Opinion | Muftic: A tangled web of Russian-Trump deceit
December 4, 2018
So what if Donald Trump lied about his Trump Tower Moscow negotiations while he was running for the presidency. He had claimed many times he had "nothing to do with Russia. I never did." Last week, after his personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump's financial interests in Russia, Trump changed his tune to "it was no crime and there was no deal." He has lied to voters until now and American foreign policy was shaped to be in sync with Russia in ways that would be harmful the U.S. allies and the Atlantic alliance. He created a web of willful liars under oath and in public to support a myth of his lack of conflict of financial interests in Russia.
Donald Trump had often advocated weakening NATO throughout 2015-16 and during his presidency. Trump's fuming about NATO members not contributing enough was his public rationale but the weakening of NATO served both Putin's national security concerns about NATO's expansion to former Soviet satellites and Trump's continuing strategy to butter up Putin. Trump also advocated loosening sanctions imposed to punish Russia for grabbing Crimea as far back as 2015. Why such a departure from traditional U.S. foreign policy? Did Trump have undisclosed financial ties with Russia? Trump had vigorously denied that. Did the Russians have something more on him than just an alleged carnal Moscow night? Did the Russians see a Trump's presidency as an unwitting asset to their national interests, motivating their interference in the 2016 campaign?
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's court filing documents regarding Cohen, Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, and others contain much information that sheds light on Donald Trump's financial interest in Russia. The timing of the negotiations to build and finance the Moscow Trump Tower, as disclosed in the Cohen guilty plea documents, revealed Trump did have business interests in Russia. Special Counsel Robert Mueller had charged Cohen with lying to Congress for falsely claiming the Trump Tower deal was dead in January 2016 when emails showed Cohen and Trump were actually in communication with one another and were still pursuing the deal with Kremlin official Dmitri Peskov until June 14, 2016, when Trump was already his party's presumed nominee.
Key to the Moscow tower deal was getting financing from a certain Russian bank. The bank , other banks, and oligarchs were sanctioned by the U.S Congress to punish Russia for grabbing Crimea and the sanctions needed to be lifted if the project was to be funded. In the transition period Trump's National Security adviser Mike Flynn was in secret communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States about the sanctions. Flynn pleaded guilty to charges he lied to the FBI about it. Sentencing is this month.
In March 2016, Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign and in June 2016 rose to campaign chair. Manafort's prior gig as political consultant was to the former pro Russian leader of Ukraine who opposed closer ties to the West. Manafort and was found guilty of bank and tax fraud in an August 2018 trial. In September he pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the US and attempted witness tampering. He violated his plea deal to be Mueller's witness in the Russian investigation and is facing sentencing this month. He already sits in jail.