We're compelled to interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you the latest dire reminder that Joe Biden, now the official Democratic nominee, will be facing off against a willing Russian stooge who welcomed Vladimir Putin's illegal assistance in 2016 and is totally fine with doing so again. This reminder was voiced Tuesday by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, which released 1,000 pages that truly frames the stakes in 2020.
Page 32 says it all. During the 2016 race, there was a "direct tie between senior Trump campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services." Trump's chief plotter was his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Here's another gem: "The committee found that Manafort's presence on the campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on the Trump campaign. Taken as a whole, Manafort's high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with Russian intelligence services... represented a grave counterintelligence threat."
Indeed, Manafort secretly shared Trump campaign info with a guy named Konstantin Kilimnik, who just so happened to be "a Russian intelligence agent." That jibes with a passage in the Mueller Report that said in the summer of 2016, while the Russians were busy hacking on Trump's behalf, Manafort was sharing "internal polling data" with a Russian suspected of being an intelligence agent - most notably, polling data from the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
We've long known that Trump is a Putin stooge - despite Bill Barr's craven attempts to spin it all away - but it's refreshing to see it spelled out by a Republican-led Senate committee. Especially all the dirty details about how team Trump tried to cover up the 2016 Russian connection: "The Trump campaign publicly undermined the attribution of the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia, and was indifferent to whether it and WikiLeaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort."
Ah yes, WikiLeaks - the repository of the Hillary campaign material stolen by Russia's hackers. This new Senate report, vetted by the panel's Republicans, contains the strongest evidence thus far that Trump and his campaign used Roger Stone as a conduit to get the inside skinny on what the Russia-WikiLeaks operation was releasing.
But enough about 2016. What about now?
The Senate report hints - but does not spell out - that the Russians, with Trump's silent indulgence, is trying to meddle on his behalf in 2020. The committee features a statement from one its members, Ron Wyden, who says that the report "includes redacted information that is directly relevant to Russia's interference in the 2020 election."
Ideally, it would've been nice if the report had told us more. But to recognize what's happening, we need only remember what one of our top intelligence officials said publicly earlier this month. William Evanina, a career law enforcement guy who runs the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (and a Trump appointee, no less) said this: "Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden... some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump's candidacy on social media and Russian television."
But has Trump ever sounded the alarm about any of this? As if.
Miles Taylor, a former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, recalls in a devastating new video that whenever he and other senior security officials tried to broach the Russian meddling issue with Trump, it didn't go well.
"He was distracted, he was disinterested, but ultimately, he denied it. He denied that this was a threat. He denied that this was a concern," Taylor said. "What the president wanted to talk about was how resoundingly he'd won the election in 2016... From that point on, you had people in the administration who were scared to go out and talk about one of the top national security threats facing our country."
Granted, the Trump-Russia connection is not one of the top-tier voting issues in this election. The pandemic and the crashed economy clearly take precedence. And the Democrats, in their virtual convention, are rightly emphasizing the everyday traumas that directly and adversely affecting people's lives.
What the new Senate report does do is remind us that the choice this year is ultimately between authoritarianism and democracy. It's up to us to save our noble experiment.
Copyright 2020 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]