Appeasement by any other name

In case you missed it, because it was released on the eve before the Fourth of July in a pre-holiday news dump (which raises the obvious question, “Why”?), the Senate Intelligence Committee completely refuted Rep. Devin “Midnight Run” Nunes’ bogus House Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 campaign that was ballyhooed by the Twitter-troll-in chief and FAUX News aka Trump TV.

The Washington Post reported, Senate report affirms intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia favored Trump over Clinton:

A Senate panel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election released Tuesday a written summary of its determination that the U.S. intelligence community correctly concluded Moscow sought to help Donald Trump win.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report affirms conclusions that its members first announced in May. It stands in sharp contrast with a parallel investigation by the House Intelligence Committee, whose Republican members questioned the intelligence community’s tradecraft in concluding the Kremlin aimed to help Trump.

The Senate panel called the overall assessment a “sound intelligence product,” saying evidence presented by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency supported their collective conclusion that the Russian government had “developed a clear preference for Trump” over his opponent in the race, Hillary Clinton. Where the agencies disagreed, the Senate panel found those differences were “reasonable.”

Trump insists that the Russians did not have a preference for his campaign, and has even tried to project onto Clinton that Putin would have preferred Hillary Clinton as president. Sorry, but NO.

The intelligence community determined that the Kremlin intended to “denigrate” and “harm” Clinton, and “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process” while helping Trump. The committee’s report backs that conclusion. It also supports the agencies’ findings about Russia’s tactics, which included cyberattacks and intelligence collection “against the U.S. primary campaigns, think tanks, and lobbying groups they viewed as likely to shape future U.S. policies.”

* * *

[T]he panel stressed that intelligence analysts were under “no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions,” and that their conclusions had been prescient as well as accurate, noting that “the Committee’s investigation has exposed a far more extensive Russian effort to manipulate social media outlets to sow discord and to interfere in the 2016 election and American society” than the officials who drafted the assessment realized at the time they were writing it.

This conclusion refutes Sean Hannity’s favorite conspiracy theories about FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The political sentiments they expressed in their private emails did not affect their official actions. Professionals do their job and separate their personal views from their work. Not everyone is a single-minded ideological political hack like Sean Hannity.

This report is the second of several that are expected from the committee as it completes its probe of Russia’s activities during the 2016 election. The panel has already released similar findings and recommendations for ensuring better election security; it is also expected to release an assessment of the Obama administration’s conduct related to the Russian threat and another document examining the role social media played in Russia’s influence operations.

A final report is expected to address, among other things, questions of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The president has vehemently denied those allegations.

The committee’s report indicates lawmakers also intend to address questions about [the Steele] “dossier” of allegations about Trump’s alleged Russia ties. The document, which was compiled by a British ex-spy, did not inform the intelligence community’s assessment “in any way,” the Senate committee found.

Another nail in the coffin of the oft-debunked right-wing conspiracy theory that the Russia investigation began with the Steele dossier.

The report released by Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Ranking Minority Member Mark Warner (D-VA) comes ahead of Trump’s planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki.

Another development you may have missed over the July 4th holiday is that a delegation of Republican Senators, at the invitation of the Russian government, met with Kremlin-connected officials in Moscow on July 4th. They did not comport themselves well on behalf of the American people. Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement seems to be an apt comparison. Republicans on Russia trip face scorn and ridicule from critics at home:

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) led the eight-member delegation on a multiday tour of St. Petersburg and Moscow, a trip that included meetings with Russia’s foreign minister and parliamentarians. It did not include a session that senators had been hoping for: a meeting with Putin, whom President Trump is scheduled to meet at a summit this month.

Doh! Stood up by bad boy Vlad. How embarrassing. He is more interested in his useful idiot Donald Trump, who is trying to dismantle NATO and the Western alliance for him.

Joining Shelby were Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.).

Members of the delegation set off on their trip late last week promising to be tough with Russian officials ahead of the president’s visit, especially on matters of election interference. But they struck a conciliatory tone once there: The point of their visit, Shelby stressed to the Duma leader, was to “strive for a better relationship” with Moscow, not “accuse Russia of this or that or so forth.”

It played well in Moscow, but not on the home front.

“Politicians celebrate Independence Day in many ways. Some march in a parade. Some attend a barbecue or watch fireworks,” tweeted Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration who is running for the Senate in Minnesota as a Democrat. “But others must travel further to meet with their most important constituents.”

He’s  a funny guy! Who knew?

The senators who posted Fourth of July messages on social media while still in Moscow took some of the sharpest criticism, some of which highlighted that while they met with Kremlin-connected officials, Britain discovered that two of its citizens had been poisoned by a suspected Russian nerve agent, the same substance that injured a former Russian spy and his daughter in England in March.

Others pointed out that while the delegation was in Russia, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report finding Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election with a clear preference for helping Trump defeat former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Only one of the delegation participants, Kennedy, sits on a congressional panel that has looked into the Russia probe.

Sen. Shelby chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Also on Appropriations are Sens. Daines, Hoeven, Moran, and Kennedy. Senator Johnson chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which should keep you awake at night.

Appearing Thursday on Fox News (where else), Daines said the Russia trip had been “productive.”

“We sent a very strong message and a direct message to the Russian government,” he said, ticking off four items he said they pressed while there: Don’t interfere in U.S. elections, respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, work with us toward peace in Syria, and uphold obligations under nuclear arms treaties.

That message did not appear to have much impact, though.

“We heard things we’d heard before, and I think our guests heard rather clearly and distinctly an answer that they already knew — we don’t interfere in American elections,” said Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States and now a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament.

On Russian state television, presenters and guests mocked the U.S. congressional delegation for appearing to put a weak foot forward, noting how the message of tough talk they promised in Washington “changed a bit” by the time they got to Moscow.

“We need to look down at them and say: You came because you needed to, not because we did,” Igor Korotchenko, a Russian military expert, said on a talk show on state-run television.

The congressional GOP’s prominent foreign policy voices have remained quiet about the trip, declining to comment about the visit’s significance.

Steve Benen adds, Seven GOP lawmakers make a misguided trip to Russia:

What’s far more alarming are the specific details of this particular trip.

At issue is seven Republicans traveling to an adversary’s capital less than two years after it launched an attack on our sovereignty. Did the Americans make the trip to take a firm stand against our attackers? Hardly. They had no interest in confronting Russian officials over their election interference, preferring instead to let bygones be bygones.

There was no reason for the delegation to be partisan, but it was. There was no reason for these Republicans to give the Kremlin a pass on its misdeeds, but they did. There was no reason for the GOP lawmakers to exclude election meddling and the fate of Crimea from their discussions, but they did that, too.

Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov said on Tuesday that he’s met with many American lawmakers before, but this week’s meeting “was one of the easiest ones in my life.”

If the Republicans who were in Moscow consider this a compliment, they’re badly missing the point.

As the 2018 midterm elections approach, there are widespread concerns among U.S. officials about Putin’s government launching another intelligence operation against our political system. The more Russia thinks it can get away with these attacks, the more emboldened it will be to launch them.

And yet, there was Alabama’s Richard Shelby, traveling to Moscow and signaling weakness, reluctant to make accusations about “this or that or so forth.”

In the recent past, Republicans saw Russia as an adversary, convinced of the need to show strength. That was before it became Donald Trump’s party.

If this GOP appeasement was a preview of Trump’s planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, God save America. White House says Trump to meet Putin one-on-one:

President Donald Trump will initially meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month, senior administration officials said Thursday, a risky approach to dealing with the experienced Russian leader driven by Trump himself.

“The president has determined that now is the time for direct communication,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call when asked why Trump is not including top foreign policy advisers in the discussion.

That tete-a-tete in Helsinki will be followed by an extended bilateral meeting and then a working lunch, both of which will be attended by senior U.S. and Russian officials, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said on the call.

* * *

But the official downplayed the prospect of concrete agreements, stressing that the summit’s main achievement will be its very existence. “We haven’t had across-the-table conversations about things like election meddling and malign activity that really do need to take place,” the senior administration official said. “You can’t solve problems if you’re not willing to talk about them.”

The official added: “The fact that we’re having a summit at this level is a deliverable in itself. I don’t exclude there will be some concrete agreement coming out on the other end of the summit. There are a lot of issues to be discussed.”

Putin, in contrast, is expected to arrive in Finland with a much clearer set of objectives: further dividing the U.S. from Europe, for instance, escaping sanctions imposed over his ongoing aggression in Ukraine, and gaining a freer hand to operate in Syria.

Putin’s Puppet may give him everything he wants just so he can say “He likes me! He really likes me!” This is how Trump thinks he can close the deal on Trump Tower Moscow. He has been wanting this for years.

“This is not a summit that should happen at this time,” warned Tom Donilon, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama. “Putin has almost defiantly done nothing to earn such a meeting. And none of the requisites are in place. You want a clear set of goals and to have consulted closely with allies on those goals, you want to have allied unity going into such a meeting, and you want to have a solid understanding of who you are dealing with and a real understanding of the history of the relationship.”

“Putin will have mastered his brief on every issue and under no circumstances should President Trump be advised to do the meeting in a truly one-on-one setting,“ Donilon added.

For a president who prides himself on relying on personal charm instead of briefing books, it’s a high risk gambit to take on a former KGB officer skilled in manipulation.

Daniel Fried, a former senior diplomat and harsh Putin critic, said that if Trump clashes with NATO allies much as he did with leaders at last month’s G-7 summit in Canada, the president will arrive in Finland even more susceptible to Putin’s will.

“The worst-case scenario is that Putin charms him, and he starts trashing the Western alliance, trashing American values,” Fried said. “I don’t think that’s likely, but it’s in the range of possible outcomes. I say that without pride or pleasure.”

Fried, who has studied U.S.-Russia summits, wrote recently that “personal chemistry between leaders can help at the margins, but will not compensate for incompatible strategic interests; assuming otherwise may lead to major problems.”

“Of greatest concern is that the president seems to believe that Putin is susceptible to some sort of charm offensive,” Donilon said. “That is not correct. Putin is an intelligence officer with nearly 20 years of experience in leading Russia. It is all about hard, cold national interests.”

We’re screwed, America.

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