xml:space="preserve">

No sane person would want to return to the Red Scare of the early 20th century and fears of bomb-throwing Bolsheviks, or to the hysteria of McCarthyism of the 1950s and its claims that Communists had infiltrated our government and media. However, there are enough Russian fingerprints on the incoming Trump administration to cause our collective eyebrows to rise.

But first, I have to give props to Mitt Romney, who was wrongly ridiculed by Democrats in 2012 when he claimed Russia was "our number one geopolitical foe." It turns out he was very prescient, given Russia's invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of Crimea two years later, and Moscow's military support for Syria's wicked Bashar al-Assad.

Advertisement

That's why I have suspicions about all the Russian influence in the White House come 2017. It started with the open admiration that both Donald Trump and Michael Pence have for Vladimir Putin as a "strong leader," and grew with the news that three weeks after the election, Trump has talked to Putin more than any other world leader.

My concern is reinforced by Trump's pick for national security advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Last year, he sat at the head table near Putin while attending a Moscow banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin's 24/7 English-language propaganda channel.

Then there's Trump's deputy national security adviser, Kathleen McFarland. In noting Putin's proposal to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control, she outrageously said, "the world knows that Vladimir Putin is the one who really deserves that Nobel Peace Prize. …" To say this about a former KGB agent suspected of multiple murders, the imprisonment of political enemies and crimes against humanity in Syria is utterly stupefying.

Russia's hidden hand was first seen in the construction of the GOP platform. When committee member Diana Denman tried to insert language calling for the U.S. to provide "lethal defensive weapons" to the Ukrainian government, Trump's representatives found this language too strong. They changed it to our providing "appropriate assistance." This milquetoast approach was substituted despite the GOP's long history of urging Obama to have a tougher response to Russia's Ukraine incursions.

The most troubling Russian influence surfaced when their intelligence agencies hacked into four different organizations affiliated with Hillary Clinton's election campaign, including the Democratic National Committee. The resulting document harvest was given to WikiLeaks, and it methodically released emails that maligned the Democrats and benefited only Trump's campaign. The collusion with the Russians was blatant. Sergei A. Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, confirmed that government representatives had numerous "contacts" with Trump's "immediate entourage."

The idea that a hostile foreign power would deign to interfere in an American presidential election is both astounding and alarming. It was also puzzling when Trump refused to accept that the hacking was Russian-sponsored, despite the findings of the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA and the CIA tracing it to the highest levels of the Kremlin. Trump ignorantly deflected the charges against Russia to China or "someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds."

As in most intrigues, we need to follow the money. Donald Trump Jr. explained that his father wouldn't release his tax returns because it would create a "distraction" and cause people to ask a lot of "questions." I bet that some of these questions would involve the loans received by Trump from Russian oligarchs inside Putin's circle. In August, Time magazine reported that when U.S. banks stopped lending money to Trump because of his multiple bankruptcies, out of desperation he resorted to "financing from non-traditional institutions" in Russia.

Much of the Russian connection might have been assisted by Trump's senior advisors. Former national chairman of Trump's campaign, Paul Manafort, received payments of $12.7 million as a consultant for Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian-stooge president of Ukraine who was overthrown in 2014. Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page has a financial connection to state-controlled Russian oil giant Gazprom.

There are multiple issues at play here that need to be investigated, given Trump's murky arrangement to manage the nation's business, and his own, from the Oval Office. What was the extent of Russian government contacts with the Trump campaign, especially regarding the hacking of Democratic Party sites? How beholden is the Trump business empire to Russian oligarchs? Is Trump being played by Putin so that he can manipulate him when some critical foreign policy matters arise? I suspect the answers might make Hillary's email "scandal" look like a tempest in a teapot.

Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at fjbatavick@gmail.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement