The Russian Connection: The Manchurian Candidate

In the novel, The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon, published in 1959, the story is of an infantry platoon captured during the Korean conflict. The platoon members are brainwashed to believe that their Sargent, Robert Shaw, heroically saved their lives. Unbeknownst to them, Shaw, who is a member of a powerful political family, has been brainwashed into being an assassin for a Communist conspiracy. It’s a really good thriller and the 1962 movie is faithful to the story line. The title became a meme as defined by Dictionary.com as:

A Manchurian candidate is a person, especially a politician, being used as a puppet by an enemy power. The term is commonly used to indicate disloyalty or corruption, whether intentional or unintentional.

That leads us to today and real life with this:

F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia
by Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said. [..]

The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.

What caught the FBI counterintelligence agents’ attention was Trump’s call for Russia, during a campaign news conference in July 2016, to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. His refusal to criticize Russia or President Vladimir Putin, as well as, the Republican Party softening its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia, added to the alarm for the investigators.

The Times report acknowledges that there is currently no public evidence from the Mueller investigation that Trump is working with Russian against the US. However, former assistant FBI director of counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that Mueller’s team most likely has classified evidence of Trump’s relationship with Russia.

It means likely, Joy, even though the article is citing the public behavior of the president, as you just noted, in order to get this to pass muster, in order to get this through FBI headquarters, through teams of lawyers, across the street to the Department of Justice, to be the title name of an investigation, I am virtually certain that more evidence than just the public behavior of the president is involved in this and I think that evidence is likely classified evidence

When asked by Ms. Reid if the FBI might have intercepted phone communications and signal intelligence about ongoing cooperation between the president of the United States and Russia, Agent Figliuzzi responded “yes”:

“But I don’t even think that those relaxed regulations may play into that or not. They might, but from day one, Joy, you’ve heard the intelligence professionals saying there is much more to this iceberg than just the tip. [..]

That is what we call the dark side — the signals intelligence, the intercepts worldwide. [..]

We know from reporting throughout this case that allied partners have shared intelligence, whether it’s Australians or Brits or others [..]

This is really the hard part to get your arms around, literally our allies may hav been helping — and our intelligence community may have been supporting — a case and evidence development against our own president.

Since the campaign and the first few months of his administration, Trump hasn’t done much to allay the suspicions of the counterintelligence agents. In his meetings and conversations with Putin, Trump has gone to great lengths to conceal what was discussed, as was reported Saturday night in The Washington Post:

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference. [..]

Former U.S. officials said that Trump’s behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments. [..]

The concerns have been compounded by actions and positions Trump has taken as president that are seen as favorable to the Kremlin. He has dismissed Russia’s election interference as a “hoax,” suggested that Russia was entitled to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacked NATO allies, resisted efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow, and begun to pull U.S. forces out of Syria — a move that critics see as effectively ceding ground to Russia.

At the same time, Trump’s decision to fire Comey and other attempts to contain the ongoing Russia investigation led the bureau in May 2017 to launch a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was seeking to help Russia and if so, why, a step first reported by the New York Times.

It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no Cabinet officials or any aides to be in the room for that conversation.

Trump also had other private conversations with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 global conference in Hamburg, where only Putin’s interpreter was present. Trump also had a brief conversation with Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month.

Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin, although Russia has often been first to disclose those calls when they occur and release statements characterizing them in broad terms favorable to the Kremlin. [..]

Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.

Previous presidents and senior advisers have often studied such reports to assess whether they had accomplished their objectives in meetings as well as to gain insights for future conversations.

Investigations of politicians, clergy, members of the media, etc., are not done lightly by the FBI and require approval from the highest level, i.e., the Attorney General or his deputy and the director of the FBI or his deputy. At the time this investigation was opened that would have been Rod Rosenstein and Andrew McCabe, respectively. These investigations are not done on whim and this is certainly an unprecedented first. Could the man-baby who occupies the Oval Office be a Russian asset, at worst, an agent? We may never know but the heavens help us if if it’s true.

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