Washington DC is a capital and international city. It’s common to hear people speaking different languages while walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, but in the past year, one might notice a disquieting change: an influx of Russians has invaded the Potomac.
Don’t be fooled by apparent randomness. When random observations repeat incessantly, a pattern can often be found: the lady from the Bloomingdale’s makeup counter is from Russia; the Uber driver is from Russia (though stating he’s Bulgarian, while unable to identify its capital, Sofia); Russian mothers at my nephew’s school are chatting in large groups, waiting for their children’s classes to be over; even the lady behind me in line the at the Whole Foods checkout happens to be speaking Russian.
Having been to the Russian Embassy back in 2016, I found the experience to be less than reassuring. I met a Russian who worked on network security for the SEC. A Russian Sputnik journalist also aggressively quizzed me about who I knew in the Obama Administration within minutes of meeting her. An RTV Journalist stopped to compliment me on my attire, and then pivoted to ask me about my family ties to Washington. I felt like a participant in a choreographed ballet, dropped abruptly to the floor when I declined to be forthcoming.
It seems to me, the Russians have been hanging around this town for a while – studying our systems, reporting observations, and unwittingly getting people to divulge political, if not personal information. But recently, their probing has increased in scale and sophistication. If we are really concerned about tracking immigration in this country, we may be well served by trying to understand how many Russians are actually living in the United States and in what states.
How many are here on diplomatic visas. Who owns property here and where? How many apply for citizenship? How long do they stay? What types of visas do they hold? How many have followed the First Lady’s path by seeking Einsten Visas? The recent 13 Russian indictments by Mueller for social media penetration, show how brazen the Russians have become. Russians visited our states, tried to get access to election materials and allegedly pierced the voter rolls of 7 states. The next wave of Mueller indictments dealing with hacking will probably be even larger, identifying Russians overseas, but probably scooping up a few of the anonymous participants we have identified lurking in plain sight.
It is not implausible to think that a plan to put Trump into the White House could have been hatched in Russia years ago, as the Steele Dossier suggests. Putin and his oligarchs could have planted the seed of a potential Trump run by appealing to his ego… “Donald, you would be the best President America has ever had!” and offering to work with him to achieve this goal.
Putin would help. Donald would come to power and create a favorable climate for Putin to expand his global reach, lifting sanctions and turning a blind eye to Russian election interference. However, this brilliant plan would only work if Donald Trump could become an absolute dictator, corralling Congress, intimidating the executive (Justice Department, the FBI and security agencies), neutralizing the judiciary, silencing the press, and quashing all investigations.
A tall order for the best of politicians. Because Trump is not an honor student of history or civics, he badly underestimated the protective structures of government that the framers of the Constitution put in place to resist abuse. While Congress has fallen short, Mueller has steadfastly shored up democracy, becoming in effect a fifth estate that is steadily causing the administration to unravel.
Understanding the timing, nature, and extent of Russian contacts is now at the forefront of the Mueller investigation. When did Trump want to become President? Why was the Moscow Trump Tower Deal Scrapped? And what are the 2nd & 3rd degree oligarch connections to his family? Within this line of inquiry, there must be some evidence of a pre-existing Russia-Trump axis for Mueller to find.
Meanwhile, as Trump refuses to officially punish Russia for its digital misdeeds, the perception of him as a Moscow Mule will be difficult to shed. He could freeze Russian assets in the US (like we did to Iran), sell the infamous Muscovite compound on the Eastern Shore and keep the proceeds in the US Treasury.
Concurrently, President Trump could implement the sanctions that were passed overwhelmingly by the Congress. He could impose new ones. Yet, he does nothing, which leaves many of us asking are of the seeds of his presidency so compromised that only pesticides will kill it? Trump is under siege and Putin could pull his support at any time. Chaos is flourishing. Putin’s goal has already been met and whether Trump stays or goes does not matter to him one wit.