Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From The Final Call Newspaper

Foreign and domestic wariness of Trump, Russian ties and America's national security

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Jun 6, 2017 - 1:35:17 PM

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WASHINGTON—Multiple federal investigations are pondering over ample evidence that officials in the Donald Trump presidential campaign colluded with top level Russian officials to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential race, and that President Trump himself may have committed impeachable crimes to cover it up. In just five months, Mr. Trump has managed to stir up as much impeachment fervor, as it took President Richard Nixon more than five years to generate.


For example, five “current and former U.S. officials” told NBC news “they are aware of classified intelligence suggesting there was some sort of private encounter” between Mr. Trump, his son-in-law and unpaid White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and other diplomats at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in the spring of 2016.
                    
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Protesters rally near the Intrepid Air and Sea Museum where President Trump was expected to visit May 4, in New York. Photo: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

The officials acknowledged to NBC News that the evidence does not amount to proof of any wrongdoing, and they have declined to provide details of that encounter, which is only the tip of an iceberg of plots, sub-plots, intrigue and espionage swirling in and around the Trump White House and Moscow.

An FBI Special Counsel and two Congressional committees are investigating a number of former and current Trump associates who received millions of dollars from Russian, Turkish, and even Ukrainian operators; as well as reports that the President himself sought to stifle the investigations by improperly trying to influence fired FBI Director James Comey; Daniel Coats, the current Director of National Intelligence; and Michel Rogers, the National Security Director.

At the center of the storm, and the individual closest to the President is Mr. Kushner, an accused slumlord, who, like his father-in-law, is adept at manipulating the political-economic system to rescue his sometimes shaky, real estate ventures.

What troubles investigators is the suggestion that Kushner and Sessions; former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—who lasted less than a month in office before being forced to resign for purportedly lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his Russian contacts; former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; and former campaign aide Carter Page; not only met with Russian officials throughout the 2016 campaign, but then after the election they seemed  to seek a secret “back channel” to correspond directly with Russian officials without the knowledge of their own U.S. government.
                    
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Anti-Trump demonstrations in Chicago.

The conduct suggests that the Trump campaign had something to conceal from U.S. intelligence officials—whom Mr. Trump criticized during the campaign—but that they undermined the principle that there is “only one president” at a time. The incoming Ronald Reagan administration manipulated the 400-some U.S. hostages held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, in order to guarantee Mr. Reagan’s electoral defeat of President Jimmy Carter in 1980.


Mr. Kushner, who is only 36 years old, took over his family’s real estate empire 11 years ago when his father Charles Kushner was indicted, convicted, and sent to jail by then U.S. Attorney, and now Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on charges of tax evasion, illegal campaign donations and witness tampering. At the same time, the younger Mr. Kushner purchased The New York Observer newspaper, but he made his mark with his ventures in real estate, often getting bailouts from questionable transactions with public money.

As a property manager, his tactics were cruel and heavy handed, according to published reports. “Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, sues his Baltimore tenants for thousands of dollars in bogus debts, on which he also gets judgments allowing him to garnish their wages and drain their bank accounts,” Edward Ericson Jr. reported for the Baltimore City Paper, according to Richard Prince and his online column about the news media called “Journal-Isms.”
                    
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Benjamin Netanyahu, Jared Kushner and U.S. President Donald Trump are seen during their meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, May 22. Photos: MGN Online

“Pro Publica’s Alec MacGillis, who reports in a story for (the) New York Times Magazine that Kushner quietly bought-up thousands of modest and run-down apartment units in Essex and other Baltimore suburbs, whose tenants complain of poor maintenance, harsh rent collection techniques, and relentless pursuit of old and sometimes dubious debts generated after tenants moved out,” Mr. Prince continued. The majority of the affected tenants were Black.

“At one point in the story, a private investigator looking into Westminster Management, (Mr. Kushner’s) property management company says, ‘they’re nothing but slumlords.’” Ironically, Mr. MacGillis notes the private investigator is a Trump supporter and had no idea of the connection between Trump’s son-in-law and the firm he was investigating.

In another “deal,” Mr. Kushner took advantage of a federal program aimed at helping low-income communities to build a 50-story residential tower in a wealthy neighborhood in New Jersey. That’s according to The Washington Post, which reported that Mr. Kushner and his partners drew a map—similar to a gerrymandered congressional district—that falsely claimed the areas around the tower at 65 Bay Street in Jersey City were blighted.
                    
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(From left to right) Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, President Donald J. Trump and Sergey Kislyak, Russia's Ambassador to the U.S., May 10.

In fact, the map stretched miles into areas of south Jersey City, where poverty and unemployment are high, while avoiding affluent neighborhoods just blocks from the residential tower. The move gave Mr. Kushner’s company access to $50 million in low-cost financing under a program aimed at promoting investment in areas of high unemployment.

One of the most troubling of the labyrinthian threads in the Kushner drama is a secret meeting in December 2016 Mr. Kushner held with the chief executive of Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned bank that was under sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama.

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Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and former National Security Advisor under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (left) shaking hands with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. (right) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in the back, May 11.
The bank maintained that the session was part of a new business strategy and was conducted with Mr. Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business. But the White House said the meeting was unrelated to business and was one of many diplomatic encounters the soon-to-be presidential adviser was holding ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to The Washington Post.


“I would hope that the investigations of the Russia story focus on following the money, because as I’ve said to The Final Call before, I think that that’s really where the scandal lies, much more so than this question about hacking the elections which is the favorite hobby-horse of the Democrats,” Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of history and African American Studies at the University of Houston said in an interview.
“I think it’s more or less rampant greed. I think that many people do not like the United States that they’re seeing right now,” Dr. Horne continued. “It’s like they’re looking in the mirror and they don’t like the image that is staring back at them.

“But rather than coming to grips with that ugly reality, they are pointing the finger of accusation across the ocean, rather than come to grips with the fact that you have lots of backwards people in this country, which obviously comes as no surprise to readers of The Final Call, who are quite familiar with the history of slavery and Jim Crow. I would hope once again, that the Democrats in Congress focus on the ties between Mr. Trump and his family and Russian oligarchs, and move away from this story about hacking the election because I think that’s basically drilling a dry hole.”

Some progressive observers and even foreign policy experts are reluctant to talk about the Trump-Russia, can of worms. “I can’t think of anything I’d less like to talk about,” a retired U.S. ambassador to a Middle East country who did not want to be identified, told The Final Call. “It is appalling, a shattering tragedy with repercussions we can’t even imagine.”

“The scandals surrounding the Trump administration, particularly as it relates to Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner exhibits a culture of impunity and corruption, and it’s troubling for lots of reasons,” another foreign policy expert who did not want to be identified said in an interview. “It doesn’t bode well for our domestic and foreign policy, coming off the heels of the Obama administration where the U.S. already has foreign policy dictated by militarism and war. It seems like the Trump administration is only repeating that, shrouded in a new form of secrecy.

“Even if that’s not happening (selling state secrets to Moscow), what we do know about in the public in the Trump administration is already egregious enough that the public should be outraged. His financial conflicts of interest around the world; his very intimate and cozy relationship with (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu in Israel, perpetuating Israeli occupation; and trying to spend more on defense spending.

“Obviously there’s lots of concern about the connection between Trump’s people and Russia that we the public have the right to know about, and these investigations should reveal. But on the other hand, I think it’s very dangerous to be moving in this direction of ‘Russia is our enemy,’ creating a new Cold War,” the source said.

“So, I think for the Left, we have to define a very fine line, saying no to Trump; saying no to Trump’s private profiteering from the presidency; saying no to Trump’s obstruction of investigations; but recognizing that with all the problems there are in the world—the wars, the violence—we actually do need to be friends with the Russians, and find ways to work together, particularly to resolve the crisis in the Middle East.”

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Woman holds anti-war sign.
Other progressive analysts agree. “I think there’s no, ‘national security risk,’. I think that what we’re witnessing is a full-scale witch-hunt against anyone who has contact with the Russians or says that they want to have improved relations with Russia—or even normal relations with Russia,” Brian Becker, with the International ANSWER Coalition told The Final Call. “We’re at a dangerous point in U.S. politics.


“Moreover, all we have is assertion and no proof. As you know, I am part of the grassroots resistance against Trump and its odious, racist, reactionary, xenophobic, misogynist policies, but that’s far different from what the Democratic Party elites are doing which is not fighting on the things that really matter to people, but instead asserting that Trump is a threat to national security, which is complete and absolute nonsense,” said Mr. Becker.

“I’d be more concerned about national security compromised by a system of government that is riddled with corruption, whether it’s Trump or not Trump,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, Women for Peace said in an interview.

“We just see Trump coming back from Saudi Arabia with a $110 billion arms deal. That’s compromising our national security,” Ms. Benjamin continued. “Saudi Arabia becoming, under Obama the largest purchaser of U.S. weapons in the world. Saudi Arabia, the country that spreads extremism, I would worry a lot more about that than I would, actually about connections with Russia.”

Even as the left-right axis has been turned on its head in this scandal, much suspicion of Russian aims and tactics remains. “The Russians are bad, alright. It doesn’t have anything to do with Communism,” Dr. David Bositis, a statistician and researcher said in an interview. “Vladimir Putin is a ‘klepto-crat.’ They steal money from the government. They kill people who try to defy the regime. He’s bad. Period.

“We don’t know what, but it appears that Donald Trump has something to do with him—he owes him something, he’s made money off of him. He is like Vladimir Putin’s best friend, and Vladimir Putin is not a person to have for a best friend.

“Look what happened to the Crimea. Look what happened to Ukraine. Those were independent countries that the Russians invaded and that Donald Trump and Kushner are perfectly happy to dump,” Dr. Bositis continued. “Obama spent almost all of his time in office punishing Russia, and Russia felt it.
“So (now) you have Obama who was tough with Russia, and Trump, who appears to be Vladimir Putin’s best friend. Here’s the thing: if Russia can do that with Crimea and Ukraine, he can do it—and he’s trying to do it—with the Baltic countries, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia. He’s trying to do it with some of the Eastern European countries. What Putin is trying to do is reassemble the old Soviet Union. It doesn’t have anything to do with ideology.

“Republicans used to fanatically anti-Communist. (Now) he is sucking up to Russia, and Russia is not an ally of the United States,” said Dr. Bositis.

But this country has its own aggressive military history to account for, according to Mr. Becker. “If we look at the wars that America has fought, they haven’t been defending our territory or our borders or our people,” Mr. Becker said.

“We’ve been in Korea. We were in Vietnam. We were in the Dominican Republic. We invaded Grenada. We invaded Panama. We invaded Iraq. We bombed Yugoslavia. We invaded Afghanistan. We invaded Iraq again. We bombed Libya. None of those wars, from my point of view, were about defending the country. They were wars of aggression.”

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