Sunday, January 27, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He gave a gift of several hundred million dollars to one of the Russians who helped attack the election on his behalf.

Oleg Deripaska is a Russian billionaire with close political ties to the Putin regime. (Under Putin, a small group of ultra-wealthy business owners, usually called "oligarchs," are allowed to gain wealth and operate outside the law in exchange for loyalty to Putin.) In August of 2017, Congress passed a law imposing steep sanctions on many of those oligarchs. The vote was nearly unanimous (419-3 in the House, and 98-2 in the Senate), but it became law over Trump's furious objections

Deripaska was specifically targeted because of his connection to money laundering rings and organized crime, and because the U.S. government believes he ordered the murder of a rival.

But Deripaska was also the former employer of Trump's campaign chair, Paul Manafort. Manafort gave Deripaska the Trump campaign's highly sensitive voter-targeting data, which would have enabled Russia to target American voters with disinformation much more effectively. Manafort (who is now in prison for trying to cover up his Russia ties) was deeply in debt to Deripaska, and wanted to trade information about the Trump campaign to "get whole" with him. 

In short, Deripaska was a major part of the network of cooperation between Trump and the Putin regime's attack on the election during the 2016 campaign.

In December, just after sanctions against Deripaska's companies went into effect, Trump proposed lifting them. The justification for doing so, sworn to by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, was that Deripaska was divesting himself from his companies, and that keeping the sanction would punish now-innocent businesses. The Senate voted 57-42 to keep the sanctions anyway, but a 60-vote majority was required to override Trump's action.

In fact, as many suspected at the time of the vote and has now been made clear, Deripaska is actually taking advantage of the sanctions to legally escape from several hundred million dollars in debt, while selling his share to other Putin-controlled oligarchs not currently under sanction. 

In simplest terms, one of the key Russian figures in the attack on the 2016 election is not only not being punished for his actions, he is actually profiting from the attempt to impose punishment, with Trump's help.

The lifting of those sanctions took effect today.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's difficult to think of anything Trump could be doing to reward Russia for interfering in the election that he's not doing.