The Russia House

On Friday, 800,000 federal employees missed their first paychecks under the government shutdown. The shutdown, a result of Trump’s Hans Gruber-like demand for $5.6 billion for his southern border wall (remember when he said Mexico would pay for this thing?), wasn’t the only bad news to drop on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The New York Times reported the FBI had opened an inquiry in 2017 (prior to the Mueller probe) to determine if the sitting U.S. president was knowingly (or unknowingly) a Russian asset working against American interests.  We’ve officially hit the President Logan season of 24. 

putty tang

Credit: Alexei Nikolsky/Getty

Throughout the 2016 campaign, a series of actions increased the FBI’s concerns of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia: 

  • The FBI opened its initial probe into the Trump campaign after an Australian diplomat said Trump advisor George Papadopoulos told him that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  • During a July 27th, 2016 news conference, Trump invited Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails (a 2018 Mueller indictment showed that “on or about” the day of Trump’s request, Russia targeted 76 email addresses tied to the Clinton campaign).
  • The Trump campaign altered the GOP platform stance on the Ukraine by weakening U.S. support for the country, thus benefitting Russia.

What convinced the Bureau to make Donald Trump himself one of Gordon Cole’s Blue Rose cases? The May 9th, 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey.

The FBI’s inquiry was made up of two components: counterintelligence (Is Trump a Russian asset?) and criminal (Is the firing of Comey obstruction of justice?). Sound familiar? The inquiry was quickly rolled into the ongoing Mueller investigation. 

According to the Times piece, Bureau officials felt “validated” in their decision to move forward with the inquiry after Trump invited Russian Minister Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak into the Oval Office and said of Comey’s firing: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Worth noting: this is the same Oval Office meeting where Trump reportedly revealed highly classified information to the Russians.

After the Times published this story, the White House quickly responded:

Where to begin on this nonsense? Trump likes to falsely present law enforcement officials as political partisans seeking to end his presidency – this seems to continue the tradition. Ignoring that James Comey was a registered Republican until 2016, a DOJ memo cited Comey’s unfair treatment of Hillary Clinton as reason for his termination.

Let’s be clear about WHY Andrew McCabe was fired. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe at the recommendation of Bureau officials. The FBI had found McCabe misled internal investigators about previously allowing the FBI to discuss an inquiry into the Clinton Foundation with the media.

Unless Sarah Huckabee Sanders was playing a game of Mad Libs, I have no idea why the White House mentions Obama (he’s not mentioned in the Times piece). Since we’re here: Obama confronted Putin in China in 2016, warning him to end his election meddling operation. In retaliation for meddling, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats, seized two compounds and implemented new sanctions. Trump has been considering returning the compounds and the administration is about to lift sanctions against a Russian oligarch with ties to the Russian government.

Remember when Trump took Putin’s word denying his involvement in election meddling over the findings of our own intelligence agencies? Way to go, Captain America.  

What’s noticeably missing from the White House response: anything to discredit the New York Times’ story or the situations cited by the FBI.

Twenty-four hours after the story broke, Trump called into Judge Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show. Pirro asks Trump: “…are you now or have you ever ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?”

Trump goes on a long winded rant, criticizing the Times, Comey (specifically citing the Hillary Clinton investigation), McCabe and others. He (falsely) brags about how tough he has been on Russia. He also states “nothing has been found” in the investigation. What he doesn’t say? “NO.”

The New York Times’ FBI inquiry piece wasn’t the only noteworthy story of last week.

On Tuesday, Paul Manafort’s lawyers made a mistake in properly redacting information from a court filing. In information unintended for public viewing, Paul Manafort is accused by the special counsel of sharing 2016 polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian connected to Russia intelligence (hello, voter targeting!).

As the Mueller investigation further tightens around the President and his inner circle, Trump will feel as if he’s backed against a wall… and it’ll be cheaper than $5.6 billion.

Update: After previously refusing to directly answer if he was ever a Russian asset, Trump has a new response:

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