Vladimir Putin & Donald Trump in Helsinki. Photo: Website of the President of the Russian Federation, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Suppose you were a member of a soccer team, scheduled for an important home game against another, much tougher team. Your manager (let’s call him Rump) has pulled together some impressive wins in the past, but lately he’s been erratic, picking fights with everyone.

During an intermission in the game, suddenly the manager of the opposing team backs a dump truck full of manure in front of your team bench, and dumps the stuff all over your side of the field. As your whole team stands around yelling and waving their arms, the manager of the other team climbs down from the dump truck cab. The crowds in the stands are screaming too.

To your team’s horror (and the crowd’s), your team’s manager, Rump, marches over and embraces the other team’s manager. Then he hands your arch rival your team’s playbook, giving him your field formations and game strategies. Finally, Rump bends over, picks up pieces of the manure and starts throwing clumps at your own team members, yelling, “We could be nicer.”

The game is over. Wouldn’t you be yelling “WTF?” Would you be ready to make Rump eat some of that manure himself?  

That’s the kind of betrayal Donald Trump handed the citizens of the U.S. when he was at the July 14 Helsinki meeting with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin. No wonder the president has been backpedalling full speed since he returned to Washington, D.C.  

Back home, No. 45 is facing the intelligence agency chiefs whom he threw under the bus when he said he accepted Putin’s denial that Russians meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. More than a dozen prominent Republicans in Congress have condemned what Trump said and did (that conspiratorial wink to Putin at the beginning) during that media conference.

“Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous and inexplicable behavior is the possibility — the very real possibility — that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump,” Minority Leader Schumer said on the Senate floor. 

Other experts have echoed his cautious language, avoiding terms like “traitor” or “treason,” because “treason” can carry the death penalty. Mind you,  No. 45’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, under multiple indictments for tax evasion and money laundering, has been moved to the Alexandria Prison, formerly used for traitors and spies.

Impeachment would be one way to investigate the very serious charges that could follow  No. 45’s non-presidential, not to say un-American, behaviour. Impeachment is a two-step process. The House has to vote, by a simple majority, to send the case to the Senate to be tried, which has seemed unlikely so long as Republicans hold the majority of House seats. Then the Senate conducts a trial, examines the evidence against the president, and reaches a finding of guilty or not guilty.

Unfortunately, to date the Republican majority has resisted impeachment. Although the party zealously pursued Bill Clinton for being caught in fellatio delicto, Republicans consistently have turned a blind eye to the current president’s misogynist comments, sexual harassment settlements, and public involvement with a pornography star. The situation may look different after the November mid-term elections.

The thing is, even Republicans find Trump’s behaviour in Helsinki baffling, because he had a clear and urgent duty to the United States on this trip. As U.S. president and defender of the free world, he needed to insist that Russia produce and deliver to the U.S., the 12 GRU military officers accused of hacking into the Democratic National Committee and affecting the 2016 U.S. election.

Those 12 are named in Robert Mueller’s July 14 indictment, along with the specific times and thefts they’re alleged to have made by invading the DNC computer. Mueller’s dossier emphasizes that the DNC attacks began after business hours on the day of Trump’s July 2016 televised plea, “Russia, if you’re out there,” to please hack HRC’s emails. 

Instead of demanding or negotiating extradition of the Russian military officers — who are supposed to be responsible to their commanders and their nation — to face U.S. charges of hacking, data theft, and election tampering, somehow  No. 45 came home with a two-way, reciprocal proposal, which he put forward as, “An incredible offer.” Putin offered to let U.S. investigators watch his own people question the 12 indicted officers, if the U.S. let Russian investigators pose questions to some Americans.  

This proposition endangers two international human rights crusaders, former Ambassador Michael McFaul and Bill Browder. Together they are largely responsible for the Magnitsky Act, which allows nations to freeze the assets of and ban visas for known human rights violators. Instead of protecting these upright U.S. citizens,  No. 45 suggested they be “offered” to Russia for questioning.  

“For the last 10 years, I’ve been trying to avoid getting killed by Putin’s regime,” wrote Bill Browder in Time Magazine, “and there already exists a trail of dead bodies connected to its desire to see me dead. Amazingly, Trump stood next to him, appearing to nod approvingly. He even later said that he considered it ‘an incredible offer.'”

“Since 2012, Putin has made it perhaps his largest foreign policy priority to have the Magnitsky Act repealed. But none of his efforts have worked. Not only has it not been repealed, it’s spread to six additional countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, the Baltic states and Gibraltar, [and eight other countries have legislation pending…]”

Putin’s personal anger about the Magnitsky Act combines with his anger about Russia being dropped from the Group of Eight (now the Group of Seven) in response to Russia annexing Crimea and attempting to annex Ukraine. Worldwide Magnitsky Acts would imperil his personal fortune, rumoured to be the greatest in the world. World sanctions have cramped his apparently irredentist goals, which is exactly why they were applied. 

In response, evidence shows, the Russians have conducted a secret cyberwar at the same time they have advanced to acquire more territory, such as Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine. They have sown fear, false news, and disruption, designed to divide public debate and distract attention from what they, the Russians, are doing on the ground. 

Many European countries have complained of Russian interference. French President Emmanuel Macron has accused the Russians of meddling in the French election. British Prime Minister Theresa May has charged that they interfered in Britain’s Brexit referendum. U.S. authorities charge they meddled extensively in the 2016 U.S. election. Some European parties are now openly pro-Russian, such as Alternatives for Germany, Five Star Movement in Italy, and France’s National Movement, headed by Marin Le Pen.

No. 45’s behaviour has been in line with what the Russians want. In June, he caused dissension when he called for the Group of 7 to re-admit Russia to the Group. In July, he spoke his lines before the assembled news media at Helsinki as if he had spent two hours rehearsing them. For somebody who keeps talking about “putting America first,” he spends a lot of time throwing dirt at his own people, and championing another nation’s interests.

As more and more voices call for No. 45’s impeachment, others caution against handing control of the U.S. to Vice-President Mike Pence’s evangelical Christian brand of misogyny. In Part two, I’ll look at the different possible reasons for No. 45’s caving in to Putin and to Russia — what kinds of kompromat could Russia have on him? — and different possible paths to removing him from power in disgrace.

Photo: Website of the President of the Russian Federation, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...