The politics of having a Putin ‘puppet’ as president

A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016 | Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP


At a certain level, Donald Trump must realize that his spirited defenses of Russian President Vladimir Putin do his campaign no favors – but the Republican nominee just can’t seem to help himself.

Earlier this week, Trump said he’d like to incorporate the Russian autocrat into his post-election presidential transition process, effectively rewarding Putin for suspected criminal efforts surrounding intervention in the American election. Last night, Trump read from the same script, pretending Russia may have had nothing to do with the recent email hacks – ignoring his own intelligence briefings that told him the opposite – and raving about Putin “outsmarting” U.S. leaders.

Trump also referred to the START arms agreement as “the start up,” and proceeded to get every relevant detail of the policy wrong.

The result was a stunning exchange, starting with Hillary Clinton’s explanation that Putin would “rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”

TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.

CLINTON: And it’s pretty clear…

TRUMP: You’re the puppet!

CLINTON: It’s pretty clear you won’t admit…

TRUMP: No, you’re the puppet.

Yes, Americans were treated to a debate in which one of the candidates effectively rolled out the “I know you are but what am I” defense when discussing foreign policy.

Substantively, it was worse than the transcript suggests. In practical terms, Trump defended Putin, made excuses for Putin, rejected evidence of wrongdoing implicating Putin, praised Putin, and then said Clinton is actually “the puppet” for the Russian government.

I’m sure someone, somewhere, will make the case that Trump’s posture was coherent, but I’m less sure how they’ll do so with a straight face.

Trump Takes A Page From The Kremlin’s Media Playbook

Trump Takes A Page From The Kremlin’s Media Playbook

Sputnik/Kremlin/Alexei Druzhinin via REUTERS


Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s public flirtation with Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout the 2016 campaign has been met with extensive public interest, skepticism, and criticism. Whether definitive ties exist between Trump and the Kremlin remains to be seen, but the degree to which Trump has seemingly co-opted the Kremlin’s propaganda playbook, and the extent to which conservative media has helped Trump execute a Russian-style media strategy built upon the spread of disinformation, is unnerving and portends trouble for the state of objective truth in American democracy.

Red flags have been raised about Trump’s alleged relationship with Russia and Putin: Trump has effusively praised Putin;publicly invited the Russian government to hack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails; deliberately liedthat Russia was not involved in hacking attempts aimed at interfering with the U.S. election; recited Russian state-sponsored misinformation; and allegedly has Russian investments in his businesses.

Further, Trump has managed to exploit the fragmented state of American media to seemingly execute the Russian model of “information warfare,” as outlined by NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence’s Keir Giles. The parallels between the Kremlin’s strategy for planting and spreading disinformation — with the ultimate goal of “undermining the notion of objective truth” — and Trump’s use of conservative media to spread lies and delegitimize traditional news sources are striking and play out in these ways:

Disinformation Initially Placed On “Sock Puppet Websites”

Russian disinformation strategy, which rests on “‘undermin[ing] the very fundamentals of information and credibility that informed debate are supposed to rest upon,’” begins by “placing disinformation” on “sock puppet websites which appear to provide or aggregate news” and “can achieve substantial reach and penetration,” according to Giles.

The primary “sock puppet website” at the heart of Trump’s Kremlin-style media campaign is The Drudge Report, the conservative media news aggregator that traffics in conspiracy theories, lies, and anti-Clinton smears. The Drudge Report has been a stalwart Trump cheerleader and a launching pad for a series of smearcampaigns and conspiratorial claims meant to undermine Clinton, including long-running conspiracies about her health.

Drudge frequently aggregates stories from notoriously right-wing fringe and conspiratorial websites including WorldNetDaily (WND), Zero Hedge, and Gateway Pundit. At its height in July, Drudge had 1.47 billion page views.

As The Washington Post notes:

Drudge is an ideal landing place for hard-hitting opposition research on one of your political opponents. He’s more likely to simply take it and post it rather than looking for where the holes are — as a more mainstream site would do. And, because of Drudge’s traffic, which isn’t just big but also influential (think reporters, cable TV bookers and other campaigns), everyone you want or need to see it will see it.

To underscore The Drudge Report’s jolting parity to Russian “sock puppet websites,” the website has openly embraced Putin himself and has linked to Russian propaganda sites at least 91 times thus far in 2016.

InfoWars, a fringe conspiracy website led by 9/11 truther Alex Jones, has also been the birthplace of nonsense claims and anti-Clinton attacks.

Trump has praised Drudge and InfoWars and repeated their conspiracy theories on the campaign trail, effectively mainstreaming the reputation of otherwise unsound sources and giving widespread credence to a variety of baseless claims. Jones himself once announced on his radio show that it has been “surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word-for-word hear [Donald] Trump say it two days later. It is amazing.”

New Media Exploited To “Plant, Disseminate, And Lend Credibility To Disinformation”

In his report, Giles notes that “pro-Russian trolls and bots” also “exploit specific features of the relationship between traditional and social media in order to both plant, disseminate and lend credibility to disinformation.” They utilize “a range of fora including online discussion boards, Twitter and more” to “act as a force multiplier for driving home the Russian message.”

New and non-traditional online forums like Reddit, 4Chan, and Twitter have served as effective tools for Trump supporters to coalesce and subsequently blast out conspiracy theories and anti-Clinton attacks in unison.

As The New York Times highlighted:

[I]f major social media platforms are where Mr. Trump amplifies his pronouncements, sites like Reddit and 4chan have become a sort of proving ground, where an extreme, Internet-amped version of Mr. Trump’s message is shared and refined.[…] [Reddit] users promote favorable stories, feud with foes and rally support through phone-banking or “Facebanking” — campaigning to Facebook friends. On The Donald, the message is relentless — as are the insults. Opponents are referred to as “cucks,” which is short for “cuckservative,” as in “cuckold” — now used as a derisive term for liberals and moderate Republicans recently popularized by far-right online commentators and white nationalists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group shares content and tone with parts of 4chan, the infamous and anonymous message board that traffics in shock, and where Mr. Trump — who regularly scorns “political correctness” — has found substantial, if oblique, support.

Bogus anti-Clinton attacks, like the claim that the Clintons did “the same thing” with their taxes as Trump —who “used a $916 million loss that he reported on his 1995 income tax returns to avoid paying personal federal income taxes for years” — by claiming a “$700,000 loss” on their 2015 tax return, originated on the pro-Trump reddit page “The_Donald” and subsequently rocketed through right-wing media.

Disinformation Then Is “Fed Into The Mainstream News Flow”

After Russian propaganda is placed on aggregate sites and gains traction among these “pro-Russian trolls and bots,” writes Giles, the disinformation is then “fed into the mainstream news flow” and “picked up and reported by reputable traditional media.”

Similarly, disinformation in the American media track often jumps from fringe websites like Drudge and InfoWars (frequently after and precisely because Trump cites them) to Fox News, the unabashedly pro-Trump cable network that nonetheless brands itself as “fair and balanced,” and other right-wing media outlets.

Seemingly attempting to stay in sync with Trump, Fox has mainstreamed fringe right-wing conspiracies and elevated anti-Clinton smears about Clinton’s health (which Trump haspromoted), character, and leadership style (which Trump hasechoed) — while also promoting fringe claims of a “rigged” election (which Trump ishyping), “garbage” online polls that favor Trump (which he loves to cite), allegations that Clinton has her foes murdered (which Trump nodded to), and claimsregarding the Clintons’ personal marriage (which Trump hasfloated), all sourced from the fever-swamps of conservative fringe websites.

As Trump’s own campaign manager Kellyanne Conway oncesaid, “You can draw a straight line from a Drudge link to what gets covered on cable that night.”

Credible Outlets Not Wanting “To Be Left Behind” Repeat The Disinformation

Once disinformation pierces the mainstream news flow “at one or more points,” “others will follow,” Giles notes. “Even in the new climate of awareness, major news media do not wish to be left behind on a story which has made it to the news agenda.”

Credible mainstream American outlets and journalists, perhapsconcerned “they will be labeled ‘biased,’” as claims John A. Tures, adopt stories that often are cultivated in the right-wing echo chamber and given life by Trump. After Clinton’s September pneumonia diagnoses, several mainstream outlets went all-in on hyping how “talk of Clinton’s health [is] no longer just the stuff of conspiracy theorists.” Media outlets have timeand timeand time again parroted right-wing pseudo-scandals about Clinton’s use of a private email server and about the Clinton Foundation (stories that were also hyped by right-wing outlets like Drudge and Fox News).

Conservative shaming of the “liberal media” also is often intended to induce mainstream coverage of an otherwise fringe or unsubstantiated story. Speaking about hacked emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, Fox host Ainsley Earhardt exclaimed, “Do you think the mainstream media will talk about it?” Co-host Steve Doocy added, “Or at least Donald Trump?” Guest Steve Hilton replied, “I don’t think so, so that’s why [Trump] needs to talk about it. Because otherwise, it’s just going to disappear into the ether.”

Ultimate Goal Of “Undermining The Notion Of Objective Truth”

In his assessment of “Russian objectives” behind the Kremlin’s “information warfare” strategy, Giles writes, “it has as one aim undermining the notion of objective truth and reporting being possible at all,” which ultimately “‘undermines the very fundamentals of information and credibility that informed debate are supposed to rest upon.’”

In executing a similar media strategy, Trump and the conservative media have worked to discredit historically legitimate sources of truth. Both by planting, cultivating, and bolstering disinformation and through an unprecedented war on the press, Trump and right-wing media have ushered in an era of post-truth politics where voters have “been successfully persuaded that everything is a lie, so the only political choice you have is to select the fiction that most fits your self-conception,” as explained by journalist Ned Resnikoff.*

Just as how “credibility is not always a metric of success for Russian information warfare campaigns” and that Russian disinformation thrives despite its “lack of plausibility,” as Giles writes, Trump’s promotion of lies and conspiracies are notdepressed by the overwhelming number of fact-checks he receives, precisely because truth may not be the measure of success he is seeking.

Indeed, as CNN’s Brian Stelter warned, “Trump and his supporters … are delegitimizing institutions the United States holds dear” — which, frighteningly, is exactly what Giles notes was the goal of Soviet propaganda campaigns that the current Kremlin “information warfare strategy” is emulating.

AP NewsBreak: UN criticism of Trump draws Russian complaint

So this is something I felt compelled to report as soon as I read it:


GENEVA (AP) — Russia lodged a formal complaint last month with the United Nations over a top U.N. official’s condemnations of Donald Trump and some European politicians, an intervention that underscores the unusual links between the Republican presidential nominee and the Kremlin.

There is no evidence Trump sought Russia’s assistance, or was even aware of the criticism by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, told The Associated Press on Friday that he complained to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about Zeid’s remarks.

Three diplomats familiar with the conversation said the complaint occurred in a private meeting Sept. 13. Churkin angrily protested a pair of speeches by Zeid that denounced “demagogues” and specifically targeted Trump and several populist leaders in Europe, even likening their tactics to Islamic State propaganda.

“Prince Zeid is overstepping his limits from time to time and we’re unhappy about it,” Churkin said Friday. “He criticized a number of heads of state, government. He should stick to his file, which is important enough.”

In a speech in Cleveland three months before Republicans gathered there to nominate Trump, Zeid said: “In what may be a crucial election for leadership of this country later this year, we have seen a full-frontal attack — disguised as courageous taboo-busting — on some fundamental, hard-won tenets of decency and social cohesion that have come to be accepted by American society.”

“Less than 150 miles away from where I speak, a front-running candidate to be president of this country declared, just a few months ago, his enthusiastic support for torture,” said Zeid, a Jordanian royal, referencing a speech Trump gave in Ohio in November promising to restore waterboarding and introduce even harsher interrogation methods for suspected terrorists.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not immediately respond to several requests for comment.

The Kremlin has said it has no position on the U.S. election. Its officials regularly oppose the U.N. interfering in what it considers the internal politics of sovereign nations.

Still, Churkin’s personal intervention could add to questions about the relationship between Trump and Russia.

Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin’s strength and leadership, vowing to improve ties between Washington and Moscow if he defeats Democrat Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8. He has questioned whether NATO, an alliance of Western nations formed to counter the Soviet Union, is outdated. He has suggested Russia hasn’t entered Ukraine although it annexed the Crimea region in 2014 and is supporting anti-government rebels in the east. And he urged Moscow to find emails that Clinton deleted from the private server she used while secretary of state.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, hardened accusations Friday that Russia is interfering in the presidential election. The Director of National Intelligence’s office and Homeland Security Department blamed Moscow for cyber-intrusions including the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, saying, “Only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Three diplomats, including two U.N. officials who were familiar with the meeting between Churkin and Ban, said the Russian complained “virulently” to Ban about Zeid’s Cleveland speech and one in Europe in September.

A senior U.N. diplomat familiar with the discussion said Churkin specifically “condemned the fact that Zeid mentioned Trump.”

The diplomats weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing possible diplomatic repercussions from Russia, a powerful, permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

“We don’t comment on meetings with ambassadors,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Trump’s policy pitches have upset human rights officials like Zeid, including the candidate’s calls to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, temporarily ban Muslim immigration and even potentially kill the families of Islamic extremists.

Trump’s positions on Russia have faced sharp attacks from some Republican leaders as well as Clinton.

His supporters pressured Republicans to back away from supporting U.S. lethal aid to Ukraine, which many GOP leaders want. Instead, the platform backed “appropriate assistance” to Ukraine.

Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager, resigned this summer over revelations about Manafort’s work for Ukraine’s Moscow-backed former president and other pro-Russian officials. And Carter Page, a former Trump foreign policy adviser, criticized the U.S. and other Western governments on a July trip to Moscow for “their often-hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.”

Clinton’s campaign pounced on the Russian complaint.

“This is not only strange — it’s scary,” senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said. “A major-party candidate for the presidency of the United States is being protected by the Kremlin. Wow.”

Eight days before Churkin’s demarche, Zeid went after Trump again in a Sept. 5 speech in The Hague, Netherlands, lumping the billionaire businessman with several populist leaders in Europe. “All seek in varying degrees to recover a past, halcyon and so pure in form, where sunlit fields are settled by peoples united by ethnicity or religion,” Zeid said, calling it a sentiment they share with the Islamic State.

Zeid concentrated on Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders, who opposes asylum for refugees and, similar to Trump, immigration from Muslim countries. Wilders also advocates closing mosques and Islamic schools, and outlawing the Quran.

Zeid also criticized by name the pro-Brexit head of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, who appeared with Trump at an August rally; Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico; Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer; French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen; Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Czech President Milos Zeman.

U.S. and European officials accuse Russia of supporting several of these politicians’ parties. Russia doesn’t acknowledge such support.

Allies of Wilders, Orban, Le Pen and Farage complained vociferously after Zeid’s speech. Trump didn’t publicly respond.

While Zeid’s criticism carries no legal weight, his position gives him a highly visible pulpit to shame governments and politicians around the world. The U.S. — like Russia and other powerful governments — lobbies hard to avoid condemnation.



Klapper reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Jill Colvin in Washington and Lisa Lerer in White Plains, New York, contributed to this report.

More From AP



How Russia Wants to Undermine the U.S. Election


What’s behind Russia’s effort to influence the U.S. election

The leaders of the U.S. government, including the President and his top national-security advisers, face an unprecedented dilemma. Since the spring, U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have seen mounting evidence of an active Russian influence operation targeting the 2016 presidential election. It is very unlikely the Russians could sway the actual vote count, because our election infrastructure is decentralized and voting machines are not accessible from the Internet. But they can sow disruption and instability up to, and on, Election Day, more than a dozen senior U.S. officials tell TIME, undermining faith in the result and in democracy itself.

The question, debated at multiple meetings at the White House, is how aggressively to respond to the Russian operation. Publicly naming and shaming the Russians and describing what the intelligence community knows about their activities would help Americans understand and respond prudently to any disruptions that might take place between now and the close of the polls. Senior Justice Department officials have argued in favor of calling out the Russians, and that position has been echoed forcefully outside of government by lawmakers and former top national-security officials from both political parties.


Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The President and several of his closest national-security advisers are concerned about the danger of a confrontation in the new and ungoverned world of cyberspace, and they argue that while the U.S. has powerful offensive and defensive capabilities there, an escalating confrontation carries significant risks. National Security Council officials warn that our critical infrastructure–including the electricity grid, transportation sector and energy networks–is vulnerable to first strikes; others say attacks on private companies, stock exchanges and the media could affect the economy. Senior intelligence officials even worry about Russia exposing U.S. espionage operations in retaliation. And while U.S. officials have “high confidence” that Russia is behind what they describe as a major influence operation, senior U.S. officials tell TIME, their evidence would not yet stand up in court.

And so with five weeks to go, the White House is, for now, letting events unfold. On one side, U.S. law-enforcement agencies are scrambling to uncover the extent of the Russian operation, counter it and harden the country’s election infrastructure. On the other, a murky network of Russian hackers and their associates is stepping up the pace of leaks of stolen documents designed to affect public opinion and give the impression that the election is vulnerable, including emails from the computers of the

Democratic National Committee (DNC). Meanwhile, the FBI alerted all 50 states to the danger in mid-August, and the states have delivered evidence of a “significant” number of new intrusions into their election systems that the bureau and their colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security “are still trying to understand,” a department official tells TIME.

All of which makes Donald Trump’s repeated insertion of himself into the U.S.-Russia story all the more startling. Trump has praised Putin during the campaign, and at the first presidential debate, on Sept. 26, he said it wasn’t clear the Russians were behind the DNC hack. But the U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that Russian intelligence services were in fact responsible, multiple intelligence and national security officials tell TIME. Trump was informed of that assessment during a recent classified intelligence briefing, a U.S. official familiar with the matter tells TIME. “I do not comment on information I receive in intelligence briefings, however, nobody knows with definitive certainty that this was in fact Russia,” Trump told TIME in a statement. “It may be, but it may also be China, another country or individual.”

Russia’s interference in the U.S. election is an extraordinary escalation of an already worrying trend. Over the past 2½ years, Russia has executed a westward march of election meddling through cyberspace, starting in the states of the former Soviet Union and moving toward the North Atlantic. “On a regular basis they try to influence elections in Europe,” President Obama told NBC News on July 26. With Russia establishing beachheads in the U.S. at least since April, officials worry that in the final weeks of the campaign the Russian cybercapability could be used to fiddle with voter rolls, election-reporting systems and the media, resulting in confusion that could cast a shadow over both the next President and the democratic process.


Trump’s Claim That Putin Is A Better Leader Than Obama Is Utterly Insane

Trump’s Claim That Putin Is A Better Leader Than Obama Is Utterly Insane

Photo via


Since last night’s Commander-in-Chief forum on NBC, Republicans have been on the defensive about Donald Trump’s reiterated praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Here’s what Trump said:

“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him,” Trump said of the Russian president. “The man has very strong control over a country.”

The GOP nominee added that Putin has been a leader “far more than our president’s been a leader.”

Essentially, Trump’s case for why Putin is a good leader is this: 1. The Russian president has high approval ratings; 2. He has complimented Trump.

We know that there are few things Trump values more than polls and praise.

With that said, the Republican nominee’s decision to wrap his arms around Putin isn’t just insane, but it also shows that Trump’s definition of leadership is pretty frightening.

First of all, Putin is presiding over a terrible economy, which was made even worse by U.S.-led sanctions imposed following his illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s overall meddling in Ukraine.

In a Reuters report from yesterday, one Russian employer said, “The Russian economy has hit bottom, but who would have thought the Russians would start digging?”

VOA News also reported earlier this week that Putin’s economy “has plunged millions of people into poverty…”

It’s not just economic conditions that are dire in Russia; life also isn’t so good for those who support a free press.

Since Putin came to power, 25 journalists have been killed. The majority of those killings were carried out by military or government officials, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

If this is the type of strength and leadership that Donald Trump wants to emulate as the President of the United States, then we’re all in trouble.

Meanwhile, in President Obama’s America, the economy has rebounded from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. More than 15 million jobs have been created over the last 78 months – the longest streak of private sector job growth in history. The uninsured rate is at record lows, the stock market is soaring, and the unauthorized immigrant population has actually fallen.

In a recent analysis conducted by Gallup, the American people report that their lives have gotten better during Obama’s two terms as president. Obama’s rising approval ratings only confirm that reality.

All of this despite Trump’s repeated attempts to paint the country under Obama as a hellscape overrun by “illegals.”

For score-keeping purposes: Putin isolated his country from the rest of the world, drove his economy into the ground, and ordered the killing of journalists. Obama halted a second Great Depression, laid the groundwork for sustained economic growth, provided health insurance to millions, and improved – yes, improved – America’s reputation abroad.

The contest of which of these two men is a better leader isn’t even close. In fact, Putin would likely trade his record for Obama’s in a heartbeat.

Ultimately, all of this says more about the Republican nominee than it does about either Putin or Obama. If Putin’s is the leadership that Donald Trump admires then he should be nowhere near the White House.

Russian intelligence likely hacked the ‘New York Times,’ CNN reports

Russian intelligence likely hacked the 'New York Times,' CNN reports

Image Credit: Getty Images


Reporters are always trying to stay one step ahead the organization they cover, gathering secrets and speaking confidentially to major politicians and political players. So if a malicious hacker wanted access to political secrets and couldn’t get to the source itself, journalists are a ripe target.

The FBI is investigating a series of cybersecurity breaches of the New York Times and other news organizations, CNN reported Tuesday.

According to CNN‘s intelligence sources, the attacks are part of a growing wave of espionage on behalf of the Russian government against groups like reporters and think-tanks in order to gather information about the U.S. political system.

This news comes shortly after the hack on the Democratic National Committee, which exposed DNC officials to so much embarrassment that DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign. Though the FBI hasn’t openly revealed the source of the attack, FBI insiders have credited it to Russian intelligence.

After the DNC hack, Donald Trump called for Russian intelligence to increase its espionage against the United States, apparently hoping that more humiliating disclosures could help him win the election.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said. Right-wing media said Trump was joking, but national security experts didn’t think so.


Jack Smith IV

Is Comrade Trump Playing Us For Fools?

Is Comrade Trump Playing Us For Fools?

REUTERS/Eric Thayer


Are we watching an American presidential campaign or the pilot episode of a bizarre new TV series? Or both? The hallmark of “reality TV,” of course, being its extreme unreality.

On a daily basis, the Trump campaign invites sheer disbelief. Recently, Ivanka Trump, the statuesque daughter her father talks about dating, posted an Instagram photo of herself sightseeing in scenic Croatia with Wendi Deng Murdoch.

The New York Daily News explains that “Deng, who was divorced from Rupert Murdoch in 2013…has been linked romantically to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.” The newspaper adds that “the optics of the photo could raise further questions about the relationship between Ivanka’s father and Putin.”

Geez, you think? Maybe I’ll ask Boris and Natasha, my pet names for the Russian operatives who started sending me obscene emails after a recent column critical of Trump. (The original Boris and Natasha were smarter and funnier.) The subject line in Boris’s latest message reads “TRUMP SHOULD [DEFECATE] IN YOUR TRAITOROUS MOUTH!”

With impressive tradecraft, Boris calls himself “Jason Larenzen,” a name that appears not to exist in the United States.

Anticipating the latest Fox News fantasy theme, Natasha (masquerading as “Karyn”) asks “Will lying c**t Hillary last to the election before brain blood clot ruptures?” Her IP address links to, which a Google search locates in Moscow, within walking distance of the Kremlin.

They aren’t especially subtle.

Of course, in Putin’s Moscow offending journalists get shot dead in the street, so I shouldn’t complain. Besides, having grown up in New Jersey, profanity makes little impact on me.

Yo, Natasha, you eat with that mouth?

But think about it: Russian operatives are openly intervening in an American presidential election: hacking Democratic Party emails and harassing obscure political columnists.

Always on Donald Trump’s side. You’ve got to ask yourself why.

One possible answer may have appeared in the New York Times. Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s name turned up 22 times on a secret ledger detailing $12.7 million in illegal payola handed out under deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Supposedly, Manafort was also involved in a “murky” $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable TV “to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

Him again.

The information was given to Times reporters by the Ukrainian government’s “National Anti-Corruption Bureau,” no doubt tasked with putting as many of the current regime’s political rivals as possible in prison.

At the expense of being a spoilsport, I’ve learned to be highly skeptical of New York Times “blockbusters.” From the Whitewater hoax onward, the newspaper has produced a series of abortive Clinton scandal stories, culminating in last April’s abortive attempt to hint that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had corruptly engineered the sale of a Wyoming uranium mine.

“Look,” I wrote last April “there’s a reason articles like theTimes‘ big expose are stultifyingly dull and require the skills of a contract lawyer to parse. Murky sentences and jumbled chronologies signify that the ‘Clinton rules’ are back: all innuendo and guilt-by-association. All ominous rhetorical questions, but rarely straightforward answers.”

So it comes as no great surprise that Ukrainian investigators “have yet to determine if [Manafort] actually received the cash.”

So is Manafort a victim of the “Clinton Rules?” Could be.

But there’s no doubt about this: “Before he fled to Russia two years ago, Mr. Yanukovych…relied heavily on the advice of Mr. Manafort and his firm, who helped them win several elections.”

On evidence, little things like democratic institutions and the rule of law don’t appear high on Manafort’s priority list. Among his previous clients were Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Zaire’s infamous Mobutu Sese Seko, aptly described as “the archetypal African dictator.” Both regimes were essentially kleptocracies, characterized by nepotism, brutality and extreme corruption.

Comparatively speaking, Vladimir Putin would appear to be one of Manafort’s more savory associates.

So when candidate Trump expresses a Russia-friendly foreign policy agenda—musing aloud about recognizing Putin’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and hinting that President Trump might refuse to defend NATO allies against Russian attack, it’s reasonable to wonder what’s being said behind closed doors.

Or when Trump invites Boris and Natasha to conduct cyber-warfare against his Democratic opponent. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said in July.

Later, of course, the candidate alibied that he was being sarcastic. He’s a great kidder, Trump. Something blows up in his face, it was a joke.

Washington Monthly‘s David Atkins poses the million ruble question: “How much does [sic] Trump and his team need to do before we start asking serious questions about whether they’re a Manchurian Candidate campaign actively working on behalf of a foreign nation?”

Basically, that depends upon how big a piece of Trump Russian oligarchs own—one big reason we’ll never see his income taxes.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Trump Claims He’s Never Spoken to Putin. In This 2014 Video, Trump Says He Did.



On Wednesday, Donald Trump angrily told reporters that he had no connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I have nothing to do with Putin,” he said. “I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me.”

But those comments contradict what he said in 2014, when he spoke at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. During this appearance, he discussed US-Russian relations and claimed that he had talked to Putin during a recent visit to Moscow, where Trump held his Miss Universe pageant. Here’s what Trump told the Press Club audience:

Russia does not respect our country any longer. They see we’ve been greatly weakened, both militarily and otherwise, and he certainly does not respect President Obama. So what I would do—as an example, I own Miss Universe, I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success. The show was live from Moscow and we had tremendous success there and it was amazing, but to do well, you have to get the other side to respect you, and he does not respect our president, which is very sad.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Trump’s claim that he has spoken to Putin.

It’s not the first time that Trump has made contradictory claims about his relationship with Putin. During a Republican primary debate in November, Trump said, “I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes.” But it turned out that Trump and Putin were interviewed in separate locations. During his press conference on Wednesday, he claimed not to know anything about the Russian leader. “I never met Putin,” he said. “I don’t know who Putin is.”

Does Trump know Putin or doesn’t he? Have they spoken or haven’t they? Trump may want to get his story straight.


Trump suggests Putin called Obama the n-word. Seconds later: “I hope [Putin] likes me.”

VOX – Policy & Politics

Within 20 seconds at a press conference on Wednesday, actual Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump went from suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had once called President Barack Obama the n-word to saying he hopes Putin likes him.

This is not an exaggeration. It really happened:

For the record, there is literally zero evidence that Putin ever called Obama the n-word. It’s hard to say where Trump got this idea, but he has a long history of naively restating things he heard from one person — even random people on Twitter. As Ezra Klein argued for Vox, Trump’s gullibility is one of the reasons he’s not qualified to be president.

But this also seems like a bizarre attempt by Trump to try to make himself look better than Obama. He’s essentially arguing that Putin disrespects Obama so much — to the point that he called the president the n-word — while Putin should and probably does like and respect Trump.

If this were anyone else, it’d be easy to dismiss this as the totally absurd remark it is. But this is a person running for president.

Within 20 seconds at a press conference on Wednesday, actual Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump went from suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had once called President Barack Obama the n-word to saying he hopes Putin likes him.

 Updated by

Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing



Could there possibly be a “bromance connection” between Donald Trump and Russian leaders?  (ks)


I’ll list off some facts.

1. All the other discussions of Trump’s finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. Here’s a good overview from The Washington Post, with one morsel for illustration …

Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

3. One example of this is the Trump Soho development in Manhattan, one of Trump’s largest recent endeavors. The project was the hit with a series of lawsuits in response to some typically Trumpian efforts to defraud investors by making fraudulent claims about the financial health of the project. Emerging out of that litigation however was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. Most attention about the project has focused on the presence of a twice imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to the Russian criminal underworld. But that’s not the most salient part of the story. As the Times put it,

“Mr. Lauria brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a “strategic partner,” along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.”

Another suit alleged the project “occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia.”

Sounds completely legit.

Read both articles: After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence. He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. And in case you’re keeping score at home: no, that’s not reassuring.

4. Then there’s Paul Manafort, Trump’s nominal ‘campaign chair’ who now functions as campaign manager and top advisor. Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally. Manafort is running Trump’s campaign.

5. Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you’re not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom’s role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin’s policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

6. Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump. As Frank Foer explains here, this fits a pattern with how Putin has sought to prop up rightist/nationalist politicians across Europe, often with direct or covert infusions of money. In some cases this is because they support Russia-backed policies; in others it is simply because they sow discord in Western aligned states. Of course, Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, not only in the abstract but often for the authoritarian policies and patterns of government which have most soured his reputation around the world.

7. Here’s where it gets more interesting. This is one of a handful of developments that tipped me from seeing all this as just a part of Trump’s larger shadiness to something more specific and ominous about the relationship between Putin and Trump. As TPM’s Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there’s a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform, with activists trying to check all the hardline ideological boxes and the nominees trying to soften most or all of those edges. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump’s backing but because he simply didn’t care. With one big exception: Trump’s team mobilized the nominee’s traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it’s worth (and it’s not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue – in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform – speaks volumes.

This does not mean Trump is controlled by or in the pay of Russia or Putin. It can just as easily be explained by having many of his top advisors having spent years working in Putin’s orbit and being aligned with his thinking and agenda. But it is certainly no coincidence. Again, in the context of near total indifference to the platform and willingness to let party activists write it in any way they want, his team zeroed in on one fairly obscure plank to exert maximum force and it just happens to be the one most important to Putin in terms of US policy.

Add to this that his most conspicuous foreign policy statements track not only with Putin’s positions but those in which Putin is most intensely interested. Aside from Ukraine, Trump’s suggestion that the US and thus NATO might not come to the defense of NATO member states in the Baltics in the case of a Russian invasion is a case in point.

There are many other things people are alleging about hacking and all manner of other mysteries. But those points are highly speculative, some verging on conspiratorial in their thinking. I ignore them here because I’ve wanted to focus on unimpeachable, undisputed and publicly known facts. These alone paint a stark and highly troubling picture.

To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He’s the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out ‘what’s going on’ as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.

There is something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Putin or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. Even if you draw no adverse conclusions, Trump’s financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin. That’s simply not something that can be waved off or ignored.

Josh Marshall