Is Trump a tool of Putin? See the story & the debunking.

Summary: Another day, another smear about Trump. Our elites are desperate to suppress debate about the issues raised by Trump, hence the focus by political leaders and journalists on personalities, sound bites, and smears. Such as Trump, the tool of Putin!

The solution to the disturbing issues raised by Trump in Campaign 2016

Political Mud

The Left continues their attempts to prevent discussion of the issues raised by Trump (e.g., populism, immigration, globalization). The near-tie with Clinton in the polls show that so far their smears have failed (e.g., Trump as Hilter), so they have become more desperate. Yesterday’s post examined claims that Donald Trump has a perverted attraction to Ivanka. Here is another of their “throw smears on the wall and see what sticks”: “Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really A Thing” by Josh Marshal at Talking Points Memo. It’s gotten attention on the Left. Excerpt…

“At a minimum, Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men.”

It was immediately shown to be bogus: “Fact-Checking That ‘Trump & Putin’ Thing” by Jeffrey Carr — Excerpt…

“What follows are seven statements from the TPM article which Josh has claimed are facts. He only got two out of seven correct.

“…For the record, I despise Donald Trump. I can’t imagine a worse candidate for President and I’m shocked and appalled that he is the Republican nominee. However, there’s no need to invent Russian conspiracies to make the Trump boogeyman appear worse than he is.”

A more focused rebuttal: “The Central Claim in Josh Marshall’s Blog Post About Russia and Trump is False” by Michael Tracey (journalist) — Excerpt…

“A central claim in Josh Marshall’s widely-circulated blog post detailing Trump’s alleged ties to nefarious Russians has to do with the GOP platform-drafting process. Marshall first lays out a bunch of disparate facts showing that Trump has done deals with various people connected in one way or another to Russia. Taken alone, this might be interesting, but likely not indicative of any potential Kremlin-backed conspiracy to infiltrate the US electoral process.

“However, the kicker of the post comes when Marshall presents a knot that supposedly ties together all the loose ends: Trump, keen to upend the world order in Putin’s favor, conspicuously altered the GOP platform in such a way that empowers Russia. This is doubly notable, Marshall posits, because Trump otherwise took no interest in the platform.

“If Trump’s campaign representatives were in fact totally indifferent to every other aspect of the platform-drafting process, but out of nowhere scrambled to alter language pertaining to Ukraine, that might be worth pointing out. Unfortunately for Marshall, that’s not an accurate characterization of what happened. …”

Tracey gives additional color to this on Twitter.

“Bipartisan freakout over Trump/Putin shows once again that the DC establishment is united in its commitment to a belligerent foreign policy. And beyond just hysteria, they are fomenting the kind of tinderbox diplomatic tensions that could lead to an international conflagration. It really bears repeating: Every single pundit baselessly positing Russian subversion of the US political order is fomenting rank hysteria.”

Updates: Marshall reveals his real concern

Today Josh Marshall published at TPM a major walk-back of his claims.

“I don’t think Trump is being blackmailed or working for Putin. …What concerns me deeply is that Trump has bad, bellicose and impulsive instincts. He joins that with an almost total ignorance of actual policy facts on virtually every topic and what seems to be a militant refusal to learn them. …He’s had a lot of financial help from Russian money surrounding Putin and he’s got a group of advisors who are from the world where friendship with Putin is a necessity and do not hide the fact that they think the US should take a more accommodating stance toward Russia. The above is the most generous read of the facts we know, and it’s frankly terrible.”

Imagine thinking that the US should slow down the new Cold War!  How can the Deep State thrive without bogus existential enemies to alarm the American people?

Also, here’s an earlier story about Trump’s Russian connections: “Putin’s Puppet” by Franklin Foer at Slate — “If the Russian president could design a candidate to undermine American interests — and advance his own — he’d look a lot like Donald Trump”

Other observations about this smear

Vladimir V. Putin

It’s a tried and true tactic. Like Charlie Brown, we fall for it every time.

“Everyone who ever disagrees with the US and UK establishment’s position is Putin’s ‘useful idiot.'”
— Bryan MacDonald (Irish journalist, who is based in Russia) on Twitter.

Bryan MacDonald gives some examples, and a summary of the game.


Our elites have powerful tools to shape the “news” and the narratives of Campaign 2016. So many lie so often to us because we so easily believe lies. The success of these lies depends on our passivity.

The unexpected performance of Sanders and Trump’s victory in this election show that we have the ability to control elections. A first step to regaining control of America is to learn skepticism. It will be the easiest step.

For More Information

Another odd analysis by Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: “Why Some Leftists Are Defending Donald Trump’s Ties to Russia“. Best: his puzzlement that Leftists (victims of McCarthy’s smears about serving Russia) oppose today’s McCarthyite smears about Trump serving Russia.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Campaign 2016, and especially these about the Left’s attempts to divert attention from Trump’s policies …

20 thoughts on “Is Trump a tool of Putin? See the story & the debunking.”

  1. ..Who was it that gave a red “RESET” button to Putin ”
    ..Who was it that whispered to Putin, ” I can be more flexible once I win reelection ” ?
    ..Things that make you go Hmmmm…….

  2. Perhaps Trump’s greatest sin against the military-industrial complex is to suggest anything but Cold War 2.0 against Russia.

    Radio War Nerd had a great episode recently about the MIC and the defense contractor bourgeoisie that got rich of selling the US government useless toys during the first Cold War. That was really the brilliance of the Cold War cash grab…the war itself would’ve been a global disaster (tank battles on the Fulda Gap and dogfights over Berlin were nothing but a WWII reenactment fantasy…the nukes would’ve been flying in very short order), but the *threat* of war meant endless defense budget dollars.

    Obviously, low-tech Mid-East insurgencies haven’t been as lucrative for the likes of Raytheon and Boeing, so they hunger for “fat-ass Boomer nostalgia for the Russian menace” as Madar put it, haha.

    And Putin seems more than willing to oblige them. This time around, Russia is captalist…so I’m betting they have their own military-industrial complex that’s eager to grew fat and rich like their DC counterparts did.

    1. ch1kpee,

      I agree. Trump’s statements, confused and fragmentary, about US defense policy are one of the two most transgressive aspects of his campaign (immigration is the other).

      “Putin seems more than willing to oblige them.”

      What else can he do? He cannot be seen to back down from US pressure on core Russian foreign policy. Any more than Kennedy could have when Russia put missiles in Cuba.

    1. Matthijs,

      I suggest skepticism about these claims. As cybersecurity experts say each and every time such claims hit the headlines, attribution is almost impossible in cyberspace (see the many articles about this).

      Also, the cybersecurity industry is a cousin of the defense industry — with lavish open and covert funding from Homeland Security and DoD, with a revolving door of experts and executives. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that so many attacks are blamed on nations that the US govt doesn’t like — rather than organized crime and malicious hackers.

      But calls to skepticism are pointless. Americans believe what they’re told by the government and its agents, no matter how often their lies are discovered. It’s what makes us peons.

  3. Editor, I think we’re broadly in agreement both on this specific issue (Trump + Putin) and the ill-advised nature of the neoconservative push for a renewed Cold War. I’m less interested in the former and more interested in the latter, as this seems like a really important source of geopolitical instability under a Clinton administration.

    In the interest of trying to understand the opposite side of the argument better, I wonder if you can present (or point me to) a “steelmanning” (in the sense of the opposite of a strawman) of the argument that Putin is the Worst Person Since Hitler. Because when I try to analyze Putin factually, I just don’t understand this point of view.

    Here’s what I see when I look at Russia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 1991 brouhaha, Russia emerged with a semi-democratic government largely run by incompetents. Eventually — with the tacit approval of Bill Clinton’s administration — Putin emerged as the successor to Yeltsin, and he proceeded to govern more or less effectively. Partly helped by strong commodity prices, but facing pretty daunting demographic headwinds, the Russian economy recovered from the devastation of the 1990s and has been doing relatively well (or least trundling along), even in the face of US-engineered sanctions (that have hurt both Russia and Europe). Putin remains extremely popular, and this doesn’t seem to be (only) a matter of a dictator rigging elections; people genuinely like him. Hell, he strikes me as pretty likable in interviews: he’s smart, well-spoken, and stands up for Russian interests in the face of overwhelming Western opposition. He seems to have managed relationships with China and Central Asian former SSRs extremely well. I’ll turn to Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, and the Baltics below.

    People levy a bevy of human rights abuse charges against Putin’s regime. Since a lot of the NGOs doing the complaining are “in bed” with geopolitical opponents of Putin’s, it’s hard to know how objective these are, so let’s examine a few (based on Wikipedia). First on the list is always LGBT rights. This seems wildly overblown to me. As a classical liberal, I don’t think Russia’s policies in this area (which apparently vary widely from region to region) are great. But they seem broadly reflective of the Russian body politic, which is more religious and socially conservative than that of Western Europe. Russia also has large Muslim populations in some of the regions with the most repressive anti-gay policies in place. But compared to Muslim-majority “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, LGBT rights in Russia seem relatively protected. People also complain that Russian police and military engage in torture. I’ll write this one off since the same is true of the USA. Wikipedia statistics suggest that since Putin took power, some key crime rate indicators have fallen. There *does* seem to be clear statistical evidence of electoral fraud in Russia. There’s also (less compelling but still suspicious) evidence of statistical abnormalities in some US elections. There *does* seem to have been spate of suspicious killings of journalists and opposition lawmakers in Russia. (I’ll refrain from comparisons with the case of Michael Hastings…) The outsized power and influence of oligarchs (itself partly a result of US policy in the wake of the dissolution of the USSR) *does* seem problematic. (Although many Americans are concerned with the outsized influence of oligarchs here at home.)

    So in sum, Putin’s human rights record seems pretty bad, and Russia clearly has serious corruption problems, but Putin doesn’t seem to me in the class of a Hitler or Stalin based on these issues.

    This brings us to Russia’s military activities, which are clearly the ultimate source of Putin’s tension with the West. We begin chronologically with the Second Chechen War. I was too young at the time to have paid much attention to this in real time. But in essence, Russia was facing a spate of Islamic terrorism (much like France and Germany are facing today) linked to a secessionist movement in a region that Russia has struggled to control for literally centuries. It seems like many abuses were committed on both sides. But scorn for Russia’s tactics in this conflict seems to have mostly evaporated after 9/11, except in some Western European countries. One has to wonder whether the recent terrorist incidents have changed any minds about how Russia conducted itself in Chechnya. (Personally I reserve judgment, since I don’t know enough about the conflict.)

    The other conflicts which draw the ire of Putin’s critics are the wars in Georgia and the Ukraine. One’s perspective on these conflicts is intimately tied to how one views the “color revolutions” that preceeded these crises. It’s no secret that these were supported by the US government other European actors in the name of “democracy promotion”, and it also seems self-evident to me that Putin is correct in characterizing these as a form of “soft warfare” conducted by the Western backers, targeting Russian client states. It’s hard to imagine, but I could understand Obama being pretty pissed off if Putin funded NGOs in Mexico who fomented civil unrest and led to the installation of a vehemently anti-American Mexican government. I also share the distaste of many Russophiles for the neo-Nazi elements within the regime in Kiev, with which the US seems to have aligned itself. When it comes to the facts on the ground (e.g. whether Ukrainian army or the pro-Russian rebels brought down that plane, or who bombed which civilian targets), I think it’s impossible to form an clear opinion about who the “good guys” are in this conflict, because the propaganda is so thick on *both* sides — I don’t think the BBC or the NYT are any more reliable than RT or Russia Insider in their coverage.

    Thus all in all, I remain stumped. The factual case against Putin doesn’t seem that strong. He’s not necessarily the greatest guy in the world, but he doesn’t seem like enemy number 1, and certainly not someone we should be picking fights with. Thus I’m inclined to ascribe the fervent neoconservative hatred of him to two factors: (1) old Cold Warriors who are still looking for an Evil Empire (or two!) to fight, rather than analyzing the world as it is, and (2) the self-interest of the military-industrial complex which would love to sell more arms to be deployed in the Baltics and Poland, in a move more likely to harm international stability than to effectively deter Russian aggression (because Russia has no real incentive to invade Eastern Europe, because the U.S. doesn’t actually have the political will to muster the necessary, massive military response required to mount a conventional military response, and because nuclear weapons make the whole issue moot anyway).

    Final conclusion: Trump may be wrong on a lot, but he doesn’t seem to be wrong on Russia; on the contrary, the neocons calling him a tool of Putin are the ones off the reservation.

    1. sflicht.

      “I wonder if you can present (or point me to) a “steelmanning” (in the sense of the opposite of a strawman) of the argument that Putin is the Worst Person Since Hitler.”

      Why would I do that? It’s quite a daft opinion. Compared to Pol Pot and Mao, Putin looks like Peter Pan.

    2. Well I was exaggerating the view for effect with the phrase “Worst Person Since Hitler”. Probably serious proponents would using a phrasing like “the most dangerous man in the world”, or the “most aggressive foreign leader in a generation” or something like that.

      And the reason I was asking is that you seem well read and share with me a desire to see the world as it is. I think we both look at Putin and see no serious threat to American interests, and at worst a mildly distasteful semi-autocratic regime which is probably quite unpleasant for some Russians, even if most of them like him. But many seemingly smart people in America, on both left and right, look at Putin and see something far more dangerous. I want to understand why.

      1. sflicht,

        We can only guess at the roots of Cold War II. It’s probably the same as Cold War I. Continued public support for our massive military industrial complex requires existential foes. Poor insurgents don’t justify spending trillions on star wars, new fighters and bombers, etc.

        Personalizing the foe is SOP. The big bad guy helps sell the story.

    3. Well Cold War I did have some external roots! Namely, an international Communist movement with an explicitly expansionist philosophy of global revolution, together with a post-War, fully mobilized Soviet army occupying large swaths of Europe. Obviously some in the US overreacted to these facts to some extent, and equally obviously (at least in retrospect), the MIC took full advantage of the situation to entrench its power. But — especially with nuclear weapons in their infancy — there was a somewhat more credible case that the USSR would seek to expand its territory by force, compared to the Russian Federation today.

      1. sflicht,

        “Well Cold War I did have some external roots! ”

        Duh. But the Soviet Union was never the nightmarish threat described by US hawks. This became explicit in the 1976 Team B exercise, when hawks’ “analysis” showed that the USSR was an even bigger threat than the CIA said. In fact it was already collapsing, and fell in 1991.

    4. And the other thing I don’t understand is why so many in the American foreign policy media and intelligentsia seem to buy into the Big Bad Putin story, even outside of the hardline neocon circles who use it to justify their own careers. Maybe it’s a symptom of Trump Derangement Syndrome; just the fact that Trump exists makes the academic and media establishment lose their heads about foreign policy when its acquires the merest whiff of domestic political salience. As Trump would say, “Sad!”

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