Tweet of the Night

vb-cjs-arms-bw

John Smith coat of arms

It comes from Central Michigan University historian Andrew Wehrman.  He comments on Trump’s visit to Jamestown tomorrow:

Why the Buzzfeed Story, if Inaccurate, Could Backfire on Trump

Here is some speculation:

Buzzfeed issued a story claiming that they had two sources who told them that Donald Trump told Michael Cohen to lie before Congress.  Twenty-four hours later, a spokesperson for Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s connections with Russia, said that the story was “not accurate.”

As of now, Buzzfeed stands by the story:

And Trump’s counsel Rudy Giuliani has responded:

So if I read this correctly, Giuliani (and by extension Trump?) is affirming the integrity of the Mueller investigation.  So if Mueller is right about the Buzzfeed article, why wouldn’t he also be right about everything else in an investigation that Trump has described as a “witchhunt?”

Trump may win this battle.  But when Mueller’s report comes out and Trump denies its accuracy, his opponents will bring up this incident.  This incident only strengthens the integrity of the Mueller investigation in the long term.

Just some random thoughts for your Friday night.

Max Boot Lists 18 Reasons Why Trump Could be a Russian Asset

trump putin

Max Boot is an American intellectual and military historian who is best known for his decision to leave the Republican Party and the conservative movement in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.  He tells this story in The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right.

In a recent Washington Post piece, Boot offers 18 reasons why Trump might be working with the Russians.  Here is a taste:

On Friday, the New York Times reported that “in the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” That investigation may well be continuing under the auspices of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. We don’t know what Mueller has learned. But we can look at the key, publicly available evidence that both supports and undercuts this explosive allegation.

Here is some of the evidence suggesting “Individual 1” could be a Russian “asset”:

— Trump has a long financial history with Russia. As summarized by Jonathan Chait in an invaluable New York magazine article: “From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases — a red flag of potential money laundering — of Trump properties, totaling $109 million. In 2010, the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ said Donald Jr. in 2008. ‘We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,’ boasted Eric Trump in 2014.” According to Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty plea of lying to Congress, Trump was even pursuing his dream of building a Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign with the help of a Vladimir Putin aide. These are the kind of financial entanglements that intelligence services such as the FSB typically use to ensnare foreigners, and they could leave Trump vulnerable to blackmail.

— The Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help elect Trump president.

— Trump encouraged the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails on July 27, 2016 (“Russia, if you’re listening”), on the very day that Russian intelligence hackers tried to attack Clinton’s personal and campaign servers.

— There were, according to the Moscow Project, “101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives,” and “the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.” The most infamous of these contacts was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and a Kremlin emissary promising dirt on Clinton. Donald Trump Jr.’s reaction to the offer of Russian assistance? “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Read the rest here.

The Trump Cover-Up and the Fate of the Court Evangelicals

SekulowIf the Washington Post‘s reporting is true, Donald Trump tried to cover-up his son’s meeting with a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign.  We still don’t know what the POTUS was trying to cover-up, but it now appears that the Russians were involved.

Another Post writer, Paul Waldman, reflects on this news:

This latest story is clearly one of the most significant developments in this scandal to date, for two reasons. First, it describes an organized effort to mislead the public — not to spin, or minimize the story, or distract from it, or throw out wild accusations about someone else, but to intentionally fool everyone into believing something false. Second, it implicates the president himself. Indeed, the most extraordinary part of the picture this story paints is that while other people involved were recommending some measure of transparency on the assumption that the truth would come out eventually, they were overruled by the president, who personally dictated the misleading statement.

And it gets worse. Once the story broke, Trump’s own lawyer went to the media and denied that the president was involved in the drafting of the misleading statement. In two televised interviews, Jay Sekulow said “the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement,” “The president didn’t sign off on anything,” and “The president wasn’t involved in that.” While it’s theoretically possible that Sekulow would make emphatic statements of fact like those about what his client did or didn’t do without actually asking Trump, that seems almost impossible to believe. Sekulow is a prominent attorney who knows exactly what kind of trouble that could bring, both to himself and his client. So the only reasonable conclusion is that he was repeating what Trump told him.

Read the entire piece here.

Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, is an evangelical Christian.  He may now be experiencing some of the blow-back that comes when court evangelicals turn a blind eye to the moral character of the politicians who they hope (and pray) will give them access to power.

When Sekulow went on television and denied that Donald Trump had nothing to do with his son’s “misleading statement” about the Russian meeting he was either:

1).  Lying on behalf of the President

or

2). Unaware that the President was involved in the crafting of the statement. If this is true, Trump used Sekulow as part of his cover-up.

In June 2017, we wrote a post on a report that Sekulow was urging poor people to give money to his Christian non-profit while he lived a lavish lifestyle and paid millions of dollars to family members.  His current defense of Trump is not going to help him rebuild his integrity.

Court evangelicalism is not illegal, but it damages the witness of the church in the world.

On Russia-Gate and “Context”

Trump Jr.

Ever since Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russians came to light, everyone on cable news is talking about context.  Pundits and commentators believe that Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer must be understood in the context of:

Donald Trump’s connection to the people who set up the meeting.

General Michael Flynn’s meetings with Russians.

Donald Trump’s Putin-love.

Jared Kushner’s meeting with Russians.

Donald Trump’s decision to remove an anti-Russia stance on the Ukraine from the GOP platform.

Trump adviser Roger Stone’s connections to Russia.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s links to Russia.

Trump adviser Carter Page’s links to Russia.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s failure to disclose meetings he had with Russians.

Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey over his role in the Russian investigation.

Trump telling Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office that Comey was a “nutjob” and that his firing has taken the “pressure” off of him.

And we could go on…

Does all of this information mean that Donald Trump is guilty of colluding with the Russians?  Not necessarily.  But any investigation into this case must begin with this context.  It cannot be ignored.

Historians talk about context all the time.  Contextual thinking is historical thinking. Any investigator–whether it be the FBI, the CIA, or an insurance investigator–must take context into consideration when conducting an investigation.

“Context” is one of the five “Cs” of historical thinking that I write about at length in Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  Context does not always lead us to definitive answers about “what happened.”  In this sense, history is a limited discipline.  But it is an essential discipline in the sense that it can help us get close–sometimes very close–to the answers we seek.

Is Trump guilty of collusion with the Russians?  We will only find out if investigators continue to apply other historical skills: research, investigation, and the dogged search for evidence.  But context is a start.

Why study history?  A better question might be “why not study history?”

This Headline Explains the Whole Trump Jr. Meeting with a Russian Contact

Trump Jr.

It is from David Graham of The Atlantic: “If There Was No Collusion, It Wasn’t for Lack of Trying.”

Here is a taste:

In other words, Trump Jr. admitted (while acknowledging a prior lie) that he was open to receiving damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian lawyer; he was just frustrated that she didn’t seem to have it. If there was no collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump inner circle, it was not because top Trump aides were against it.

Trump Jr.’s admission here is remarkable. Donald Trump’s tendency to speak unwisely remains one of his greatest weaknesses—his threat to release apparently fictive tapes resulted in a special-counsel investigation that has rocked his still-young presidency—and his children are a chip off the old block. (Eric Trump has admitted, contra claims of separation, that he continues to talk business with his father.)

Read the rest here.

Conservative Evangelicals and Putin

Putin and Religion

Are conservatives in the United States growing fond of Vladimir Putin?

Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post uncover a growing connection between conservative groups and Putin’s Russia.  These conservatives are drawn to Putin’s views on guns and gay marriage.  A Nashville lawyer with a porcelain bust of Putin in his office put it this way:  “the value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line.”

Before I give you a further taste of this article, I think I should mention that Putin is a ruthless dictator who probably ordered the deaths of several of his political enemies.

But at least he is pro-gun and anti-gay marriage.

A taste:

Growing up in the 1980s, Brian Brown was taught to think of the communist Soviet Union as a dark and evil place.

But Brown, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, said that in the past few years he has started meeting Russians at conferences on family issues and finding many kindred spirits.

Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, has visited Moscow four times in four years, including a 2013 trip during which he testified before the Duma as Russia adopted a series of anti-gay laws.

“What I realized was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union,” he said. “There was a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”

A significant shift has been underway in recent years across the Republican right.

On issues including gun rights, terrorism and same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country’s leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally.

The attitude adjustment among many conservative activists helps explain one of the most curious aspects of the 2016 presidential race: a softening among many conservatives of their historically hard-line views of Russia. To the alarm of some in the GOP’s national security establishment, support in the party base for then-candidate Donald Trump did not wane even after he rejected the tough tone of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who called Russia America’s No. 1 foe, and repeatedly praised Putin.

Read the entire piece here.

 

The Author’s Corner with Lee Farrow

sewardfollyLee Farrow is Professor of History at Auburn University at Montgomery. This interview is based on her new book, Seward’s Folly: A New Look at the Alaska Purchase (University of Alaska Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Seward’s Folly?

LF: I took a cruise to Alaska a few years ago. I realized I knew very little about the purchase, so when we landed in Sitka, I went to the only bookstore in town and looked for something to read on it.  There was nothing. When I got back home, I did a little research and realized that the last book on this subject for adults was published in 1975. I decided this should be my next project, and I contacted the University of Alaska Press and they agreed it was time for a new book on the subject.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Seward’s Folly?

LF: The Alaska Purchase—denounced at the time as “Seward’s Folly” but now seen as a masterstroke—is well known as a key moment in American history, but few know the whole story. This book gives an overview of just what the Alaska Purchase was, how it came about, and its impact at the time, and discusses its implications for foreign policy and international diplomacy far beyond Russia and the United States at a moment when the global balance of power was in question.

JF: Why do we need to read Seward’s Folly?

LF: Russia, and the question of Russia-American relations, is back in the news and the subject of much concern and controversy. In addition, Alaska has been at the center of various debates in recent years, some involving global climate change and the environment, some involving questions of domestic energy reserves. There are also those in Russia who believe the Russian-American Treaty of 1867 was not really a sale, but a lease, and that Russia has a rightful claim to Alaska. While this argument is incorrect and not likely to be taken seriously in most corners, it is part of the story of the complex Russian-American relationship.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

LF: I’m actually a Russian historian, but in recent years, I have become interested in the history of Russian-American relations. In 2014, I published a book called Alexis in America: A Russian Grand Duke’s Tour, 1871-72, that examined the visit of Russian Grand Duke Alexis, Tsar Alexander II’s son, to the United States. Among other things, Alexis visited Chicago after the Great Fire, hunted buffalo with Buffalo Bill and Custer, and was in New Orleans for the first daytime Mardi Gras celebration, and was treated as a celebrity wherever he went. I became interested in Russian history in high school in the early 1980’s when an older friend of mine went off to college and started studying the Russian language.

JF: What is your next project?

LF: I am currently working on the republication of several memoirs by American women who witnessed the Russian Revolution of 1917. One of these, Louise Bryant, was the wife of John Reed and was played by Diane Keaton in the film, “Reds.”

JF: Thanks, Lee!

What Mitt Romney Said About Russia

It looks like he was right.


From Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic:

In the course of the last presidential campaign, Mitt Romney made a comment about America’s number one “geopolitical foe,” which Romney claimed was Russia. He was mocked by the president and many liberal commentators. Here are Romney’s remarks, in their full context, which came during a conversation with Wolf Blitzer: 
ROMNEY:  Russia…is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe.  They fight every cause for the world’s worst actors.
BLITZER:  But you think Russia is a bigger foe right now than, let’s say, Iran or China or North Korea? Is that—is that what you’re suggesting, Governor?
ROMNEY:  Well, I’m saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world’s worst actors.  Of course, the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran.  A nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough.
But when these—these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them, when—when Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go—we go to the United Nations, and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors? It is always Russia, typically with China alongside.
And—and so in terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that’s on the Security Council, that has the heft of the Security Council and is, of course, a—a massive nuclear power, Russia is the—the geopolitical foe.
This all seems…exactly right.