When Trump began his barrage of Tweets vilifying Congressman John Lewis on MLK weekend the effect was remarkably predictable. The national media dropped whatever else it was they were doing and immediately began to compose paeans to Lewis’ bravery and historical legacy. Statements of “fury” and “outrage” ricocheted back and forth through the pundit media, with even a few Republicans joining in the condemnation, generating even more “debate.” Interviews were quickly arranged on cable news, sending cross-talk and banter shooting through the Internets. We revisited Selma. We learned about Lewis’ sudden, skyrocketing book sales on Amazon. A “hyperpartisan feud” was solemnly predicted (as if one didn’t already exist) over Lewis’ assertion that Trump is illegitimate, as media outlets weighed the implications of how Democrats reacted to Trump’s latest outrage.
But Donald Trump doesn’t care about John Lewis. John Lewis is the farthest thing from his mind or the minds of anyone in his emerging cabinet. KellyAnne Conway will make up some farcical rationale for his Tweets and that will be that. From Trump’s perspective John Lewis, like every Democrat in the House of Representatives, is a non-entity, with no real power, completely beside the point to Trump’s agenda. And after Monday when the outrage wanes, a new shiny object will be presented to the media in the form of a Tweet, and another cycle of “outrage” and debate will begin to churn through what we used to regard as the “news.”
John Lewis, I’m sure, knows this. Here is what he actually said, lost in the media fog over his indisputable credentials as a Civil Rights Icon:
"I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton," Lewis told NBC News.
Something more significant happened this weekend, something the media have treated as a footnote while their twenty-something staffs were digging through Wikipedia to prepare their pieces about John Lewis. Trump sent a clear signal to Putin that as a reward for their pro-Trump manipulation of the American electorate, Putin and his cronies would soon become richer than Croesus.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Trump confirmed that he's “open” to lifting sanctions imposed by the US against Russia.
“If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?” Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
The key to understanding the significance of Trump’s statement is that there are multiple sanctions currently in effect against Russia. There are the recent sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration to punish Russian hacking of our election, involving throwing out Russian diplomats and closing their offices, for the most part. The media are lazily treating Trump’s statement as if those are the only sanctions “at issue.”
But they're not. The far more significant sanctions are the ones we imposed for the Russian invasion of Crimea. In particular, imposition of those sanctions put up a roadblock to a $500 Billion dollar oil deal between ExxonMobil and Russia for jointly developing oil and gas properties in the Arctic.
As ThinkProgress explains, this provided a far more compelling reason for Putin to take the risk of tampering with the US election—particularly an election that seemed certain at the time to result in a Clinton victory—than any amorphous goal of “destabilizing Western democracies:”
A half trillion dollars to line their pockets and prop up the Russian economy offers a much more tangible motivation for team Putin to get Trump elected. . . MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow explained last month the biggest oil deal in history was “expected to change the historical trajectory of Russia.”
Here is Maddow, explaining the historical significance of this deal:
The $500 Billion oil exploration deal—one of the biggest commercial deals in human history--is a venture between Exxon and the Russian “state-owned” Rosneft corporation, run by Igor Sechin, described as the “second most powerful person in Russia" and Putin's “de facto deputy.” Sechin was specifically sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2014 as a response to the destabilization of Ukraine and the deal was blocked by those sanctions. Putin knew going in to the 2016 election that if he could install a stooge like Trump those sanctions would very likely be lifted in a heartbeat, with billions of profits going directly to Putin and his cabal of oligarchs, all with enormous financial interests in the project.
The deal was in fact authored by Tillerson, which gives us a clear rationale why he is the perfect person, from Putin's point of view, to be our Secretary of State. He is there to facilitate the lifting of these sanctions, which would benefit Exxon, Rosneft, and the Putin gang. His nomination was pushed by Robert Gates, the former Secretary of State and CIA Director who now works for a consulting firm that advises Exxon. Trump and Tillerson barely knew each other before December of last year, but over all the potential selections, Trump picks the one guy who is deeply entwined with Russia and the largest oil deal on the planet. Even those on the political right recognized the problem here:
So that’s why it matters so much what Trump and his cabinet do in response to the overwhelming evidence that Putin did clandestinely interfere in the election. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin writes that if Trump doesn’t aggressively go after Putin, including working with “Congress to pass a stiff sanctions package,” and instead “sticks with Putin, he’ll have proved Putin and Trump’s critics right — he really is a patsy for Putin.”
Indeed, if Trump and Tillerson instead end the sanctions that are blocking the Exxon-Rossneft deal, it is going to look suspiciously like a half trillion dollar quid pro quo for Putin’s help getting elected.
At his confirmation hearings this week Tillerson indirectly confirmed how important the lifting of sanctions are to Exxon. How? By flat out lying about them:
Tillerson’s response created a minor uproar among the media: “I have never lobbied against sanctions—personally,” he noted. “To my knowledge, Exxon never lobbied against sanctions.” That, as even Senator Bob Corker (R- TN) was quick to point out, is a flat-out lie. ExxonMobil has repeatedly lobbied against sanctions targeted at Iran and Russia. And for good reason: Tillerson and ExxonMobil uniquely benefited from Russia’s energy wealth. ExxonMobil under Tillerson and Rosneft under Sechin have cooperated for some time through a production agreement on Sakhalin Island in the Pacific. In 2011, ExxonMobil and Rosneft secured a $500 billion partnership between their respective companies to drill for oil in the Russian portion of the Arctic.
The CEO of Exxon who actually authored the Exxon/Rosneft deal is trying to tell Congress that he knows of no effort by Exxon to lobby against the sanctions that are blocking it? Really?
So why would Tillerson lie about Exxon's lobbying against these sanctions, something so blatantly well-documented even Politico covered it?:
ExxonMobil successfully lobbied against a bill that would have made it harder for the next president to lift sanctions against Russia, clearing the way for the oil giant to restart a program worth billions of dollars if Donald Trump eases those restrictions as president.
The only reason that Tillerson felt comfortable enough to lie about something of this magnitude is he didn’t want the implications of a quid pro quo with Putin and his own obvious conflict of interest to be the topic of discussion by the media. He could comfortably lie about his knowledge, knowing that only a few people would call him on it. The only time the US media would have ever focused on his false testimony this week is over the MLK weekend. What were they looking at instead? The shiny object of Trump’s disrespectful and insulting tweets about John Lewis.
Meanwhile the payment for Russia’s help in getting Trump elected is being arranged, right before our eyes.