Are we now a Soviet bloc country?

by Sue Dailey

Are we now a soviet bloc country? Have we been the subject of a bloodless coup?
We have been trying to make sense of White House and GOP actions using the context of US norms and US rule of law. We’ve been wondering, “Why would they do this?” “What are they thinking?” Maybe we need to drop those assumptions and focus instead on connecting the dots.
We know that Donald Trump has been cozying up to Vladimir Putin for a long time. Russian oligarchs, agents, hackers and raqueteers, all with Putin’s blessing, have lent him money, bought his property, and rented from him. They helped lay the foundation for Trump to have his best shot at winning the 2016 presidential election. They may not have expected him to actually win, but each day he remains in office gives Russia access to more information about the US and more opportunity to gain influence in this country.

We knew this was going on before we voted. Prior to the November 2016 election, our intelligence community informed Congress, and then President Obama told us that there was serious evidence that the Russian government was meddling in the election and trying to undermine our democracy.
After the election, it was clear to many of us that a Trump administration with a GOP House and Senate, together with a Supreme Court vacancy to be filled was a formula for a very dire challenge to the American people, to the US Constitution, to our cherished rule of law, and to our very democracy.
I saw very few avenues out of this mess. But I could imagine our constitutional lawyer President Obama having a vigorous discussion with someone like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, an experienced prosecutor, to consider the full body of classified information available at that time (certainly they knew much more than we did), and to look at the remedies available. If there were grounds for Trump’s arrest, then there would remain only one legitimate candidate for whom the electors could vote. After all, Hillary Clinton’s popular vote totals should be worth something. The only alternative I could see would be to cancel the inauguration and schedule a new election. That’s what other countries have done.

In the two weeks before the December 19, 2017 Electoral College vote, I tried to deliver a letter to Sen. Klobuchar to suggest such a discussion with the President. I knew an ex-staffer who had her home address, but that person was too loyal to share that information with me.  I didn’t get my letter to her staff until days before the Electoral College vote. However, I did deliver a similar letter to other lawmakers with access to her. I gave it to the staff of my Representative, Rick Nolan, and to my other Senator, Al Franken. I even shared it with the staff of Rep. Keith Ellison, who was a contender for party leadership. Then, with still a few days until the Electoral College vote, I sent my letter, in a sequence of four internet messages, to the White House. I hoped that people with authority might be able to consider the facts, the risks, the options, and probable cause for arrest and charges. I concluded, “At this historic moment, I believe that bold action is needed to preserve [democratic] principles for our children and grandchildren, to avoid a bloodless coup, a possibly fascist takeover of our government by a foreign country.”

Can you imagine anyone besides Donald Trump doing a more thorough job of undermining our democracy? While we’ve been holding out for the 2018 mid-term elections to make things right, Russians have dominated the Executive Branch of our government, and the GOP majority in Congress has protected the White House every step of the way. Iran nuclear deal: gone. NAFTA: we’re out. NATO: we’re on our way out. European Union: broken. Affordable Care Act: left to collapse. Paris climate agreement: we’re out. The term “climate change” has been removed from EPA web sites.  National parks: open for business. Voting Rights Act: gone. Funding to protect the 2018 election from hacking and other interference: gone.  Coordinator of cyber security: recently fired.  Humane treatment and limited detention of asylum seekers: gone. Protective status for Haitians, DACA students, Puerto Rican, Somalis, and maybe others: going, going, gone. Quality public education: sacrificed to privately funded schools. Media competition: gone. State-sanctioned mandated broadcasting: Sinclair Broadcasting is new, expanding, and taking over Tribune. Consumer finance protection: gone. Any signs for tax reform or other relief from escalating inequality: gone. Any hope for reversing Citizens United: gone.

Our rule of law depends on the balance of power between the Executive Branch, the Supreme Court and the Legislative Branch of government. The GOP House and Senate refuse to stand up for the rule of law and seek out the truth about Russia’s role in our country. The Supreme Court check on Executive and Legislative over-reach will soon be gone once Trump fills the current vacancy in the Court.

On July 16, 2018, Trump and Putin met for hours in Helsinki, Finland with nobody else present from the US except Trump’s interpreter. We don’t know what was said or how he represented us or what commitments he made because our GOP leaders refuse to compel the interpreter to share what she knows. In a joint press conference after the meeting, a Reuters reporter asked Putin, “Did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?” Surprisingly, Putin gave a simple answer: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did, because he talked about bringing the US/Russia relationship back to normal.” Why would Putin admit that? If we knew what they said, maybe we could have a worthwhile conversation about what kind of relationship we want with Russia.  But we can’t rule out the possibility that Putin feels free to acknowledge he helped Trump because he has pretty much finished his preparations for our 2018 elections.

I suspect that Putin never expected to gain as much access to US data, influence and infrastructure as he has over the past two years. He wasn’t counting on Trump winning, or on Trump remaining in office very long. It was a bonus to have so many Russian assets in the White House, and a double bonus to be able to have a say in cabinet members and other staff picks. Some worked to build “back channel” communication, and they may have been successful. How much classified information has Russia collected over this time? I can’t begin to imagine! Our security and privacy from Russia has most certainly been un-locked.  Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats acknowledged that Russia already has access to our financial institutions, critical infrastructure including military and energy sectors, as well as other industries. He expressed fear of a cyber “911” attack, yet the White House recently fired its cyber security coordinator. We know that Russian trolls and hackers continue to stir up divisions and distrust in House and Senate elections, and even for statewide offices around the country. They may also be helping to purge voters from voter rolls. Putin may now be in a position where he can admit that he wanted Trump to win because he knows that there’s little we can do to stop him now.

The Helsinki summit showed that Trump’s presidential authority will not be challenged if he speaks directly, even privately, with Russia’s president.  Maybe Putin wanted to let Trump know how well established his intrusion is, how solidly he can protect Trump, and what he needs from Trump to secure the not-so-covert regime change. Why shouldn’t Trump turn over our diplomats and military leaders to Putin for questioning? Why shouldn’t he return the hospitality and invite Putin to Washington for another face-to-face meeting? What more is there to hide from Putin now? What is there to hide from us, the American people? Who’s in charge now?