The biggest scandal of the week is that President Trump refused to defend the United States from a pandemic. The second-biggest is that he refuses to defend our democracy from growing Russian attacks on our election — and that, indeed, he appears to be aiding the attackers.
The Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions against Andriy Derkach, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, who was described as an “active Russian agent for over a decade.” Treasury says that Derkach has “been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election” — for example, by releasing “edited audio tapes and other unsupported information with the intent to discredit U.S. officials.”
The target of Derkach’s smear campaign has been Democratic nominee Joe Biden — and Derkach’s willing collaborator has been Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. Giuliani now claims to barely know Derkach, but the former New York mayor has met with him at least three times. Earlier this year, he told The Post that he knew Derkach “quite well” and that the Ukrainian lawmaker “has been very helpful to me.” Trump, in turn, has hyped this Russian agent’s bogus charges against Biden.
Talk about deja vu: Paul Manafort was in regular contact with a Russian agent while serving as chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign — and while Trump was amplifying Russian attacks against the Democrats. Once again, there are suspiciously strong parallels between Trump’s propaganda and Russia’s. This year, both Trump and Russia are assailing the integrity of mail-in voting. The Department of Homeland Security warns that Russian operatives have “denigrated vote-by-mail processes, alleging they lack transparency and procedural oversight, creating vast opportunities for voter fraud.”
The president and his unscrupulous appointees have attempted to deflect well-founded suspicions that Russian President Vladimir Putin is helping Trump to win again by suggesting that China is the real election threat — and that Beijing is helping Biden. Microsoft complicated that narrative by releasing an analysis this week showing that China is doing more to hack Biden than Trump. But U.S. intelligence analysts and outside analysts say that the Russian threat to the election is far greater than similar efforts from China, Iran or anyone else. Yet Trump and his minions are working overtime to cover up the Russian attacks — even going so far, the New York Times has reported, as to tamper with a national intelligence estimate.
Last week, the director of national intelligence, Trump loyalist John Ratcliffe, told Congress that he would suspend in-person briefings on foreign election interference. This week, Brian Murphy, who until recently was a senior intelligence official at DHS, came forward with a whistleblower’s complaint alleging that senior department officials told him to falsify intelligence to play down Russian attacks and play up the purported threat from China and Iran. Murphy quotes acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf telling him that those instructions came straight from the White House.
Step back and think about what is happening here: Trump’s lawyer is working with a Russian agent to help Trump politically — and the president’s appointees are trying to prevent the intelligence community from blowing the whistle on Russian interference. This is the strongest evidence yet of Trump’s collusion with Putin — and it’s not in the past. It’s happening right now.
What remains unclear is Trump’s motive. Obviously, he benefits politically from Russian election interference. But is there more to it than that? Is he compromised by past dealings with Russia?
Those of us who have suggested that there is something deeply suspicious in Trump’s subservience to Putin have been accused of spreading a “hoax.” But Peter Strzok, formerly a senior FBI counterintelligence agent, told the Atlantic “I do think the president is compromised . . . because there is leverage over him, held specifically by the Russians but potentially others as well.”
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, says that when Trump sold a mansion to a Russian buyer in 2008 for a grossly inflated price, making a profit of $54 million, he assumed that Putin was secretly funding the deal. Cohen also says that Trump praised Putin in 2016 “because he assumed he would lose and wanted to make sure he could borrow money from Russian sources for his real estate empire.”
Strzok has been unfairly maligned as an anti-Trump partisan and Cohen is a convicted felon, so you can choose to ignore what they say. But what about Daniel Coats, a former Republican senator and Trump’s first director of national intelligence? Bob Woodward reports that Coats “continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that Putin had something on Trump. . . . How else to explain the president’s behavior? Coats could see no other explanation.”
Whatever his motivation, Trump’s failure to defend our country is scandalous and shocking. If the Russian campaign again pays off and Trump is reelected in November, he should begin his second term by being impeached for a second time.
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