Trump & Putin

President Trump’s impeachment attorney Alan Dershowitz wrote that if Putin decided to retake Alaska as he retook part of Ukraine, and Trump agreed to it, it wouldn’t be impeachable (The Case Against Impeaching Trump, 2018). The book shows how far Dershowitz will go to mislead, as he did in getting accused wife murderers such as O.J. Simpson acquitted. His depiction of impeachment grounds would have left the Founding Fathers gasping in disbelief, as it did real constitutional scholars.

There is a movement to reclaim Alaska. We can understand their bitterness. The bravery of Russian explorers won the territory, giving Russia claims that at one point extended all the way to California. Tsar Alexander II sold Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million just three decades before our gold rush. Oil brought more billions. Russians, with an economy the size of Italy’s, look wistfully at our standard of living and think part of that wealth should have been theirs.

Alaska’s the only American state except Hawaii seriously attacked during World War II. As the state closest to Russia and the hardest to defend, perhaps we shouldn’t dismiss Dershowitz’s hypothetical as dystopian fantasy. Russia could cause us plenty of grief even without an invasion.

Trump controls the nuclear weapons and the armed forces protecting us. We’ve seen how little he knows or cares about other American citizens, as when he left Puerto Ricans to fight hurricane devastation and an earthquake with little aid (what little was given was delayed). Given his slavish admiration for Putin and his long history of following Putin’s agenda, our congressional delegation should have been more careful about ceding Trump unchecked power. One would think Senator Dan Sullivan, a former Marine, would be especially concerned about Trump’s threat to our security, and the fact that Russian adventurism could misgauge Trump’s devotion and set off a war.

Our Founding Fathers pledged their “lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” in their fight for American freedom. They would have been hanged for sedition had they been caught. Our Republican senators are in such fear of Trump’s wrath they keep him in office, and all they risk is losing an election. As Mara Gay of the New York Times editorial board so eloquently put it, what’s been on trial isn’t just Trump, but “the rule of law, our democracy, and our credibility as one of the world’s oldest democracies.”

What did Trump do? He violated the law, withholding congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine, an ally invaded by Russia and a bulwark against Russian aggression in eastern Europe, until its president promised to go on TV and announce he was investigating Joe Biden and his son. Biden is the Democratic candidate Trump fears most. The Ukrainian president didn’t have to do an actual investigation---Trump knew there wasn’t actual corruption—just claim he was investigating to make it appear the Bidens were corrupt. During the House hearings, George Kent, a senior State Department official, testified about the importance of Ukraine to our national security interests. He compared its citizen freedom fighters to our Minutemen, and our aid as crucial to their fight for freedom as French aid was to our Revolutionary War. We’ve had a bipartisan policy of supporting Ukraine against Russia. Who knows how many Ukrainians died while Trump withheld aid.

Retiring Senator Lamar Alexander, thought to possibly be the necessary fourth vote for witnesses, stunningly admitted that the House managers had proven their case, but still claimed it wasn’t impeachable. Alexander is a close friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly flouted the Constitution, e.g., denying President Obama’s Supreme Court pick Merritt Garland a hearing in the hopes Republicans would win the 2016 election. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a Republican before Trump’s election, labelled him “Moscow Mitch” because he’s bought and paid for by Russia, which is notorious for using economic leverage to influence a country’s politics. In McConnell’s case, an aluminum plant brought desperately needed jobs to Kentucky due to an investment by a Russian oligarch close to Putin.

As Buzz Feed’s Hayes Brown said, by its decision the Senate is abrogating all Congressional powers to the executive branch. As House manager Adam Schiff (D, California) pointed out in his arguments to the Senate, Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz was telling the Senate Trump couldn’t be impeached at the same time Trump’s other lawyers were in court fighting House subpoenas for witnesses. Trump is on video claiming he has a Constitutional right to do whatever he wants, and the Senate violated the Constitution in refusing to hold a real impeachment hearing with witnesses. Republican senator gave Trump permission to be the dictator he longs to be.

Adam Schiff and real constitutional scholars have correctly stated that the Founding Fathers understood bribery to be much broader than today’s legal definition. It meant offering official acts that weren’t in the public interest in exchange for some personal or political favor. The Founders were particularly fearful of a president selling out the United States to another country for his own personal interest, which is exactly what President Trump did, harming American national security interests in an attempt to steal the 2020 election.

Putin’s puppet should have been impeached and convicted long ago as a threat to national security and for his repeated violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. The Republican Party I used to belong to would have done so. He makes calls from his cell phone instead of a secured line despite repeated warnings. Any of our enemies can listen to his calls from spy ships off our coast or spy gear in their embassies. Unlike other presidents, he calls Putin without the benefit of Russian experts. He even demanded a translator’s notes, which he had no right to; they are official public records.

Military spending is a huge part of our budget, but Trump has the power to give Putin any secret he wants, negating our technological lead. He’s on video in the Oval Office giving top secret information from an ally to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Surgey Kislyak. We have that videotape because a photographer from the Russian press was there; the American press wasn’t allowed in.

The CIA was so concerned about this and other pro-Russian actions that it removed from Russia an asset close to Putin, fearing Trump would give the man’s identity to Putin. Trump consistently believes Putin over American national security officials.

Now it’s not just Trump parroting Kremlin talking points, but Republican senators. This is despite former White House aide Fiona Hill, one of the world’s experts on Putin, testifying before the House of Representatives. She warned of Russia’s attempts to “weaponize” American politics, and said Trump’s claim Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election against him was made up by the Russians.

People have wondered what Putin has on Trump that he never criticizes him. Craig Unger’s House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia details three decades and 1300 cases of Trump laundering Russian money through profitable real estate deals, beginning with the Russian interests who rescued him from bankruptcy. Putin of course has access to all these records.

But Trump doesn’t act like the reluctant victim of Russian blackmail. In France for the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I, the body language showed it all. Russia’s premier arrived late. Putin was greeted by the stony faces of our allies, the European leaders. Melania also was stony-faced; she grew up in Czechoslovakia, the satellite nation Russia invaded in 1968 during the Prague Spring. Trump? He was beaming like a 12-year-old who’d just received a Christmas pony with saddlebags full of chocolate. He’s repeatedly tried to build a Trump tower in Moscow, and he sees Putin as the man who will allow it.

While claiming a policy of “America First,” Trump repeatedly supports Russian interests rather than our national interest. Putin wants to shatter our military alliances. Trump repeatedly offends our allies, even physically shoving aside Montenegro’s prime minister at a NATO conference. Putin wants to portray us as an unfaithful ally, and Trump obliges, criticizing our NATO allies and enacting tariffs against them. American strength isn’t just our weapons; it’s our alliances.

Trump’s love of dictators has become legendary. He actively defended the Saudi crown prince, who orchestrated the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in America and whose children are American citizens. His policies repeatedly violate our commitment to human rights, which decreases our standing in world opinion.

Our success conquering ISIS was due to our Kurdish allies; 11,000 Kurds were killed and 24,000 injured in that fight. The largest nation without a state, their territory is in Turkey, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. They established a democratic area in northern Syria protected by American troops. Turkey’s strongman Erdogan, who brutally put down countrymen who objected to his dictatorial policies, threatened a Syrian invasion. Erdogan’s record of suppressing Turkish Kurds is well-known, and he himself has been an unfaithful ally in the fight against terrorism. Yet Trump gave him a green light. Trump claimed if Turkey did anything he, in his “great and unmatched wisdom,” considered out of line he would destroy its economy.

American troops were close enough to intervene but under strict orders not to help as Kurds were massacred by Turkish forces. Let’s not forget that Turkey still denies its early 20th century genocide against the Armenians, cited by Hitler when he said no one would intervene in his genocide against the Jews. Since the Kurds were unable to protect the prisons holding captured ISIS leaders, a terrorist threat to American safety will able to reconstitute itself. Due to Trump’s withdrawal of American troops in Syria, the Russian flag now flies over the base and airfields built at American expense.

Did Trump do anything to punish Erdogan, as he had threatened? No, he invited him to the White House for a second visit, a move criticized even by Republicans and Fox News. During his first visit to the White House, Erdogan’s thugs attacked a peaceful demonstration of American Kurds, using diplomatic immunity to escape justice for brutalizing women and children. What other American president would have given Erdogan the prestige of a second White House visit after he brutalized Americans?

Trump has been a disaster in the area of nuclear proliferation. He pulled out of the Iranian treaty, which had been effective in keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and reducing their trouble-making. Iran had already received the funds America froze after Iran’s Republican Guard attacked our embassy in 1979. Trump impulsively had Soleimani, a beloved Iranian general, killed. When Iran retaliated, as everyone knew it would, Trump minimized the traumatic brain injuries our soldiers received as “headaches.”

When the Soviet Union fell apart, nuclear weapons remained in Ukraine, which didn’t want to give them up, saying they were necessary to defend against Russian aggression. We promised to guarantee their borders in return for their giving up those nuclear weapons. In a real policy blunder, Obama didn’t give them serious military weapons to defend themselves, like anti-tank missiles. But he imposed sanctions that have seriously hurt the Russian economy. Putin knew Hillary Clinton would keep those sanctions imposed until he gave up the territory he had seized. Then Trump publicly invited him to interfere in our election (“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”)

Russia immediately hacked Hillary’s e-mails, dispersed them through Wikileaks, and went on to further Interfere in our election, as they are currently interfering in the 2020 election, posting falsehoods on fake internet sites that are almost impossible for a non-expert to recognize as Russian.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons Russia had put there in return for a guarantee of its national borders. That treaty was violated when Russia was allowed to invade its territory. That violation showed other nations they need nuclear weapons for their defense and they couldn’t depend on their alliances with us.

` In a real policy blunder, Obama didn’t given Ukraine the weapons they needed to defend themselves. But he did impose severe sanctions on Russia. Trying to remove those sanctions, Russia interfered in the 2016 election. They knew Hillary would keep those sanctions until the Russians left Ukraine. Trump publicly invited them to interfere in our election (“Russia, if you’re listening, find Hillary’s missing emails. I’m sure the press will reward you mightily.”)

Russia immediately hacked those e-mails. Malcolm Nance, an intelligence specialist who served in the navy, warned us what was going on in multiple interviews and his book, The Plot to Hack America, published right before the election. Since then he’s written The Plot to Destroy Democracy, and The Plot to Betray America: How Team Trump Embraced Our Enemies, Compromised our Security, and How We Can Fight It.

Russian interference gave Trump a few hundred thousand votes in several key states, just enough to win the electoral college despite Hillary winning almost three million more popular votes. He’s repeatedly tried to remove the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia for invading Ukraine.

Besides almost getting us into a war with Iran, Trump came close to getting us into a war with North Korea by recklessly insulting its dictator, Kim Jong-un. Kim was able to sufficiently flatter Trump that Trump now declares his love for him.

Most of the world is not white, and Trump’s racist policies offend them. He claimed we need a wall on the grounds of national security, claiming terrorists could join the “caravans” formed by desperate Central Americans for their personal safety as they fled the drug gangs and threats to themselves and their children. How would a Mideast terrorist possibly hide in a caravan of Spanish-speakers? We know how terrorists get here. The nineteen terrorists on the planes that took out the Twin Towers and a section of the Pentagon, fifteen of them Saudi Arabia citizens, all entered the United States on planes.

Americans need senators and representatives with the courage to stand up to Trump and stop his repeated assaults on our national security. Justin Amash acted honorably. A hard-line conservative Republican congressman before he left the party and became an Independent due to Trump’s actions, he voted for impeachment while in the House and excoriating those who didn’t:

“This president will be in power for only a short time, but excusing his misbehavior will forever tarnish your name. To my Republican colleagues: Step aside your media and social bubble. History will not look kindly on disingenuous, frivolous, and false defenses of this man.”

Those are exactly the defenses we have heard from Republicans excusing their votes to exclude witnesses.

Republican lawmakers put American citizens in real danger. Senator Rand Paul humiliated himself during impeachment hearings by demanding the name of the American who blew the whistle on Trump’s Ukraine operation. The name is irrelevant; the whistleblower’s allegations have been more than proven. The demand for the whistleblower’s identity is an attempt to intimidate others from testifying.

Colonel Vindman testified to the House about Trump’s illegal acts in Ukraine. Then Republican congressmen and the Republican propaganda arm, Fox News, accuse Vindman of leaking and having loyalties to Ukraine rather than to America. As a child, Vindman’s family had moved to escape communism. He had assured his father that he’d done the right thing in moving to America and not to worry that he’d be in danger for testifying in the impeachment hearings. Due to the resulting threats by Trump supporters, the army has given him security assistance and planned to move Vindman and his family to an army base if necessary for their safety.

Democrat or Republican, we used to speak with one voice, supporting those fighting Russia for their freedom. Putin’s tentacles continue to influence American policy through Trump, and too many Americans oblige. As reported by the Kansas City Star, a radio station is going to broadcast Sputnik News, part of the Russian propaganda machine, six hours a day. The station owner was offended when a judge required him to register as a foreign agent. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg defends his policy of allowing false campaign ads. One is reminded of Lenin’s statement that capitalists would sell the rope to hang themselves. Americans have a tough time knowing what to believe, as Russian bots and trolls ply the internet with the real fake news.

President Trump has brought unprecedented levels of corruption, appointing cabinet members who share his worship of money and are corrupt themselves. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry went to Ukraine to pursue a gas deal for a campaign donor and got it, despite Ukrainian companies giving a higher bid than his campaign donor.

In November 2016, the Anchorage Press published my page-long “Taking Back a Stolen Election,” where I suggested Americans might still take back the election if enough protested to convince electoral college members to vote according to the popular vote.

We need to redouble our protests. Many commentators believe Republican actions during the impeachment will cost them the 2020 election. But House Majority Leader McConnell has blocked all the bills the House sent the Senate to protect our elections from Russian and other countries’ interference.

Republicans gain power through gerrymandering and suppressing African American votes. In the words of one judge, they targeted the black vote with "surgical precision.” Mitch McConnell has no intention of losing the Senate; and no intention of allowing a fair election.

If enough Americans call and e-mail their Senators, we can blast those bills out for the Senate’s vote. We don’t have to tolerate a president and a Senate defying our Constitution. We don’t have to put up with the repeated threats to our national security, Trump’s shredding of our alliances, or his repeated violations of our national principals. Nor do we have to allow a second election to be stolen. But we had better move fast.

Lois Gilbert has worked as a University of Alaska history professor and journalist. She has a Master’s and extended major in history, major in journalism, and the equivalent of a minor in political science.

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