Saturday, June 27, 2020

And How They GRU

This story, reported last night by Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz in The Times, is nuts: that the Russian GRU unit 29155, implicated in the attempted murder of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in Sofia in 2015, the attempt to assassinate the Montenegrin prime minister and overturn that country's government in 2016, the attempted murder of Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018, has also been active in Afghanistan, orchestrating attacks by Taliban-linked militants on American and other NATO troops there and paying them bounties for success in some fraction of those killings (something like 50 Americans have been killed in hostile fire and IED attacks in Afghanistan since 2017). 

Let's just say that again: Russian intelligence helping Afghan insurgents kill Americans, and paying them for it. The report doesn't offer any conclusions about how far up the Russian chain of command it goes, but we're always told that nothing big happens without Vladimir Putin's approval. 
The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.
The White House has been sitting on this information for close to four months, apparently unable to make up its mind to do anything, though. Except to keep it secret, apparently. Though Trump has been conducting his own Russia policy of pushing the readmission of Russia to the former G8, now G7, even though the crimes in Ukraine for which Russia was expelled (the annexation of Crimea and collaborating in an insurgency in the Donbass region) are ongoing, doubling down on the idea of invitating Putin to attend a G7 summit.. As Twitter was quick to note:

Am I exaggerating? I've resisted the word "treason" up to now, even as I continue to be convinced that the Trump administration's refusal to act on Russia sanctions is meant to be paying Putin for something, but this really looks like Russia waging war against the United States and Trump not merely averting his eyes but rewarding them, even though it's a kind of stupid reward, since there's no chance of the other G7 countries acceding to the idea.

The other big thing that's happened in the Trump-Russia world is the Justice Department's release a week or so ago of a new version of the Mueller Report, with some important redactions removed—those that were meant to avoid "harm to the ongoing matter" of Roger Stone's trial, which the trial judge, Reggie Walton, had said were unnecessary, in particular after the trial was concluded.

Mr. Barr had put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of the Mueller report findings in a fashion that downplayed the special counsel’s more damaging findings and shaped the public narrative in the president’s favor, Judge Walton wrote.

“These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility,” he wrote — and in turn, cast doubt on the department’s statements to him that the redactions were lawful.

Thanks to the trial, we already know most of what the unredacted pages tell us about Stone—that he served as the liaison between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks in coordinating the timing of the WikiLeaks release of the GRU-stolen emails of the Democratic National Committee in July 2016 and of the Clinton campaign's John Podesta in October. What's new is the establishment of how involved Trump was in the process, which you could infer from the 302s of Rick Gates's FBI interviews last November but not demonstrate, since Stone was also redacted from there.

Old Mueller vol. I:52:

And then, later,

In this way, it's pretty clear that Trump lied under oath in his written responses to questions from the Mueller investigation (as Mueller apparently thought), most broadly here: 
Response to Question ll, Part (g): I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.
Though naturally you can't prove he didn't remember.

Looking back from this to the timeline, you get a much refreshed picture of what candidate Trump must have known regarding Stone, WikiLeaks, and the Russians:
  • April-June: Rick Gates observes that "interest is racheting up" within the Trump campaign in some collection of emails that will help the campaign, possibly reflecting the FBI's work on Hillary Clinton's former server, Russia's offer to the campaign of "dirt" in thousands of emails (hacked Podesta emails?) through Papadopoulos, other Russian démarches of that spring, or all of the above  
  • 9 June: Trump Tower meeting arranged by Agalarovs between Junior and N, Veselnitskaya (ostensibly) and a host of others including Manafort and Agalarov's US lieutenant Ike Kaveladze
  • 14 June: Washington Post publishes first public report of Russian hack of DNC databases and theft of their opposition research and emails
  • 15 June: Trump campaign issues statement accusing DNC of hacking themselves; also, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, coming out of a meeting "with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladi­mir Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions", makes his famous "joke" about Putin paying Trump (and Rohrabacher, who was present)
  • 18 July: At convention in Cleveland, anti-Russia language removed from Republican platform at instance of Trump campaign
  • 20 July: Kislyak meets with Republicans at a Cleveland lunch
  • 22 July: WikiLeaks begins publishing DNC emails
  • 24 July: New York Times reports evidence that the emails were stolen by Russians; Trump tweets, "The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me"
  • 27 July: at a press conference, Trump  calls “this whole thing with Russia... a total deflection”, “farfetched” and “ridiculous”, although it would give him “no pause” if Russia had Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."
We never think of noting the context of those two "jokes"—McCarthy's after a formal meeting where they'd been informed of Putin's habit of buying foreign politicians, making it sound more like a sudden insight (OMG if he's doing it here I know who he must be doing it with); Trump in the context of his fourth straight day of denying that Russians had hacked the DNC, though (as usual) without any indication of how he would know whether they had or not, but with that typical Trumpian flourish (if it was true, there'd be nothing wrong with it, in fact I'm asking them to do it right now!), which is supposed to make the denial sound more sincere. But there's also the genuine Trumpy note of resentment (wish they had sent that good stuff to The Times instead of this dumb DNC shit I don't know how to use").

Anyway, the new unredactions certainly reinforce the picture of a Trump campaign that was obsessed with the "dirt" in the form of emails that was going to come to them out of nowhere like presents down the chimney and rescue their hopeless endeavor.

And the new material on murderous Russian misbehavior in Afghanistan to which Trump turns a blind eye reinforces the sense of a Trump helplessly indebted to Russians and unable to do anything about them. So I'm more convinced than ever.

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