Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Crime. III

Drawing by Victor Juhasz for Matt Taibbi's Insane Clown President, 2017. 

Jeff asked, in comments to yesterday's post, "What happened in the wake of the 9 June meeting?" Meaning, I thought, what real-world consequences did it have? If they formalized an agreement between the Trump campaign and the Russian agents, what did the agreement lead to that's different from what happens in the Trump story that that the meeting was pure senseless noise ("She didn't have any information we could use and we went home")? And how would it help you recognize, based on the evidence we do have, which one is true?

That's not exactly what Jeff meant to ask, but let that pass for the moment. This more or less philosophy-of-science approach led me back to the situation in the trumpological world that we were in before the report of the meeting came out in July 2017, and a post I wrote back then, in March, as we were all starting to digest the Steele dossier and all the reports of Trump associates making contact with Russians and lying about them, and Adam Schiff's statement, when the House Intelligence Committee was interviewing FBI director James Comey (remember him?), laying out the narratology as he understood it at the time. I was focused on what had happened, if you assumed the Steele information on Carter Page's activities was pretty good, in July 2016:

  • Page traveling to Moscow, making an anti-democratic, pro-corruption speech, and being offered the brokerage of the Rosneft sale which took place (as Christopher Steele predicted) in the fall;
  • The Trump campaign as represented by Page being offered kompromat material on Hillary Clinton, to be publicized in some deniable forum like WikiLeaks, "in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fair share";
  • the appearance of Manafort, Page, Gordon, Phares, and Sessions all getting together with Ambassador Kislyak in Cleveland for the Republican convention when the party platform was being finalized, and the expected Republican offer to provide weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces was removed from the text at the Trump campaign's insistence (in harmony with Steele's prediction, and the only request they had of the platform committee), though they later denied having anything to do with it;
  • the first appearance on WikiLeaks of material meant to embarrass Clinton, in the form of the emails stolen—by Russian intelligence sources, as it eventually turned out (and as Steele predicted)—from the DNC.
A couple of these points have not survived, at least in the form I had them in: it's very unclear, in particular, whether Carter Page's trip to Moscow included a chat with Igor Diveykin, of the Internal Political Department of the Russian presidential administration, offering him documents compromising Clinton in return for favorable policy—while Page told J.D. Gordon by email that
he had received "incredible insights and outreach ... from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here."
his testimony to the House committee was a lot more modest:
Page denied meeting with Diveykin and said the meeting with the "senior members of the presidential administration" was actually "a brief, less-than-10-second chat with Arkadiy Dvorkovich," Russia's deputy prime minister.
He said his mention of "legislators" was a reference to "a few people" who "were shaking hands" with him in passing.
(Dvorkovich, incidentally—this is not something I have reason to know, it just came up when I was checking the styling of his name—is in some trouble where an in with Trump could help him out; he's left politics and is trying to become president of the International Chess Federation, but having difficulty because he's on a "pre-sanctions list" with the US Treasury department.)

So we know he's a liar one way or the other, or both. You can imagine that Steele (writing after WikiLeaks started publishing the DNC emails) back-projected his hindsight on what he knew about the Page visit from his own informants; or you can imagine it has some real foundation that Page himself has obscured, exaggerating his importance in one retelling and denying he had anything to do with it in another.

On the other hand the story of Page's meeting with Igor Sechin of Rosneft looks to be quite plausible, though not quite the way Page was expecting, since he was invited to Moscow 8 December 2016 to celebrate the Rosneft sale deal (in which I thought he was likely to pick up 50 million euros), but that subsequently fell through too, and it was the Chinese who bought the thing in the end; Sechin had picked him up, as described, but was not especially interested in making him rich—you have to read the tragicomic story of Carter Page's attempt to cash in his relationship to Trump for many millions in the Rosneft deal as told by Todd Gitlin and Steven Halliwell in The Daily Beast.

Anyhow, the story of the Trump Tower meeting arriving when it did had a hugely clarifying effect on all these bizarre stories, in the form of a focal point standing between the first tentative feelers of the conspiracy (Manafort, Page, Papadopoulos, and Flynn joining the campaign, and the offer of Clinton emails being made to Papadopoulos in England rather than America, where they might have felt less secure from observation) and the publication of those emails. You could see how the Russians and Trumpies had worked toward this agreement; you could see how the different parties went to work afterwards; you could see how they worked to develop a system of communication, first run by Ambassador Kislyak, and then the quest for a "back channel" like the one proposed in the Seychelles by Erik Prince, or the weird expedients employed by Trump later on to get time alone with Putin.

If there was an element of the story that wasn't quite satisfactory, like Carter Page receiving an offer of Clinton emails in Moscow in July 2016, you could see that it wasn't necessary to the larger story (the offer had already been made by Kaveladze to Manafort and accepted) and dump it. If there was a part that didn't fit at all, like the fake Facebook news coming from Russia, you could let it go and see it clarify itself in the fullness of time as something that just wasn't related (though evidently related to a different and possibly more effective plot connected from the Internet Research Agency of St.Petersburg to the Mercers, Bannon, and Cambridge Analytica). It was a moment that didn't explain everything (that would have been clinical paranoia) but just the right number of things.

And with the new suggestion that Michael Cohen was there in Big Donald's room when he took the phone call from Junior and greenlighted this treasonous arrangement, the meeting's explanatory power has increased still more, from the original verified discussion of sanctions relief, from the first effective talk (as opposed to Trump talk) on eliminating sanctions
Two months later [in September 2016], another foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, was inveighing against sanctions to Russian news agency Interfax. Papadopoulos would later plead guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.
to Trump's signing statement effectively announcing he was going to disobey the sanctions law overwhelmingly passed by Congress in late July 2017 and signed 2 August, offering to
give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.
"Preferences"! And at last hearing (January 2018) they still hadn't allowed it to go to work!

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