That gasping sound you hear around the media at the news that Donald Trump has been under an FBI counterintelligence investigation since early May 2017, looking into the question of whether he might be or have been effectively serving as an agent of the Russian government during his presidential campaign and into his presidency, at least as far as the Oval Office meeting of 10 May when he told Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Lavrov how pleased he was that he'd fired his FBI director because it relieved him of a lot of pressure, and passed them a tidbit of secret intelligence that happened to come from our Israeli allies, in a meeting that was barred to the US press but well reported, with pictures, in Russia—
That is, I mean, if there's anybody surprised to learn that that was when the FBI opened up a file with Donald Trump's name on it to join those on Papadopoulos, Page, Manafort, Stone, and Flynn in the ongoing investigation of who in the Trump campaign might possibly be a Russian agent, they have to either have been not paying attention or journalists.
Speaking of journalists, get Natasha Bertrand:
My god. “Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of his interpreter’s notes and instructing him not to discuss what had transpired w/other officials” https://t.co/8WsxEJ3U7u— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) January 12, 2019
This is for real some unexpected reporting in this WaPo piece by Greg Miller, but "my god" is an overreaction.
The basic facts should have been pretty plain to everybody pretty much the day after this particular incident with the interpreter happened, on the evening of 7 July 2017 at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, when Trump abandoned his dinner partner Mrs. Abe (later lying that she didn't speak English) and charged off to hang out with Vladimir Vladimirovich and a single interpreter, not one of the Americans', for an hour or so, for an excited meeting that might have remained secret forever if somebody hadn't told Ian Bremmer about it:
Leaders who reported the meeting to him, Bremmer said, were “bemused, non-plussed , befuddled” by the animated conversation, held in full view – but not listening distance – of others present.Which remains particularly interesting to us, of course, because it was just after the emails between Trump Junior and Rob Goldstone referencing the famous Veselnitskaya summit in Trump Tower were released, and just before Trump made his first attempt to cover up what happened at that meeting, on the flight back from Germany.
The thing with the interpreter is indeed startling in its own right, because that formal meeting
with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg... was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.
Apparently Trump didn't mind getting overheard by Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil whose 20 years of business experience in Russia included a fruitful partnership with Igor Sechin (an old KGB colleague of Putin's) and the giant Rosneft firm, and getting decorated in 2013 by Putin with the Order of Friendship. Oh, and another thing about Tillerson: while the official story is that he was sponsored for the secretary of state job by the principals of the strategic consulting firm RiceHadleyGates (former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former national security adviser Stephen Hadley, and former secretary of defense Robert Gates), reporting at the time said something else:
And while I'm not finding any theories as to the identity of whoever put Tillerson on the radar screen, I do find a somewhat startling endorsement from a "person close to Trump", which showed up on CNBC just after the nomination:Putin fan Tom Barrack, also the hidden hand behind the selection of Paul Manafort, whaddaya know?
President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to select Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson as his choice for secretary of State was “genius,” said Tom Barrack, chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee and founder of real estate powerhouse Colony Capital.
One of the criticisms of Tillerson has been perceived close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, due to having negotiated business deals with Moscow on behalf of Exxon.
But on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday, Barrack described Tillerson’s understanding of Putin as an asset.
“Why is Putin the enemy? You need Putin to solve the Middle East,” Barrack argued. “No matter what anyone says, you’re going to have to have a day with him. So having somebody who understands him is better.”
Before settling on Tillerson, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was “logically considered” for the position of top U.S. diplomat, but “for a lot of reasons discarded,” Barrack said, without elaborating further.
Oh, and the Hamburg interpreter did remember this one thing about the Putin meeting Tillerson attended, which Tillerson was unwilling to discuss:
Tillerson refused to say during the news conference whether Trump had rejected Putin’s claim or indicated that he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered.
Tillerson’s account is at odds with the only detail that other administration officials were able to get from the interpreter, officials said. Though the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said, he conceded that Putin had denied any Russian involvement in the U.S. election and that Trump responded by saying, “I believe you.”
It's really tightening up now.