Sunday, May 28, 2017

K, K and K

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein)
K, K and K. Funny how that letter keeps popping up in threes and dogging this administration. Of course, this isn't about Donald Trump's loyal fan base in the Ku Klux Klan. This is about the other KKK: Kushner, Kislyak and the Kremlin.
     Last Friday night, after what used to be the end of the weekly news cycle before social media made it 24/7, the Washington Post, followed by the New York Times two hours later published differing accounts of Jared Kushner asking Russia's US ambassador Sergey Kislyak for direct, secure access to the Kremlin, rendering deaf the prying ears of the intelligence community. This in itself should raise a lot of eyebrows but rather than retreading common ground, the Gray Lady decided to soft-pedal it.
     With tongue in cheek she says, perhaps with genuine naïveté, "Even if the proposal was designed primarily as a conduit to discuss policy issues, it is unclear why such communications would have needed to be carried out though a secret channel." Indeed. Especially as the Trump transition team didn't make this meeting at Trump Tower public knowledge and to this day still refuses to comment on it except through a veil of anonymity. Furthermore, the NYT went on to state,
The idea behind the secret communications channel, the three people said, was for Russian military officials to brief Mr. Flynn about the Syrian war and to discuss ways to cooperate there.
     One gets the impression this rationale, which allegedly took even Kislyak by surprise, was a glorified fig leaf for what would've been even more collusionary activity between the White House and the Kremlin had the idea not been abandoned by both sides.
     But then this came out: A few days after the meeting with Kislyak in Trump Tower, Kushner then had a meeting with another Sergey, this one Sergey Gorkov, a powerful Russian banker with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Well, "close ties" is understating it. Gorkov is actually a crony of Putin's and a graduate of the FSB's spy school. Later on, Putin made him the head of the VneshEconomBank (or VEB). It would be sanctioned under the Obama administration after Putin invaded the Ukraine and annexed Crimea.
     It ought to be mentioned here that unlike the Times, the WaPo had also reported that Kushner's idea at the time was to use Russian equipment at the Russian embassy so future communiques with Moscow couldn't be overheard by the FBI, which closely monitors all communications between Russian diplomats in the US and Moscow. That, obviously, would've caused security risks for both the Russians and us. It's an idea that on its face seems so naïve or absurd (as the Times would've had it), it was no wonder Moscow didn't approve it.

"Policy is the elephant in the room"
In Matt Yglesias' breakdown of the "dueling accounts", he mentions the core issue at the heart of these recent disclosures regardless of which account you read: The actual central policy these secret, behind locked door meetings signify. And, as is always the case, what we suspect always far outweighs what we actually know, especially when speculating on national security matters. So let's take stock of what we do know:
     The White House, through Kushner, wanted to set up hard, secured channels straight to Moscow, a request that was so bizarre even Kislyak was surprised. The very meeting was also such a potentially explosive revelation that Kushner (as had Jeff Sessions and several others in the Trump White House) had lied on his SF86 form (an application for top secret security clearance) by omitting his meetings with the Russians. Essentially, this means Kushner got his job through fraudulent means and ought to fired immediately according to Justice Department regulations.
     Yet, despite these disturbing requests, meetings with Russians and lying about them on his security clearance application, despite his name coming up quite frequently in the DOJ's ongoing investigation into the Trump administration's ties to Russia, Kushner himself is still not under investigation.
     Michael Flynn, Trump's short-lived National Security advisor, was present at the first meeting with Kislyak. He was being so openly groomed as a Judas goat/fall guy that Acting AG Sally Yates warned White Counsel three times about the danger of Flynn being compromised.
      We know for a fact Trump has had an antagonistic relationship with the intelligence community since he was Candidate Trump. Therefore it's only natural for a furtive, paranoid character like Trump to send in his son in law to lay the groundwork for a hard, secured channel straight to Trump's BFF, Vlad Putin.
     Rep. Adam Schiff took to the Sunday talk show circuit today to say in no uncertain terms that after this revelation of seeking back channels to the Kremlin (then withholding that information on his security clearance application), there's no way Kushner should be allowed to keep his security clearance. At the very least, Schiff added, it ought to be seriously reviewed.
     He's right.

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