Putin’s Playthings

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review


Putin will do anything to advance Russia’s interests because his country is in terrible shape.


About a year ago, Donald Trump Jr. met with a mysterious Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump Jr. was purportedly eager to receive information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.


Veselnitskaya denies that she was working for the Kremlin to lobby for favorable Russian treatment. But in the past, Veselnitskaya has been connected with a number of Russian-related lobbying groups.


Trump Jr., for his part, proved naïve and foolish to gobble such possible setup bait. The Russians proved eager to confuse, confound, and embarrass everyone involved in the 2016 election.


This latest Trump family imbroglio piggybacks on six months of Russian collusion charges. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned less than a month into his job after being less than candid about his contacts with the Russians. Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s erstwhile campaign manager, had some questionable Russian business interests and resigned well before the election.


All these stories were luridly headlined in the press.


Yet several intelligence officials from the Obama administration — former CIA director John Brennan, former FBI director James Comey, and former director of national intelligence James Clapper — asserted that they had found no evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign to rig the election.


Former FBI head Robert Mueller is now overseeing the probe into possible Russian meddling as a special counsel. There are also several other Russia-related investigations being conducted by various agencies and congressional committees.


Some members of Congress are asking why Obama-administration officials such as Brennan, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice requested surveillance files on Trump-campaign officials, may have unmasked names, and may have allowed those names to be illegally leaked to the press.


Earlier, some Republican anti-Trump operators (and later some Clinton campaign operatives) hired former British spy and opposition researcher Christopher Steele to compile a dossier on Donald Trump that would include some ludicrous Russia-related allegations. Weirder still, Steele’s firm may have had some contacts with none other than Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.


Senator John McCain, a former target of candidate Trump’s invective, acquired the anti-Trump dossier and made sure that the FBI investigated the phony dirt. Comey did just that.


In no time, the so-called Steele dossier was leaked. The website BuzzFeed admitted it could not verify any of the accusations but published the entire sordid file anyway.


One of the principals of the Clinton campaign, John Podesta, was a board member of a green-energy firm that suddenly saw an infusion of Russian cash — purportedly in an attempt to sway Podesta.


Congressional science and energy committees and subcommittees are currently interested in whether the Russians funneled cash into American anti-fracking groups such as Sea Change on the expectation that they might help derail American energy exploration and production.


The Russian government has lost nearly half its oil revenue because of the innovative American ability to frack gas and oil, which has crashed world energy prices. Russian president Vladimir Putin apparently will do anything to see it stopped.


Early in 2016, investigative journalists reported that Russian interests donated to the Clinton Foundation and offered generous speaking honoraria to former president Bill Clinton, apparently in hopes of gaining leverage with then–secretary of state and likely future presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In one controversial deal, the U.S. government approved sales of a large amount of North American uranium deposits to Russian interests.


The list of Russian capers, collusions, and conspiracies could be expanded, but the picture is clear: Putin’s Russia is in bad shape. It is economically weak and eager to do anything possible to hurt the U.S. — largely by using a fake-news disinformation campaign, spreading Kremlin cash, and playing a gullible and often unprofessional U.S. media eager to find a scandalous Russian under every American bed.


So far the Russian disinformation program has worked brilliantly.


What foreign government could possibly entangle in truth, lies, half-truths, rumors, and scandals the Trump family, Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Brennan, James Comey, John McCain, John Podesta, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and a host of other Beltway grandees?


Who could prompt enough investigations and inquiries to overwhelm and distract the entire U.S. government at a time when North Korea is aiming missiles at U.S. territory, Iran is pressing ahead to develop a nuclear weapon, Syria is a genocidal mess, and immigrants from the war-torn Middle East are sweeping across Europe?


Putin is now America’s puppet master — and we are his empty-headed playthings dangling from his Kremlin strings.


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