With Donald Trump, what isn’t is as important as what is.
It isn’t about France, or Germany, or Canada, or Portugal, or Burundi or even Iraq or Iran or Syria.
It’s about Russia.
According to a report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning policy, research and advocacy group headquartered in Washington, D.C., there were 82 “contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives” during and after the campaign.
The Center for American Progress is hardly a neutral party. Its current president and CEO is Neera Tanden, who worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations and on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Its first president was John Podesta, who served as chief of staff for President Clinton, was chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and whose emails were hacked by Russian military intelligence operatives during the 2016 campaign.
So if you think that liberals can’t be trusted, that listening to people who worked for the Democratic candidate in 2016 is useless, you needn’t read further. But if that’s the case, you may as well turn off whatever electronic device you’re using and tune into Fox News, because by paying attention to the mainstream media’s coverage of this story since it first bubbled to the surface of the swamp in 2016, you’ve been listening to the denials of their contacts with the Russians by everyone from Trump himself right down to the execrable and discredited Sean Spicer, currently out on the hustings pushing even more denials while pushing his error-packed book, “The Briefing.”
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The Trump campaign and people working for Trump during the transition and in the White House have flatly denied having contacts with Russians at least 15 times, according to the Center for American Progress. But that total does not include the countless times Trump himself has tweeted “No collusion!” And it doesn’t address the manner by which Trump and his people have lied about and covered up their Russia connections over the last two years.
They began with flat denials. On July 24, 2016, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort appeared on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" and was asked, “Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?” A smiled played across Manafort’s lips as he responded confidently, “No, there are not. That’s absurd. And you know, there’s no basis to it.”
As we now know, nearly two months before, on June 9, Manafort attended the now-infamous “Trump Tower meeting” in the office of Donald Trump Jr., along with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and five other people, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who is close to numerous Russian oligarchs and Yuri Chaika, the Russian Prosecutor General, that country’s equivalent of our own Attorney General Jeff Sessions (yet another Trump campaign official who had repeated contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.) Also at the meeting were Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Russian intelligence officer who is suspected of having ongoing ties with Russian intelligence officials.
The third Russian at this meeting Manafort denied ever happened was Anatoli Samochornov, a translator. The fourth was Ike Kaveladze, a Georgian-American who worked for the American arm of a Russian real estate development company run by Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch close to Putin who hosted the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant alongside Donald Trump in Moscow.
So while, according to Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign was having no contacts with Russians, they were meeting with at least three of them at the Trump campaign headquarters in Trump Tower, a meeting that had been agreed to by Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort because the Russians said they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton they wanted to share.
Prior to the meeting at Trump Tower, campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had been meeting in Rome and London with an apparently fake college “professor” by the name of Joseph Mifsud who told Papadopoulos he was in contact with Russian government officials who had “dirt” and “thousands of emails” damaging to Hillary Clinton they wanted to share with the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos was introduced to Olga Polonskaya, whom Mifsud falsely identified “Putin’s niece.” He was also in contact with Ivan Timofeev, director of something called the Russian International Affairs Council, who was close to high officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry, their state department. Papadopoulos sent emails about his Russian contacts to former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, deputy campaign manager Sam Clovis, campaign chairman Paul Manafort and deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates. The entire senior leadership of the Trump campaign knew about everyone Papadopoulos was meeting. In short, they knew about all of his contacts with Russians.
Of these sterling characters, Manafort is under multiple indictments in two federal jurisdictions and will go to trial on multiple charges next week. Rick Gates has pled guilty and is a cooperating witness for Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Papadopoulos also pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians and is cooperating in Mueller’s investigation.
That is one hell of a lot of Russians for the Trump campaign to be in contact with at a time when they were claiming that they had no contacts with Russians whatsoever.
And one more important fact bears pointing out. Not only were Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign spokesperson Kellyane Conway and Trump himself denying that there were contacts between the campaign and Russians, all of them failed to report any of the contacts they knew were taking place to law enforcement. They didn’t call the FBI. They didn’t call the Department of Justice. They didn’t call the New York Police Department. They didn’t call the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where the meeting took place.
They were meeting with numerous Russians who were shopping thousands of emails that had been stolen from Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, a federal crime for which 12 agents of Russian intelligence were indicted. They had knowledge a crime had taken place. In fact, they were participating in the crime as co-conspirators by discussing the theft of the emails with Russians representing those who had committed it.
They didn’t say a word to anyone, and in fact, all of them denied the contacts had ever happened, thus covering up the commission of a felony. Manafort did this. Donald Trump Jr. did it. Kellyanne Conway did it. And Donald Trump himself did it repeatedly.
He denied that his campaign had contacts with Russians on July 27, when he appeared on local CBS television in Miami, and when asked about allegations that Russia was trying to help his election campaign said, “I can tell you I think if I came up with that they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a conspiracy theory, it’s ridiculous’… I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.”
Trump himself would go on to deny on numerous occasions that there had been any contacts between his campaign and Russia. But perhaps his most important denial of all was when, on Air Force One in July of 2017 he dictated a statement issued under his son’s name about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, saying that the meeting hadn’t been about dirt on Hillary Clinton, but rather about Russian policy about adoptions. Trump Jr.’s own emails about the meeting soon gave the lie to that statement.
This week the Trump Tower meeting with Russians surfaced again in the news when former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen said he was willing to speak with investigators for Robert Mueller and tell them that Donald Trump knew about the meeting before it took place and was informed about what occurred during the meeting afterwards.
Donald Trump Jr. denied under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had told his father about the meeting with Russians in Trump Tower. Donald Trump himself has repeatedly denied that he knew anything about the meeting. And yesterday, Trump tweeted a complicated, bizarre denial of Cohen’s allegation that he had been informed about the Trump Tower meeting, saying that Cohen “is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!” (Trump was referring to the fact that Cohen recently hired Lanny Davis, who worked in the Clinton White House and was instrumental in the defense of Clinton during his impeachment hearings.)
And so, here we are once again, deep in the subterranean confines of the Trump-Russia rabbit hole, a place so dark with obfuscations, distractions, denials and outright lying that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
We’ve met here before, and we’ll meet here again, because revelations of contacts between Trump and his people with Russians just keep on coming, as do the denials. Remember how the whole thing transpired -- first they lied that any contacts with Russians had taken place, then they admitted contacts but claimed there were only one or two of them, and when the contacts multiplied, they lied about what they were, then they denied they had ever lied in the first place, then they lied about the people who revealed the contacts (Papadopoulos was just a “coffee boy,” remember?), then they lied about Mueller’s investigation and its “13 angry Democrats,” then they lied about the FBI being out to get Trump, and now they’re lying about people they were praising only weeks ago, Michael Cohen being the most recent of these.
Lies have been piled upon denials on top of lies, and now that they’ve been confronted with the first Cohen tape with Trump’s actual voice talking about paying off a Playboy Playmate Trump had a year-long affair with, they’re lying about the words that can be heard coming from his mouth. In fact, on the day that the tape was released by Cohen’s lawyers, Trump went before the convention if the Veterans of Foreign Wars and said, “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what's happening.”
The day before that remarkable statement, the White House released a transcript of Trump’s disastrous press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, omitting his answer to a reporter’s question admitting that he had wanted Trump to win the election of 2016. They also deleted Putin’s answer from the official White House video record of the press conference.
Trump has left denials and lying behind. He has now decided that he can erase history. I guess we’ll see how far that gets him when “what’s happening” with his denials and lies and erasures become evidence in a court of law.