Information recently obtained from the FBI has made it clear that Donald Trump is not just under investigation as a collaborator with Russia during the campaign, but an actual agent of the Russian government. Trump’s actions in weakening America’s military alliances in Europe, in withdrawing US forces from Syria, and in generally making it impossible for any nation to put its faith in an agreement with the United States, all speak to the strong possibility that there’s a horrifying truth behind that investigation. However, there’s one other aspect of Trump’s relationship with Russia that also deserves attention. Donald Trump may not be a Russia agent, but it is absolutely certain that he is Russia’s agent—a defender and apologist for both that nation and for Vladimir Putin.
Trump had his first acknowledged meeting with Russian president Vladmir Putin on July 7, 2017. The two met in Hamburg, Germany at a G-20 meeting. At first, Trump met with Putin accompanied by then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Later, as reported by the New York Times, Trump “sought out” Putin at a dinner for the gathered leader. Trump pointed across the table at Putin, then at himself, then “made a pumping motion with his fist.” After that Trump abandoned his dinner partners, went around the table, and spoke with privately with Putin. There are no notes of what was said, not even translator’s notes, because only Putin’s translator was present.
The next day was an important one. That was the day that Trump dictated the cover story for the Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner. But Trump didn’t just hand his son a false narrative to excuse the meeting with Russian operatives, he had another call to make. As the Times relates, he also spoke with a reporter to inform them that stories about Russian election interference, both in the United States and Germany, were wrong. Trump “argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference.” Trump followed this up with public statements saying that if the Russians had hacked the US election, they would not have been caught, because “they are experts.”
It was just one incident in an ongoing series of times when Donald Trump, for reasons that are difficult to explain without accepting that other definition of the term “Russian agent,” went out of his way to express his admiration for Russia, and for Putin, even when that praise was directed at an area that was far from admirable.
The idea that Russia was too capable to be caught tinkering in elections was repeated during the short-lived career of communications director Anthony Scaramucci. During a CNN interview with Jake Tapper, when asked if Trump would sign the Russia sanctions bill just passed by Congress.
Scaramucci: Somebody said to me yesterday, uh, I won’t tell you who, that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it. You would have never had any evidence of them. Meaning that their super competent in their deception skills and hacking.
But Scaramucchi’s “I won’t tell you who” did not last long. Seconds later, Tapper complained about the fact that Scaramucci was using anonymous sources, in a story where the larger context was that the White House was complaining about the use of anonymous sources. For that, Scaramucci had a quick reply.
Scaramucci: How about it’s the president, Jake? I talked to him yesterday.
This perfect loop—the Russians are so good that if you have evidence that it was the Russians, it could not be the Russians—has become an oft-cited trope within the Trump White House. But it’s far from the only time that Trump has gone out of his way to distort facts, rewrite history, or simply spout Russian talking points in support of Putin.
One notable recent incident involved Trump amazingly excusing Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. As the Washington Post reports, the excuse that Trump delivered, that “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia,” perfect mirrors the rhetoric that Putin is now using in Russia—even though earlier generations of Russians acknowledged that going into Afghanistan was done to expand their sphere of control, that it was morally wrong, and that it was a huge geopolitical disaster. But Trump went even further than Putin by saying that the Russians “were right to be there.”
Trump hasn’t stopped at excusing any evidence of Russia’s ongoing cyber war against the West, or trying to ennoble an invasion in which Russia’s first action was executing the man they supposedly came to help. He’s also repeatedly—repeatedly—praised Putin as a “strong leader.” That began well before Trump took office, as he stated that Putin was a better president than Barack Obama. It has continued at every step of the campaign, transition, and during the last two years. Even when he’s been forced to admit that Russia has taken actions in Ukraine or Syria that are counter to US actions, Trump has taken time to find some way to appeal to Putin’s “strength” and his abilities as a leader.
Trump also made the theme of “wouldn’t it be nice to get along with Russia” as regular a refrain at his rallies as “build that wall” or “lock her up.” He’s also made it clear that reporting on Russia—not just reporting on the Russia investigation, but reporting on Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and Syria—gets in the way of the “deal” he wants to make with Russia.
The advocacy for Russia extends to individual Russian companies. In the last month, Trump has been moving to drop sanctions against companies owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska—the man who was Paul Manafort’s boss both in Ukraine and while he was nominally working on the Trump campaign. But that effort isn’t new. Last July, the Treasury Department announced that it was carving out a sanction exception for Deripaska’s Rusal. Saying, as Reuters reported, that “Our objective is not to put Rusal out of business” even though threatening the economic viability of sanctioned companies is exactly the purpose of sanctions.
Trump has constantly praised Putin, rewritten history to make it more Russia-palatable, and spoken up to defend Russian oligarchs and Russian companies. It may be difficult to prove that he is an actual agent of the Russian government, but there’s no doubt he has served them well as an agent.
Many former Republican officials find a home on Fox News after their stints in Congress or the Whie House. When Trump packs up his ties from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s clear that he can also find a new television home—on RT.