Search This Blog

Saturday, January 30, 2021

‘The perfect target’: Russia cultivated Trump as asset for 40 years – ex-KGB spy

Many of us not under Trump’s spell have wondered what Putin has on Donald Trump, given the former President’s reluctance to criticize the Russian leader, even when it was reported that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers. A new book by journalist Craig Unger appears to answer that question. Here’s a review of it from The Guardian. The writer is David Smith, and this review was published on on Friday, Jan. 29, at 1:00 a.m.  

Donald Trump was cultivated as a Russian asset over 40 years and proved so willing to parrot anti-western propaganda that there were celebrations in Moscow, a former KGB spy has told the Guardian.

Yuri Shvets, posted to Washington by the Soviet Union in the 1980s, compares the former US president to “the Cambridge five”, the British spy ring that passed secrets to Moscow during the second world war and early cold war.

Now 67, Shvets is a key source for American Kompromat, a new book by journalist Craig Unger, whose previous works include House of Trump, House of Putin. The book also explores the former president’s relationship with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

“This is an example where people were recruited when they were just students and then they rose to important positions; something like that was happening with Trump,” Shvets said by phone on Monday from his home in Virginia.

Shvets, a KGB major, had a cover job as a correspondent in Washington for the Russian news agency Tass during the 1980s. He moved to the US permanently in 1993 and gained American citizenship. He works as a corporate security investigator and was a partner of Alexander Litvinenko, who was assassinated in London in 2006.

Unger describes how Trump first appeared on the Russians’ radar in 1977 when he married his first wife, Ivana Zelnickova, a Czech model. Trump became the target of a spying operation overseen by Czechoslovakia’s intelligence service in cooperation with the KGB.

Three years later Trump opened his first big property development, the Grand Hyatt New York hotel near Grand Central station. Trump bought 200 television sets for the hotel from Semyon Kislin, a Soviet √©migr√© who co-owned Joy-Lud electronics on Fifth Avenue.

According to Shvets, Joy-Lud was controlled by the KGB and Kislin worked as a so-called “spotter agent” who identified Trump, a young businessman on the rise, as a potential asset. Kislin denies that he had a relationship with the KGB.

Then, in 1987, Trump and Ivana visited Moscow and St Petersburg for the first time. Shvets said he was fed KGB talking points and flattered by KGB operatives who floated the idea that he should go into politics.

The ex-major recalled: “For the KGB, it was a charm offensive. They had collected a lot of information on his personality so they knew who he was personally. The feeling was that he was extremely vulnerable intellectually, and psychologically, and he was prone to flattery.

“This is what they exploited. They played the game as if they were immensely impressed by his personality and believed this is the guy who should be the president of the United States one day: it is people like him who could change the world. They fed him these so-called active measures soundbites and it happened. So it was a big achievement for the KGB active measures at the time.”

Soon after he returned to the US, Trump began exploring a run for the Republican nomination for president and even held a campaign rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. On 1 September, he took out a full-page advert in the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe headlined: “There’s nothing wrong with America’s Foreign Defense Policy that a little backbone can’t cure.”

The ad offered some highly unorthodox opinions in Ronald Reagan’s cold war America, accusing ally Japan of exploiting the US and expressing scepticism about US participation in Nato. It took the form of an open letter to the American people “on why America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves”.

The bizarre intervention was cause for astonishment and jubilation in Russia. A few days later Shvets, who had returned home by now, was at the headquarters of the KGB’s first chief directorate in Yasenevo when he received a cable celebrating the ad as a successful “active measure” executed by a new KGB asset.

“It was unprecedented. I am pretty well familiar with KGB active measures starting in the early 70s and 80s, and then afterwards with Russia active measures, and I haven’t heard anything like that or anything similar – until Trump became the president of this country – because it was just silly. It was hard to believe that somebody would publish it under his name and that it will impress real serious people in the west but it did and, finally, this guy became the president.”

Trump’s election win in 2016 was again welcomed by Moscow. Special counsel Robert Mueller did not establish a conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. But the Moscow Project, an initiative of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, found the Trump campaign and transition team had at least 272 known contacts and at least 38 known meetings with Russia-linked operatives.

Shvets, who has carried out his own investigation, said: “For me, the Mueller report was a big disappointment because people expected that it will be a thorough investigation of all ties between Trump and Moscow, when in fact what we got was an investigation of just crime-related issues. There were no counterintelligence aspects of the relationship between Trump and Moscow.”

He added: “This is what basically we decided to correct. So I did my investigation and then got together with Craig. So we believe that his book will pick up where Mueller left off.”

Unger, the author of seven books and a former contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine, said of Trump: “He was an asset. It was not this grand, ingenious plan that we’re going to develop this guy and 40 years later he’ll be president. At the time it started, which was around 1980, the Russians were trying to recruit like crazy and going after dozens and dozens of people.”

“Trump was the perfect target in a lot of ways: his vanity, narcissism made him a natural target to recruit. He was cultivated over a 40-year period, right up through his election.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What I'd Like Joe Biden to Say in His Inaugural Address

Clearly, job #1 for Joe Biden's inaugural address is to speak to the followers of Donald Trump -- 86% of whom, according to polls, don't trust the 2020 election.

I would like President Biden to acknowledge the patriotism of those followers. Who among us would put their lives on the line if they truly believed what Donald Trump told his followers -- that the election was stolen.  "I stand here today asking you patriots to challenge that belief. Even the leader of your party in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, will tell you that the election was honest and that you can believe Donald Trump lost the election. I don't want one more of you to lose your life or go to jail fighting for your country under false pretenses.  I respect your patriotism, and I share your patriotism."

That's the tone I would like to hear from Joe Biden tomorrow after he takes the oath of office. 

Bonus points if our new President says, "I'm not a communist and I'm not a socialist," and gives a definition to those terms which these people will recognize is not what he and his Vice President and cabinet stand for.  "Those lies, on top of the lies about the election, have been used to manipulate you, and that needs to come to an end here and now.  Watch me in the coming weeks and months and you'll see that I'm a president who not only puts America first, but puts it first before himself.  That's the kind of president this country deserves and who 80 million Americans voted for."

Great Mini-Documentary (12 minutes) About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - For Kids of All Ages!

 I wish every American would take the time to watch this video.

Friday, January 15, 2021

'Slate' Article: Sheriffs Helped Lead This Insurrection

Subtitle: "Sheriffs play a key role in right-wing white supremacist movements."  Here's an excerpt (link below for the full article):

Ninety percent of American sheriffs are white men, and in recent years they’ve become strongly affiliated with white supremacist groups. Across the country, sheriffs have declared that they will not enforce laws they deem “unconstitutional,” like COVID-19 public health orders or gun laws limiting weapons possession and permits. Their influence has only grown since the pandemic began, as mask wearing became affiliated with progressive liberals and a bare face was a sign of Trump support. Trump has always had an affinity with sheriffs. He met with more sheriffs at the White House than any other president and pardoned ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court for failing to abide by a nondiscrimination order, calling him an “American patriot.”

Here's the link to the full Slate article dated 1/15/21 at 2:40 p.m.:

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Insurrectionists Are Themselves Victims — Of Donald Trump’s Big Lies

  I have no doubt that the men and women who stormed the Capitol on January 6th — which is Epiphany on the Christian calendar — consider themselves patriots who would die for their country.

What would you do, dear reader, if you truly believed what they believe — namely, that your candidate actually won in a landslide election but was defrauded of his victory by a vast conspiracy to destroy America, democracy, freedom and everything you hold dear? 

Whether or not Donald Trump himself is delusional, he has succeeded, with great help from right-wing radio hosts and Fox News television hosts — not to mention Q-Anon, New America News, Newsmax and the rest of Trump World — in deluding 75 million Americans as well. I don’t doubt the intentions of the insurrectionists, given what they believe to be true. It’s just sad and disturbing that so many have clung to those lies, and the bravest of them have gone to war “for their country,” only to have died, been injured, lost their jobs, and may be going to prison, when their real crime was that they believed what the worst president in American history was telling them.

For deluding millions of his fellow citizens, Donald Trump is the one who should be punished, and should certainly not be allowed to run for president in 2024, which is why we should hope that he will be convicted by the Senate after he is impeached by the House of Representatives.

Hopefully, January 6th was an epiphany of another sort for many Trump supporters, but they have shown themselves to have that essential characteristic of cult members — that is, the inability to be swayed by facts, reason and logic, or to have the experience of an epiphany.

When capitalized, Epiphany refers to the date when the three wisemen (or Magi) arrived to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  When not capitalized, epiphany is defined by Webster as “an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple or striking; an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure; a revealing scene or moment.”

From what we hear on the news, the insurrectionists think they lost the battle but not the war on January 6th, and are ready to do battle again in the coming days and weeks and actually believe that with enough bloodshed they can rescue America from Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and the radical leftists who fraudulently tried to steal the presidency from the best president America has ever had — Donald J. Trump.

We should not underestimate the willingness of these “true believers” to go to war for Donald Trump again and again until they achieve victory. Indeed, one of the hand-made signs seen on January 6th said, “I’ll Die for Trump.”

How does one contain such a movement?  The de-platforming of Trump by Twitter, Facebook, et. al,, and the silencing of Parler by Amazon Web Services, only plays into the narrative that Big Tech is biased against conservatives. That could serve simply to reinforce the need for military-style action against the government. This could get really bad.

It has been reported that Walmart and other big donors have announced they will no longer contribute to the Congressmen and Senators who challenged the Electoral College votes on January 6th. That may influence politicians, but we need to balance that against the death threats which Mike Pence, Lindsay Graham and other long-time sycophants of Trump got when they turned against him or failed to do his bidding. I’m sure there are many Republicans who no longer fear being “primaried” by Donald Trump as much as they fear being killed (along with their wives and children) by Trump supporters.

We can be comforted but only a little by the fact that President Trump’s job approval sank this week to its historic low of 33%, but we should be more concerned that after recent events one-third of Americans still believe he’s doing a fine job.

In other words, January 6th was an epiphany to some, but not to enough, Americans.

There are going to be many more revelations in the coming months. For starters, there will be hundreds of arrests, trials, convictions and prison sentences for the insurrectionists, including those who organized and incited them. (I find it amusing that Trump would choose Rudy Giuliani to represent him in a Senate trial, given that Giuliani himself incited violence at the same rally on January 6th. Consider it further evidence of how Trump believes his own delusion about his innocence.)

I’m glad that Dominion Voting Systems has filed a $1.3 billion defamation suit against former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, because the legal process will give the lie to the claim that the ballot-counting machines were rigged to change Trump votes to Biden votes.  (Remember again, however, that cult members are not swayed by facts or logic. To them it will be “fake news.”)

In February or March we can expect indictments of Donald Trump and the Trump Organization by the Manhattan D.A. and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Also, Trump’s biggest creditor, Deutsche Bank, well known for laundering Russian money, has closed Trump’s banking accounts in response to the January 6th insurrection, suggesting that they will not be particularly agreeable with Trump when his millions of dollars of loans come due in the coming months and years. Done right, these developments will do a lot to disprove Trump’s original deception—that he is a successful and brilliant businessman. Of course, Trump’s remaining sycophants will spin a conspiracy theory to explain how he is being wrongly portrayed and victimized by whoever, and most of Trump supporters will believe it, because they’ll believe anything that he and his sycophants say.

In other words, we can’t expect the spell cast by Donald Trump over a third of Americans to unravel anytime soon. Wish the Republic well, and let’s hope that the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies work together better in the future than they did leading up to January 6th’s rally and insurrection.

That’s the macro problem. There’s also a micro problem — how do you and I reconcile with our friends and family who, to put it honestly, lost their minds under the spell of a self-obsessed, psychopathic president who probably sucked them in by his shared racist mentality?  I don’t have an easy answer for that, but I wish I did, because Rita and I have a few of them.

Although it makes perfect sense that Trump does not want to attend Joe Biden’s inauguration and that Biden is happy with that, it does raise a concern for me — and likely for the Secret Service — that this makes the inaugural setting a possible target for those Trump supporters who remain intent on completing their mission to kill off Trump’s enemies, including his newest enemy, Mike Pence, who will be on that stage.

One scenario I painted now seems less likely — that Trump would resign early enough for president Pence to pardon him.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Washington Post Counts Trump’s Lies. Who’s Keeping a Body Count?

A female insurrectionist was shot and killed on Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol building. It is indisputable that if President Trump hadn’t urged his followers to storm the Capitol that she would not have died. Four others are now reported to have died during the event, including one Capitol Police officer.

In the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, a woman was killed by an Alt-Right member in a demonstration that was inspired by a president who had emboldened those “deplorables.”

A 17-year-old man with an AR-15 rifle, inspired by Donald Trump, went to Kenosha and killed two people.

Over 1/3 million Americans so far have died from Covid-19, including people who showed up at mass spreader events — campaign rallies — held for no other purpose than to feed president Donald Trump’s ego.

These are only a few — very few — of the many, many people who have died as a direct result of our president’s tweets and rally speeches. Is anyone keeping a body count of the people who have died as a direct result of Donald Trump’s actions and pronouncements?  I hope so.

This week’s insurrection was the direct result of Donald Trump’s speech to the crowd of MAGA types assembled on the Ellipse outside the White House. He could well be indicted for inciting a riot later this month, after Joe Biden takes the White House from him — or from President Pence, if Trump resigns or is expelled by his cabinet pursuant to the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, or by the Senate through impeachment.

The continued espousal of a stolen election by millions of Americans only exists because the President promotes it. If he had conceded after the election, that movement would have evaporated and many lives would have been saved.

I repeat: It is only because of Donald Trump’s insistence that the election was stolen through fraud that there is large-scale distrust in our electoral system and in the 2020 election results.

A lot has been written about how the Capitol Police were ill-prepared for the insurrection, but lesser coverage of members of that force opening the barricades and taking selfies with the Trumpsters. In a previous column, I pointed out that, with 30% of the population being part of Trump’s base, it only makes sense that 30% of law enforcement personnel would be supporters of Trump and believers in his conspiracy theories.

Given that, one should ask whether chiefs of police do what other employers do, which is to study the social media of their employees. If a police officer is a follower, for example, of QAnon, is he or she the right person to protect the Capitol building or any of us from such rioters?

It is primarily through social media that the alt-right and QAnon types become infected and spread that infection to others, so studying a police officer’s social media accounts would quickly reveal if they support insurrectionists — clearly a disqualifying characteristic for law enforcement personnel, don’t you think? I support the idea that anyone employed in law enforcement must reveal their social media accounts when they join such forces, and the internal affairs divisions of those forces should scan those social media accounts to see whether they subscribe to conspiracy theories that support insurrection.

Many Trumpsters followed my column when it was published in the Denver Post and asked to receive my column by email after the election. They kept emailing me after each column, defending the president. After a while, it got so annoying to read their repetitive emails that I chose to block some of their email addresses, but they still included my address in emails to their friends, so I would occasionally see their emails anyway when their friends would “Reply All” to them.

I was surprised and somewhat gratified this week when I discovered the following email from a die-hard Trumpster. If “the tide has turned” against Trump, the following email forwarded by that Trumpster is a good example of it:

President Donald Trump cost the Republican Party dearly during his time in office, culminating in Democrats sweeping the Georgia runoffs to regain control of the Senate.

For the first time since 2008, Democrats control both chambers of Congress along with the White House.

“Trump f----ed the party,” a paid Trump adviser told a Bloomberg reporter.

“He f----ed the party with his conspiracy theories and pushing females and independents away from the party. The bleeding needs to stop. He needs to go.”

Despite all of the recommendations of an RNC “autopsy” following the 2012 election, Trump did the exact opposite during his time in office and left the GOP at square one.

With the Georgia runoffs in the books and Democrats regaining control of the Senate by sweeping both races, the cost of Donald Trump’s presidency to the Republican Party is in full view.

Since Trump took office in 2017, the GOP lost its House majority in the 2018 midterms, saw once reliable red states like Georgia and Arizona become competitive for Democrats, and now the Senate majority is gone too.

Trump’s pursuit of revenge against state election officials by calling the legitimacy of the vote into question and forcing the issue of $2,000 checks on GOP senators contributed to the Democratic sweep.

Will the cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence have the courage — and allegiance to the Constitution — to invoke the 25th Amendment?  Let’s hope so. On the other hand, if the House of Representatives impeaches the president, and the Senate convicts him in a “snap impeachment,” as I have heard is possible, there is the additional advantage that Trump will be disqualified from seeking the presidency in 2024, which will make numerous ambitious Republicans happy, since they won’t have to run against him. That, I think, makes the conviction more possible now than it was last year over the Ukraine episode.

I’m pleased that president-elect Biden joined those who have drawn attention to the disparity in how local and federal law enforcement prepared for the Black Lives Matter protest at the Lincoln Memorial with how the Capitol Police failed to prepare for the Trump demonstrators. Were they afraid that Black protestors would desecrate the monument to Abraham Lincoln, yet not worried that right-wing extremists would try to confront members of Congress voting to ratify Joe Biden’s election?  If there’s any example of systemic racism in America, isn’t that an example?

Lastly, if this was a watershed event for Donald Trump, it should also be a watershed event for Rupert Murdoch and his network, Fox News Channel, that has been nothing less than an echo chamber for Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories that led to this week’s insurrection. Time will tell.