Columns, Opinion

BERMAN: Let’s address the elephant in the room (possibly sitting next to Vladimir Putin)

Did Russia affect our election? Did the Trump campaign or Donald Trump himself collude with Russia? Did that golden shower thing really happen? The answers are, in order: it’s complicated, it’s complicated and it’s very doubtful. Probably. But I’ll simplify these questions while comprehensively explaining the Trump-Russia connection by answering the first two questions.

  1. Did Russia affect the 2016 U.S. presidential election?

Yes, but no, but maybe. I know — simple. Let’s go back to the glory days of the Democratic National Committee last year. WikiLeaks leaked confidential emails among several key members of the DNC. These emails included secret DNC media communication, DNC members harshly trashing Bernie Sanders and less scandalous material. WikiLeaks also released emails from Clinton’s best bud, John Podesta. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign for seemingly helping the Democrat in the Democratic Primary. Shocking, right?

So how is Russia involved? Well, after the leaks, the DNC hired a security firm, Crowdstrike, that revealed that two attacks originated from hackers codenamed Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear. According to Crowdstrike, Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear are responsible for similar attacks orchestrated by Russian military intelligence. WikiLeaks is also believed to have a connection with Russia. A Vox article titled “The WikiLeaks-Russia connection started way before the 2016 election” explains this well.

During that chaos, according to intelligence officials, Russia used “trolls” and “bots” to influence American voters on the internet. Russia also used propaganda news networks to shape the news cycle and the minds of people against those fact-checking, educated and principled mainstream media journalists. Don’t believe me? I literally Googled “WikiLeaks John Podesta” and RT came up as the eighth source.

So why is the answer so complicated as to whether the election was changed? Because measuring if people’s minds were changed by Russian propaganda is impossible. There are so many factors: Clinton’s terrible political persona, Trump’s anti-trade message, Scott Baio’s ringing endorsement, James Comey’s letter and my personal favorite underdog — the media’s obsession with Clinton’s honesty poll numbers.

  1. Did the Trump campaign or Trump himself collude with Russia?

We don’t know, but the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee are investigating it. To repeat a cliché I’ve heard a billion times in the past month, there’s a ton of smoke but no fire. If you want to learn every detail about every connection, read the following Washington Post article titled “Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests.” But if you don’t, let me explain.

There have been many on Trump’s team (let’s call them Trumpsters) who have met and/or talked with Russian officials. There are some Trumpsters who have business and/or political ties to Russia. Trump has ties to Russia.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meeting with the Russian ambassador, which he did twice, after claiming in his confirmation hearing that he had no meetings with Russians in his capacity as a surrogate. Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador and a Russian banker without informing the press beforehand. Moreover, according to the Washington Post, the United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting between Blackwater founder Erik Prince (who is the brother to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin  in January to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and Donald Trump, according to American, European and Arab officials.

Now about Trump’s Russian ties. First of all, Trump sold a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million. He paid $40 million for the house a few years prior to the sale. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said Trump’s businesses “see a lot of money pouring in from Russia … And in terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There’s indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble.” USA TODAY investigated these Russian investments, saying “To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.”

I really have no idea whether all this scandalous material leads somewhere. But I know the leaks are for the good of the country. I know the reporting will try to discover the truth. And I have faith in the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is time to trust our institutions, it is time to stand up for democracy and it is time to figure out if our president likes to get urinated on.

Comments are closed.