What's New With Trump and Russia?



Things can get a little crazy here in DC, to say the least. And last week was definitely one of those crazy weeks. President Donald Trump’s Administration came under MORE scrutiny (if that’s even possible) with three people were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Justice Department investigation of the Trump campaign. As well, information was released on just how deep the Russian social media interference went during the campaign. 

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore 5.jpg                                                                         #tb to all this 

The first news released was that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had been indicted for twelve counts related to money laundering, tax evasion, and foreign lobbying. Paul Manafort led Trump’s campaign for three months in 2016, and Rick Gates is his right-hand man. The indictments are related to their work in Ukraine, where the two men did not report their doings nor did they register as agents of a foreign power. They laundered tens of millions of dollars. In fact, Manafort has been reported as spending as much as $1,369,655 at clothing stores in New York and Beverly Hills in the span of four years, as well as spending thousands of dollars on other expenses and millions on his home in the Hamptons. Although these charges are not related to Russia, there is speculation that Mueller will hold the twenty (or more) years prison sentence over Manafort’s head in order to get him to give up information on how the campaign might have interacted with Russia.

The third indictment was of George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to Trump during the campaign. He pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) about his contacts with Russia. And there were many of these-- he was contacted by a London professor, who then put him in touch with Russian officials, including a woman who he assumed was a relative of President Vladimir Putin (she was not). He was assured that Russia had information that would be very useful to the Trump campaign, including Hillary Clinton’s emails. Papadopoulos then tried very hard to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russia and was actually seriously considered. Trump himself almost met with the Russians, but it was then decided that a less important person in the campaign should go. There are no recorded official meetings between any member of the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Trump tweeted that Papadopoulos was a “low-level volunteer” that “few people knew”. However, in an interview with the Washington Post, Trump names Papadopoulos and calls him an “excellent guy”.

Some news that flew under the radar was how influential Russia was on social media during the campaign. Facebook and Instagram now say that about 150 million people on the websites were exposed to Russian posts. Russian actors created pages that targeted both the left and right. Some page names include Army of Jesus, American veterans, LGBT United, _american.made, Blacktivists, Born Liberal, Back the Badge, and Being Patriotic (which had over 200,000 followers). All the pages were anti-Hillary Clinton. Trump has tweeted before on the subject of Russian influence, saying that “The greatest influence over our election was the Fake News Media "screaming" for Crooked Hillary Clinton. Next, she was a bad candidate!” He thus far has refused to acknowledge the extent of the damage.

Trump is currently in Asia, and so far has visited Japan, South Korea, and China. His focus now is on foreign policy. His visit to the region is a lot to unpack, with many human rights advocates angry (what else is new). Trump’s shift to foreign policy now might reveal more of his strategies, which are pretty much unknown. This includes his Russian strategy. Trump has good reason to keep quiet on Russia though, with Mueller’s investigation really just starting-- and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Picture, thumbnail is author’s own