When it rains it pours, and after the Obama administration apparently made sure that all information about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians was preserved it is now leaking in DC as if Nixon’s amateurs had recently tried to do some real plumbing. On the Russian side we are treated to exotic names like Kislyak, Kilimnik and Rybolovlev, while in Trump’s camp we find JD Gordon and Carter Page, next to more familiar names like Sessions, Flynn and Kushner. Lately most of the attention has been on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who lied under oath during his confirmation hearing and had to recuse himself from further investigations into Russiagate, which pissed off the president because he lost his main tool to control the investigation. It is very unlikely, however, that Sessions’s two meetings with Ambassador Kislyak are the key to understanding the case, if only because Sessions is too dumb to be useful and Kislyak too smart to use him exactly for that reason. There are other people and two other moments that seem more important.
It is obvious that the American response to the annexation of Crimea and the Russian military activity in Ukraine are a key element in the developing probe. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was deeply embedded in pro-Russian circles in Ukraine, with Kilimnik as his Russian handler. Manafort managed Trump’s campaign through the GOP convention, where language about providing Ukraine with lethal weapons was removed from the party platform. Trump said he had nothing to do with this, but according to JD Gordon, one of his advisors, the order came directly from him. The next crucial activities were National Security Advisor in-waiting Flynn’s phone calls with Kislyak about new sanctions on Russia the Obama administration had imposed after the election because of the hacking. There was also a secret meeting between Kislyak, Flynn, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Since an otherwise unnecessary risk was taken by having this meeting in Trump Tower, it is likely that it was attended by Trump himself.
One day after the convention the Russians started distributing stolen DNC information via Wikileaks, and immediately after the contacts between Flynn and Kislyak Putin declared that he would not retaliate for the expulsion from the US of Russian spies dressed up as diplomats. So it appears that there were at least two quid-pro-quos in the whole process, one of which helped get Trump elected. So far it is unclear, however, if any laws were broken.
Precisely for that reason David Frum, Senior Editor at The Atlantic, argues that instead of a special prosecutor a bi-partisan investigative commission should be installed to conduct a comprehensive inquiry. A prosecutor would only assess if laws were broken and charges can be filed, while a commission would focus on bringing out the whole truth.
Hidden in the background sits information about Russian (e.g. Rybolovlev’s) money in the Trump organization, which could provide a motive for the president’s behavior. Obvious is that, with all the lies and denials, the Russians can blackmail Trump till kingdom comes.