Americans probably have heard more about Russia over the past year than at any time since the demise of the Soviet Union. For all the talk, there’s more confusion and suspicion than ever. Regrettably, much of the furor is directed against Americans, instead of where it belongs: at Russian government agents sowing discord.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that Marc Elias, a Washington attorney whose firm represented Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, retained the Washington firm Fusion GPS to do “oppo” research on Donald Trump last year. Fusion GPS subcontracted with former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who compiled a “dossier,” reporting Russian informants allegations improper ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, along with salacious claims about Trump’s personal behavior in Russia.
Meanwhile in the U.S. Senate last week, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Diane Feinstein, D-California, split on their committee’s investigation of Russian influence. Grassley declared that he will probe a 2010 decision by the Obama administration to allow Russian-backed investors to purchase mines representing 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply. Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is already pursuing an inquiry in the uranium mining deal, which involved some investors who had contributed to the Clinton Foundation.
If Grassley and Nunes investigate a seven-year-old transaction involving uranium mines purchased by Russians, maybe they should also investigate the 2003 deal in which the federal government, then headed by President George W. Bush, waived antitrust concerns and allowed Russia mining giant Norilsk Nickel to acquire controlling interest in Montana’s Stillwater Mining Co., which was and still is the only platinum and palladium mine in the United States. At the time, that deal was one of the largest ever purchases of a U.S. company by Russian interests. (Norilsk no longer owns Stillwater Mining.)
There are more plot twists and shadowy characters in the unfolding Russia stories than in a John le Carré novel. But this is a real problem for our nation. Americans must separate fact from fiction and focus on the important issue of Russia’s cyber warfare.
That is why the Department of Justice Investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is extremely important. The indictment Friday of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and Rick Gates, Manafort's former deputy who was still working for the Trump inauguration committee two weeks ago, indicates lengthy and meticulous investigative work by FBI experts in finance and international transactions. The 12-count indictment accuses both Manafort and Gates with conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government (Ukraine), making false statements and failing to report foreign bank accounts. The grand jury indictment alleges that the pair received $75 million from the government of Ukraine and that Manafort personally laundered about $18 million to support his luxurious lifestyle in the United States.
President Donald Trump reacted on Twitter Monday soon after Manafort and Davis surrendered to the FBI: "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"
He then added: "Also, there is NO COLLUSION!"
The indictment unsealed Monday doesn't mention the Trump campaign nor does it make allegations about any ties between Trump and the Kremlin. Trump's tweet is wrong about the timing of the alleged Manafort-Gates crimes. Count 11 alleges that Manafort and Gates made false statements in November 2016 and again in February 2017 in which they denied setting up covert lobbying of the U.S. government on behalf of the government of Ukraine.
It's disturbing the the president's first response to these criminal charges is to lash out at his political opponents, again trying to distract the public and the media from a serious national issue that he doesn't want to talk about.
Despite the partisan split in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel has a hearing scheduled today when Facebook, Twitter and Google executives are invited to testify about Russian disinformation. Those social media giants were the means by which millions of Russian troll messages were transmitted to U.S. voters before the 2016 elections.
Americans must not allow partisan disputes to distract us from the quest for the truth. Congressional committees should produce bipartisan conclusions. Savvy readers must consider their sources of information.
The mainstream media has its shortcomings, but readers and viewers know where journalists are coming from. Professional U.S. journalists make mistakes and facts may change, but readers can trust that we are working to get the truth out as soon as possible.