which nation the current administration works for. Instead, Republicans are more concerned with who leaked damning information about the administration’s interactions with Russian officials.

It appears today that the U.S. government is headed by a team with no regard for the interests of the American people, but with plenty of regard for those of a foreign adversary. In a week that began with an announcement of a criminal investigation involving associates of the president regarding possible ties to Russia-backed entities that tried to tilt the table toward Donald J. Trump during the presidential election, Wednesday brought word of a peculiar relationship between Trump’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and a Russian oligarch said to be a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

In a March 22 story, the Associated Press reported that Manafort collected as much as $10 million per year between 2006-2009 for work done on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch believed to be worth more than $5 billion, and owner of one of the world’s largest aluminum companies. The revelations come just two days after FBI Director James Comey confirmed at a House Intelligence Committee Hearing that his bureau has been conducting, since July, an investigation of Russian attempts to undermine the candidacy of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton—and the possible involvement of Trump campaign associates in the scheme.

The AP obtained copies of strategy memos written by Manafort on Deripaska’s behalf, one of which includes this gem, as reported by the AP:

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

The AP describes Manafort’s pitch to Deripaska as a proposal “to influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.” Those efforts including lobbying, which Manafort was required to report to the Justice Department but did not.

U.S.-Russia relations were taking a turn for the worse during the period in which Manafort allegedly advanced Russia’s interests on Deripaska’s behalf, both in the media and with U.S. lawmakers. During this period, then-President George W. Bush often found himself at odds with the Russian leader as Putin’s autocratic tendencies became more apparent, and Bush sought to expand NATO.

Taken alone, the story of Manafort’s efforts on behalf of the Putin government and one of Russia’s leading oligarchs would be scandalous enough, given his ties to the current U.S. president. Even after being forced out of the Trump campaign in August, after The New York Times published an exposé of his work on behalf of the pro-Putin former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and even after the election, Manafort is reported to have continued advising Trump in daily phone calls. According to an unnamed former campaign official who talked to The Daily Beast, Manafort was in regular contact during the transition with Vice President Mike Pence, whom the former official implied was Manafort’s pick for the spot.

But taken together with a long list of scandalous connections to Russian organized crime figures and the involvement of hackers linked to entities of the Russian government in stealing the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, we have a full-blown crisis on our hands.

The president himself is surely acting like a guilty child, having issued juvenile tweets in the early morning hours of the House Intelligence Committee’s March 20 hearing, declaiming the FBI’s investigation as “fake news.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also acting guilty of something, having lied to Congress by denying contact with Russian officials—even after he hosted the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his Senate office during the transition period. Not to mention former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s abrupt departure from office after it was revealed that he had discussed the status of U.S. sanctions on Russia with Kislyak before the inauguration.

As Jeff Hauser wrote at Rewire earlier this month, Congress must convene an independent select committee to investigate all of these ties. Truly, nothing less than the integrity and sovereignty of the nation is at stake—not to mention the fate of the republic.

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