Russia chips away at Western notion of truth; GOP & “Russia Hoax”; Russia & Yellow Vest riots, and more

And now, with each new revelation from the Mueller investigation, we understand that claims of “entrapment” are increasingly bizarre. The more we learn about Trump World’s contacts with Russians or Russian operatives, the more astounding it becomes. Consider this partial summary:

·  Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, lied to Congress about his contacts with a Russian government official as he tried to negotiate a Trump Tower Moscow deal deep into the 2016 presidential campaign.
  Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has lied about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged asset of Russian intelligence.
  Longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone (and Stone’s sidekick, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi) allegedly tried to communicate with WikiLeaks, a “hostile intelligence service,” to obtain advance information about Julian Assange’s planned document dumps.
  Donald Trump’s son, campaign chairman, and son-in-law met with a purported Russian representative with the intention of receiving “official documents” as part of a “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
  Former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about his own contacts with a professor who “claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials” and who claimed to have access to “dirt” on Hillary in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Indeed, the list of known contacts between Russians and senior Trump officials (and Trump family members) keeps growing. In less partisan times they’d generate far more bipartisan concern. Even now, they should at the very least demolish the worst of the pro-Trump conspiracy theories.
This column is not an argument that these contacts swayed the election. They didn’t even, as far as we know, directly involve the Russian hacking. I continue to believe that many other factors were far, far more influential in Clinton’s defeat than Russia’s attempt to put its thumb on the scales. Nor does the available evidence yet indicate any personal involvement by Donald Trump. But these contacts do rebut repeated early denials from Trump and his team.
Remember, in 2017, Trump said, “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” Hope Hicks said, “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
We are entering a strange time when Trump partisans — people who pride themselves on “America First” patriotism — look at the list of illegal lies about contacts with our chief geopolitical foe and fault American investigators for examining those contacts.
We are entering a strange time when too many Republicans look at a candidate’s efforts to reach a lucrative real-estate deal with that foe during his presidential campaign and call that “business as usual.” It’s especially strange when those same partisan Republicans were rightly intensely interested in the Clinton Foundation’s lucrative Russian contacts.
Under what reasoning is the FBI’s previous investigation of the Clinton Foundation legitimate but the investigation of copious contacts between the Russians and the Trump team illegitimate?
As in all investigations, the FBI and every other relevant arm of the federal government should be held to account when it departs from law or policy. If elements of the Trump investigation were tainted by partisan bias, we need to know. But, at this point, claims that the investigation itself is inherently illegitimate should be dismissed.
An entirely necessary and proper investigation may well be reaching its most crucial phase. As it does, it’s time for partisans to ditch conspiracy theories and reach mutual agreement to follow the evidence and apply the law to the facts without regard for personal affection or policy preference. Any other approach — either by pundits or politicians — fails their audience or their constituents.
The Trump team has surrounded the truth of its dealings with Russia with a bodyguard of lies. Not a single American should find that acceptable or excusable. Let’s find the truth and confront it fearlessly. No other approach will provide the justice and transparency America needs.

Totally clears the president’? What those Cohen and Manafort filings really say (Victoria Clark, Mikhaila Fogel, Quinta Jurecic, Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare)
President Trump responded to Friday’s filings from federal prosecutors in the cases of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort with a Twitter cry of triumph: “Totally clears the President. Thank you!” Don’t spend a lot of time looking through the three filings for the section entitled, “The President is Totally Cleared.”
What should one make of the Cohen and Manafort filings? It has long been clear that the Russian side of L’Affaire Russe involved a long-running, systematic effort to reach out to members of the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Mueller’s account of Cohen’s November 2015 conversation about “political synergy” is just one more thread in that pattern. What is less certain is whether and how that Russian effort was reciprocated by those surrounding the president. Friday’s court filings don’t substantially clarify that issue, but they do add more detail and texture to an already troubling picture.
Mueller is still not ready to show his hand on the key substantive questions. But President Trump should should probably go easy on the cries of vindication. They may age badly, and they may do so quickly.

Russia’s disinformation chief takes fresh aim at America (Anna Nemtsova, Daily Beast)
In an exclusive interview, the head of the Russian Federal News Agency opens up about his pro-Kremlin propaganda and setting up a fake news outlet in the U.S.

Is Russia a U.S.“adversary” or just a “competitor”? (Nikolas K. Gvosdev, National Interest)
The author, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, writes:

·  “The world … is starting to look more ‘normal’ in terms of the overall patterns of human history. … [O]ther countries have resurged or obtained greater wherewithal to push back on U.S. agenda-setting or to insist on agendas of their own. … Washington must come to grips with the distinction between a ‘competitor’ and an ‘adversary.’ … Russia has moved from a 1990s position of seeking inclusion with the West into a position of a competitor. Is that competition … manageable within an overall cooperative framework?”

·  “If it is not, there are implications for U.S. policy … It also returns us to the question of whether the primary driver of U.S. strategy in Eurasia for decades—to prevent … Russia and China … [cooperating] with each other against the United States—should remain operative.”

·  “Dealing with Russia as a serious competitor … also requires facing up to the challenge of how to compete. … In meeting that competition, the U.S. political establishment must tackle whether the goal is to try and deter (or compel) Russia to change course, or to push for the removal of Russia as a major power.”

·  “We identify Russia as a ‘near-peer competitor’ based particularly on the reality that Russia is one of the few countries which can credibly project power beyond its immediate border, especially military power. … In dealing with near-peer competitors, there are two strategic choices. One is to turn a near-peer competitor into a near-peer partner; the other is to turn a near-peer competitor (and potential adversary) into a non-peer competitor.”

·  “I steal Jill [Dougherty] ‘s point as my own conclusion: ‘… For our own security, we need a bi-partisan, sustainable policy based on a realistic definition of why we even care about Russia.”

Czech security service says Russia behind cyber attacks on ministry (Jason Hovet, Reuters)
Russia’s intelligence services were behind cyber attacks targeting the Czech foreign ministry last year, the Czech security service said on Monday in its annual report.

Putin’s “American” oligarch privately boasted of Trump ties. Then he lost billions (Stephanie Baker, Yuliya Fedorinova, and Irina Reznik, Bloomberg)
A chance New York encounter between onetime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a relative of Viktor Vekselberg has cost the Russian dearly.

Russia hack ‘bid to discredit’ UK anti-disinformation campaign - Foreign Office (James Landale, BBC)
The Foreign Office has accused Russian state media of trying to discredit a government-funded body that works to counter Kremlin disinformation.

France to probe possible Russian influence on Yellow Vest riots (Carol Matlack, Robert Williams, Bloomberg)
France opened a probe into possible Russian interference behind the country’s Yellow Vest protests, after reports that social-media accounts linked to Moscow have increasingly targeted the movement.