Reporting for the NY Times yesterday, Robert Draper wrote that former Trump advisors are connecting Trump's pressure campaign on Ukraine to his attempted coup. "Trump’s ignorance of world affairs," noted Draper, "would have been a liability under any circumstance. But it put him at a pronounced disadvantage when it came to dealing with those strongmen for whom he felt a natural affinity... [Fiona] Hill found it dubious that a man so self- interested and lacking in discipline could have colluded with Russia to gain electoral victory in 2016, a concern that led to investigations by both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Robert Mueller, the special counsel... Still, she came to see in Trump a kind of aspirational authoritarianism in which Putin, Erdogan, Orban and other autocrats were admired models. She could see that he regarded the U.S. government as his family-run business. In viewing how Trump’s coterie acted in his presence, Hill settled on the word “thrall,” evoking both a mystical attraction and servitude."
He went on to report that according to Bolton, "Trump 'is a complete aberration in the American system. We’ve had good and bad presidents, competent and incompetent presidents. But none of them was as centered on their own interest, as opposed to the national interest, except Trump. And his concept of what the national interest was really changed from day to day and had a lot more to do with what his political fortunes were.' This was certainly the case with Trump’s view of Ukraine, which, Bolton said, describing fantasies that preoccupied the president, 'he saw entirely through the prism of Hillary Clinton’s server and Hunter Biden’s income-- what role Ukraine had in Hillary’s efforts to steal the 2016 election and what role Ukraine had in Biden’s efforts to steal the 2020 election.'... When I asked whether he believed Trump could be viewed as an authoritarian, Bolton replied, 'He’s not smart enough to be an authoritarian.' But had Donald Trump won in 2020, Bolton told me, in his second term he might well have inflicted 'damage that might not be reparable.' I asked whether his same concerns would apply if Trump were to gain another term in 2024, and Bolton answered with one word: 'Yes.'"
Trump sounds like a bad guy, right? Is his own party as bad as he is? Yes, but in a different-- more ideological way. Trump has no ideology beyond narcissism and greed. The GOP is more authoritarian and fascist oriented than Trump is. We'll get to that in a moment. But first I want to remind you that the next author we're going to look at is conservative writer William Saletan who said, in the lead-up to the 2016 primaries that Señor Trumpanzee is "a mean, angry, vicious person... a "remorseless expert in manipulating bigotry and "a clear and present danger" [who had] "little regard for human rights or the Constitution." After Trump was was in office, he wrote that Trump collaborated with Putin and other dictators against America<>.
Writing for The Bulwark this morning, Saletin wrote that Republicans are helping Putin break up NATO. His premise is that Putin top priority in Europe "isn’t to capture Kyiv, the Donbas, or any other part of Ukraine. It’s to weaken the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which protects most of the continent against him." He had 2 victories towards that end this week:
1- His puppet Marine Le Pen's strong performance in the French presidential election
2- 63 House Republicans, nearly a third of the GOP conference, voting on April 5 against a resolution of support for NATO.
"Putin may be losing ground in Ukraine," he wrote, "but he’s gaining ground in the U.S. Congress. Three years ago, 22 House Republicans voted against pro-NATO legislation. That number has nearly tripled. The Putin wing of the House GOP-- useful idiots such as Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who openly spout Russian propaganda-- is only a tiny fraction of the Kremlin’s target audience in Congress. They’re joined by a larger crowd of Ukraine bashers, hardcore isolationists, and right-wingers who say we shouldn’t worry about anyone else’s borders until we 'secure' our own. Together, that coalition adds up to more than 20 lawmakers.
The GOP’s turn against NATO is particularly worrisome because Congress has been warned, explicitly and repeatedly, about Putin’s goal of dissolving the alliance. In March 2017, after a U.S. intelligence report confirmed that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs—which was then, like the rest of Congress, under Republican control—held a hearing on this subject. The hearing was titled, “Undermining Democratic Institutions and Splintering NATO: Russian Disinformation Aims.” Analysts and former officials explained to the committee how Russia had, in the words of one witness, persistently funded propaganda in the West to “fracture allied security, stoke public distrust against democratic institutions, and discredit the alliance structures that defend Europe.”
Over the next two years, other reports documented the same problem. The European Council on Foreign Relations noted Russia’s efforts to undermine support for NATO in Finland, the Czech Republic, and other countries. Foreign policy journals and articles in the American press noted rising alarm in Europe at President Donald Trump’s threats to withdraw U.S. troops from the continent or to abandon the American commitment to defend NATO allies.
On January 14, 2019, the New York Times reported that “several times” in 2018, Trump had “privately said he wanted to withdraw” from the alliance. The article said Trump had “told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.”
A few days after the Times report, House Democrats filed and brought to the floor the NATO Support Act, which reaffirmed that the U.S. was “solemnly committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s principle of collective defense as enumerated in Article 5.” The bill couldn’t completely bind Trump, but it expressed the sense of Congress that “the President shall not withdraw the United States from NATO” and that American policy was “to reject any efforts to withdraw the United States from NATO.” It also prohibited the use of federal funds “to take any action to withdraw the United States” from the alliance.
Every Democrat voted for the bill; 22 Republicans voted against it.
One of the 22 Republicans, Rep. Scott Perry, explained why he and other self-styled hawks had voted no. In a statement to constituents, he complained that “the bill prevented the U.S. from ever leaving NATO . . . unless Congress first voted to repeal this would-be new law.” Perry wanted Trump to be free to pull America out of NATO, on his own.
And that was all Putin needed. He didn’t need American lawmakers to love him the way Trump did. He just needed them to constrain or withhold support from NATO.
And today we have Putin at the heart of the biggest misinformation campaign since... Bush and Cheney went to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And they hung the country's head of state! Putin claims that the Bucha massacre is fake news. In MAGA world, they've been backing him up by claiming all those dead civilians we've seen in videos are "crisis actors' (like the 20 dead first graders at Sandy Hook). Putin also claims Ukraine has sabotaged the peace talks. People who get their information from Foz, Hate Talk Radio, fringe websites and the Garnetts Greene forget that Russia has invaded Ukraine and not the other way round.
Since last February there was never any doubt in my mind that Putin would obsess over Biden getting all his Ukraine moves and broadcasting them in advance. Yesterday the Times of London reported that his obsession has manifested itself in a 'Stalinist' mass purge of Russian intelligence agents, 150 of them already removed, some arrested, including the head of the department responsible for Ukraine, Sergei Beseda. The Times speculated it is because Putin is furious over Russia's military failures in the invasion, although they later noted that in an article for the Moscow Times, Andrei Soldatov, an expert on the Russian security services, "suggested that it was possible Beseda was suspected of having passed information to the CIA."
All of those ousted were employees of the Fifth Service, a division set up in 1998, when Putin was director of the FSB to carry out operations in the countries of the former Soviet Union with the aim of keeping them within Russia’s orbit.
...Before taking over the Fifth Service, Beseda worked in counter-intelligence, a role that involved close liaison with the CIA station in Moscow. Were he to be a double agent, it would explain the Kremlin’s suspicions as to how US intelligence had been so accurate in the build-up to the invasion.
Soldatov said he did not believe Beseda was a double agent, but said it suited Putin’s purposes to suggest so.
“It’s good to be able to blame things on a traitor. It’s a very Russian thing to do,” he said.
In the years before the invasion, the Fifth Service had been active in trying to destabilise Ukraine through cultivation of pro-Russian political figures and attempts to foment unrest among far-right groups in western Ukraine.
Grozev said that he believed Russian security services had wasted “billions of dollars” on failed attempts to secure support from the “shady political class” in Ukraine in the lead-up to the war...
“From 2014 to the present day, between 140 and 150 FSB officers had an unlimited budget to spend on recruiting Ukrainians of any level,” he said in a discussion with two journalists from Novaya Gazeta last month.