A Special Report from the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism
Ever since I started writing critically about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s apparent lack of knowledge on the Russian military threat and the nature of the Vladimir Putin regime, various conservative websites that usually run my column have been refusing to do so. These outlets of conservative opinion seem to believe that Trump is a legitimate conservative, and that his followers can’t be offended with negative information about the candidate. Some of them had previously run articles about Vladimir Putin being a Christian statesman or anti-terrorist leader.
Major factors in this disturbing trend among the conservative media include Russian propaganda organs like RT (Russia Today) in the U.S. and the work of Russian trolls in spreading disinformation. Some of these trolls are self-described American conservatives who openly cite RT as a credible source of information.
Trump’s attitude about Russia is his Achilles heel. It shows he is so misinformed that his critics will argue that he is unfit to lead the United States. Indeed, Trump’s attitude about Russia is about the same as Hillary Clinton’s—that Vladimir Putin can be trusted to do the right thing in global affairs if he is just treated nicely by the United States. Her Russia “re-set” policy was a disaster. Nevertheless, Trump could be perceived in a race with Hillary to be even softer on the Russians than Obama and Clinton.
Trump’s bizarre views about Putin and Russia apparently stem from his desire to do business deals in the old Soviet Union and now Russia. Conservatives know enough about sleazy businessmen like Armand Hammer, a Soviet agent of influence, to be wary of doing business with Russia. Hammer helped make Al Gore’s family rich, but also backed Republicans when it suited his business interests.
Trump has yet to consummate a major deal in Russia, except for the “Miss Universe” contest in Moscow in 2013. It was at that time, however, that it was announced that he was working closely with a Russian billionaire, close to Putin, on real estate deals in Russia. A “Russian Trump Tower” was reported to be in the works. Trump could make millions of dollars doing business with the Kremlin.
An Offer He Can’t Refuse?
Doing business deals in Russia can be lucrative, but also dangerous. Bill Browder’s book on Putin’s Russia, Red Notice, exposes how Putin, his old KGB comrades, organized crime and a select group of billionaires are looting the country. Browder had no special interest or reason to come to this conclusion about Russia. The grandson of Earl Browder, former head of the Communist Party USA, he wanted to believe in the promise of a new, modern, and democratic Russia, and invested heavily in the country. But his assets were stolen and his lawyer murdered.
Yet Trump says about Putin, “I would talk to him, I would get along with him.”
Jeff Nyquist, a geopolitical analyst who has written several books on Soviet/Russian strategy, says any American businessman who travels to Russia runs the risk of being hurt or compromised. “Either Mr. Trump’s moral compass is broken,” he says, “or he doesn’t understand Russia at all.”
Garry Kasparov’s new book, Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, examines the nature of the dictatorship. Kasparov fled Russia and offers an indictment of both major political parties in the U.S. regarding their treatment of Putin’s Russia. If anything, Trump’s attitude toward Russia is worse than the political establishments of both U.S. political parties, which have been driven by Big Business to give Russia special trade status. Passing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Russia in 2012 was a major mistake that channeled billions of dollars into Putin’s war machine.
Regarding Putin’s endorsement of Trump, Kasparov says, “Putin always wants to sow weakness and chaos among his enemies, he sees as U.S., NATO, Europe. So consider who he in [the] West endorses & why.”
One can see this chaos and confusion in the ranks of conservatives.
Kasparov, the former chess champion, fled Russia when he was told his life would be in danger if he remained. His longtime friend and colleague, Boris Nemtsov, stayed in Russia, to organize politically against Putin. He was murdered in cold blood in the middle of Moscow on February 27, 2015.
I had covered a Nemtsov news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. back in January of 2014, when Nemtsov helped release a report on corruption in the Russian Olympics. Money was stolen to benefit Putin and his comrades. This is how “business” is conducted in Russia today. If you expose it, you run the risk of being murdered.
Trump’s campaign statements suggest he thinks he can work with and trust the Russians, and that he is flattered by Putin’s attention. Shockingly, Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, appeared as a CNN contributor and Trump supporter to defend these and other statements from Trump. Trump is not the “Winston Churchill of our time,” as conservative radio host Michael Savage described him.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, Trump may go down in history as the biggest Russian dupe of all time. Yet he is the GOP frontrunner for president.
As the endorsements of Trump from Lord and Savage suggest, Trump enjoys support from various organs of the conservative media. The support stems from favorable coverage on sites such as Breitbart, Newsmax and the Drudge Report, and from such personalities as Dick Morris, the former Fox News commentator, and Alex Jones. Some writers, advertisers and articles on these sites have bought into the notion that Trump is a conservative and that Putin is a conservative as well. Those who have abandoned the liberal media have frequently turned to these and other outlets for their news and information.
It’s a fact that Trump’s assault on political correctness has won many admirers. That’s why he’s at the top of the polls and has such political appeal. He said things that people were only thinking. Media attacks only made him more popular. But when he expressed ignorance about the nuclear triad during a presidential debate, and then defended Putin against charges that he killed dissidents, it should have been apparent that Trump was no conservative, and that he was only playing one on TV. Unlike Reagan, he has no coherent ideology. His soft spot for Russia, however, stands out as strange.
The complaints from the liberal-left media about Trump can mostly be dismissed out of hand. They are offended by his conservative-sounding statements and positions. The real problem is the influence of Russian propaganda on the right and the willingness of many to ignore it.
Looking at U.S. politics from Putin’s point of view, he must think that playing to Trump’s ego is a geopolitical winner. If Trump doesn’t get the Republican nomination and instead runs as a third party candidate, he would split the conservative vote and Hillary Clinton would coast into the White House. She would continue the soft-on-Putin policies characterized by the Obama/Clinton Russian “re-set” that set the stage for Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Syria.
Putin’s interest is to prevent the foreign policy conservatives who understand the nature of his regime from gaining power in the United States. Any legitimate American conservative who opposes Putin and exposes his network of paid and unpaid assets is attacked by his propaganda channel Russia Today and the Russian trolls on the Internet.
Of particular interest in the Kasparov book is that he accepts the evidence that Putin’s comrades in the FSB—the successor to the KGB—carried out the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings that were blamed on Islamists and used to justify Putin’s war in Chechnya. A book about this, Blowing Up Russia, got the author, a former KGB agent, murdered.
This case is important because Trump’s defenders argue that Trump is right about radical Islam, and that Putin is right about that threat as well. Trump has welcomed Russian military strikes in Syria, strikes that Russia says are targeting the Islamic State or ISIS. According to Trump, the U.S. and Russia should see the conflict in the Middle East in the same way.
But what if that view stems from propaganda and disinformation? What if there is a Russian role in global Islamic terrorism, just as there was a Soviet role in the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its rise to power in the Middle East?
When ISIS was blamed for the destruction of a Russian plane flying out of Egypt, many thought it was clear that Russia was at war with ISIS, and that Russia and the U.S. could work together against the common Islamic threat. However, there seemed to be conflicting accounts of how the plane was brought down. Andrew Malone of the British Daily Mail has now offered the view of a former KGB officer that the Russian FSB brought the plane down by smuggling a bomb onboard, in order “not only to obtain worldwide sympathy at a time when Russia was being treated as a pariah because of its aggression towards Ukraine, but also to gain support for its ostensible belligerence against ISIS…”
Malone writes about the “ostensible belligerence against ISIS” because the rebel groups in Syria being attacked by Putin are “sworn enemies of his ally President al-Assad,” and not necessarily ISIS. Assad is a long-time Soviet/Russian client.
Malone’s source is Boris Karpichkov, a former spy with the KGB “who now lives under a new identity with his wife and family at a secret location in England after fleeing here in fear for his life.” Karpichkov says he still has sources inside Russia’s intelligence services.
The purpose of the plot to bring down the Russian plane was to get “at least silent international approval” for “massive military operations against Assad’s enemies under the guise of a campaign against the IS terrorists blamed for bombing the Russian passenger jet; and to bolster Russia’s multi-billion-pound weapons business with the Middle East.”
One has to admit that the plot has worked to some extent, although U.S. military officials have been among those pointing out that Russian military strikes in Syria have not been targeting ISIS. U.S. military officials know where the bombs are falling.
Analyst Jeff Nyquist said he tends to believe the Karpichkov theory about the downing of the Russian plane. He told Accuracy in Media, “Putin and his comrades have done this before, and we know how they play the game. ISIS is actually led by Russian agents according to an FSB defector in Ukraine. How could the FSB not know the bomb attack on the plane was being arranged? They either allowed or were behind it.” The FSB defector in Ukraine has explained how former members of Saddam Hussein’s security and military services were recruited to form the core of ISIS.
The Stone Zone
Trump’s bizarre views about Russia may reflect information he has received from Roger Stone, a former Trump adviser who wrote a book absolving the Russians and Cubans of playing a role in Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Stone’s book, heavily promoted by RT and the Voice of Russia, blamed then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson for JFK’s murder, using a KGB operative named Joachim Joesten as a source. Joesten was assigned by the Soviet KGB to divert attention from the communist connections of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee who was an avid consumer of communist publications such as The Worker and The Militant.
Stone has started a pro-Trump Super PAC called the Committee to Restore America’s Greatness. He says, “I have been friends and worked with Donald Trump for 37 years, since we met in Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. I chaired Trump’s Presidential Exploratory Committee in 2000 and wanted him to challenge Mitt Romney in 2012.” For all his faults, Romney had gotten Russia right, noting during the 2012 campaign that Putin was the number one geopolitical threat to the United States and the West. Obama had dismissed Romney as a throwback to the Cold War.
Stone’s main targets appear to be Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and “The Establishment,” a term that is apparently meant to refer to candidates other than Trump. But any other Republican presidential candidate with a realistic view of Russia is a possible threat to Trump—and to Putin.
Trump’s appearance on the Alex Jones show further demonstrates the candidate’s disregard for reality and truth. Jones is a notorious mouthpiece for Russian propaganda, including the 9/11 “inside job” theory about the terrorist attacks in the United States. Jones runs propaganda from RT, and even the Voice of Russia, on a regular basis. He defended Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008.
We said at the time of his appearance on Jones’ program that Trump was apparently not aware that Jones promotes claims that actual terrorist attacks, such as the Boston Marathon bombings carried out by two Muslims from Russia, were “false flags” perpetrated by U.S. police and law enforcement agencies. His website ran a “Voice of Russia” story claiming the dead and wounded were actors plastered with fake blood. Jones has been described as an agent provocateur in conservative ranks. His purpose is to confuse and demoralize.
A Pattern Emerges
With the business dealings in Moscow, and the Roger Stone and Alex Jones associations, a pattern has emerged in the case of Trump, suggesting that he is indeed the Kremlin’s candidate and that his purpose is to disrupt and sow confusion in the Republican Party and conservative ranks. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul noted, “Vladimir Putin does only things that are in Russia’s national interest. So for him to be endorsing Mr. Trump, that’s because he thinks it’s in Russia’s national interest for Mr. Trump to be the leader in the United States.”
It’s impossible to argue with this assessment. The conservative websites promoting Trump do not want to admit they were wrong about the candidate, but the truth dictates that they engage in some immediate soul-searching before voting takes place and real damage is done.
If these sources of information fail to do their jobs, it may ultimately be up to Trump’s political opponents in the race to bring up these issues.
So far, only Governor John Kasich (R-OH) has come forward in a dramatic way, with a hilarious website touting the ticket of Trump-Putin 2016. It says, “Don’t mind the constitutional problems of our candidacy. This campaign will be terrific! Huge! A merger of two great powers!”
The Kasich campaign has hit hard times because he has not been sounding conservative enough. The attack on Trump-Putin is funny, but the purpose of a presidential campaign is not to be entertaining. The purpose of journalism, on the other hand, is to uncover the facts about the candidates. Trump’s Russian connections are just waiting to be examined. It’s time to take a look at those behind the curtain of the Trump campaign.