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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Daily Combover - March 1, 2017

Last night after Trump's Congressional Address, 70% of CNN instant poll respondents said their opinion of Trump improved after the speech. To which Trump responded:
What a difference 12 hours can make. Tonight MSNBC aired their Trump-Putin special in which they  dug deep to find the depth of the connections.

Here's what we knew going in:

1. Trump has had a 30 year relationship with Russia, having first visited Moscow and Leningrad in 1987 to scout locations for hotel projects.

2. Over the next two decades, Trump's businesses floundered and he found himself fairly strapped for cash until he began his relationship with the Bayrock Group, a Russian investment group.

3. Using Bayrock money to finance him, he opened the Trump SoHo in 2007.  The dealings were so shady that criminal charges were filed but then dropped after Trump settled the civil portion. Here he is celebrating the opening with convicted felon Felix Sater (right):

4. It is around this time that Trump first begins praising Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.

5. Jump forward to the candidacy and:
March 2016: Trump says that a man named Carter Page is one of his foreign policy advisors. Julia Ioffe later reports in Politico that though Page is supposed to be an expert on Russia, few prominent people have any idea who he is—though his new proximity to Trump was helping him get meetings with VIPs.
April: Paul Manafort, a longtime political operative who worked for the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych, takes charge of the Trump campaign in advance of the GOP convention.
June: It's reported that Russian hackers gained access to the Democratic National Committee email system, stealing opposition research files on Trump, among other things. Russia denies this, and Trump bizarrely claims that the DNC invented the story in order to distract from other issues.
Early July: As reported later by Yahoo News, Page goes on a visit to Russia where he meets with government officials, which worries some people in US intelligence. (When asked by Yahoo about this in September, the Trump camp said Page had "no role" in the campaign.) 
Later in July: During a GOP platform committee meeting, Trump's representatives move to strike language about providing weapons to Ukraine so it could defend itself against Russian-backed rebels. This was notable, NPR reported, because Trump's people didn't ask for much else on the platform. (Obama was also against providing weapons to Ukraine on the grounds that it would escalate the conflict, but many Republicans were in favor of it.)
Also late July: Wikileaks publishes emails stolen from the DNC, the most damaging of which paint a picture of a Democratic party that was backing Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, making it more difficult for Clinton to unify the party after a contentious primary campaign.
6. The groundwork was there. What we didn't know was how deep it was going to get. It wasn't just Page or Manafort or Flynn or Cohen that was talking to the Russians, it really was the entire team. Even Jeff Sessions was having secret meetings with Russian officials in the Fall:
7. Almost immediately after the election, the Russians began to brag about their victory.  At the time it was clear they were involved but not necessarily to what extent.

8. And evidence now seems to indicate that the serious involvement actually extended back to July at the latest:
 The Washington Post first reported on Sessions' meetings with the official.
Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia's top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.
Sessions met with Kislyak twice, in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. Sessions was an early Trump backer and regular surrogate for him as a candidate.
Kislyak's potential proximity to Russian spying is one reason why Flynn's interactions with him, and Flynn's failure to disclose what he discussed with Kislyak, raised concerns among intelligence officials.
Sessions' spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing "misleading about his answer" to Congress because the Alabama Republican "was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign -- not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee."
Of course, that's not what we heard during his confirmation hearings:

Trump's response to all of this? "Does anyone believe that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russia than Donald Trump?"

Yeah, I think the answer is pretty clear.

Catch you on the flip side.

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