Despite the overwhelming influence of a convergence of interests between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, many skeptics about a potential conspiracy or covert alliance between the two have argued that the Kremlin hasn’t gotten much in exchange for its efforts to help Trump get elected.
While Trump has been rhetorically soft on Putin and has waged a public relations campaign against NATO, the some of the overt actions of his administration — launching missiles at Syria, providing arms to the Ukraine, and imposing sanctions on Russian invidiuals and organizations — have gone directly against the Kremlin’s interests, these skeptics say. There has been some truth to these claims, though much of the aggressive action toward Russia has been driven by Congress and fought by the Trump administration.
But on Wednesday, the Trump administration took two major steps in line with Russia’s interests that may help make all the effort Putin went to in supporting his candidacy worth it.
First, and most substantially, Trump announced, out of the blue, that the United States will be pulling out of Syria.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump said on Twitter. Officials have confirmed that planning is underway to withdraw troops.
As analyst Nick Patton Walsh explained, this was a big win for Putin’s interests in the region.
“Without the US in the ring, Russia is the main military force in the post-war Syria,” he wrote in a piece for CNN. “However you divine it, Trump seems to have few qualms about doing things that will please Putin.”
The claim that ISIS is “defeated” in Syria, however, is overly optimistic. Martin Chulov, a Middle East reporter for The Guardian, explained:
The long fight against Islamic State looks good on a map, but it is yet to be decisive on the battlefield.
The terror group has lost more than 95% of the territory it claimed in 2014 and the juggernaut that threatened to shred the region’s borders has been battered back to where it all began for the group’s earliest incarnation – a sliver of land along the Euphrates River, bordering Iraq and Syria.
There, Kurdish-led forces, backed by US air support, have been fighting it out with diehard extremists in towns and villages in Syria’s far eastern Deir ez-Zor province.
At least 2,500 Isis fighters remain, all survivors of routs to the east and west of their last redoubt. Colossal ruin lays in their wake on both sides of the river. But the group retains the capacity to do even more damage, especially if let off the hook now.
Meanwhile, Trump’s own Republican allies are extremely skeptical of his new announcement.
“Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
“The decision to pull out of Syria was made despite overwhelming military advice against it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “It is a major blunder.
The GOP has often been far too eager to wield the might of the U.S. military, and there may, in fact, be good reason for the United States to pull out of Syria. But ISIS being “defeated” is not one of them, and it is suspicious that the president primarily chooses to buck his party when it aligns with Putin’s interests.
And despite the major stakes of the decision, CNBC’s Christina Wilkie reports that a senior administration official is refusing to answer any questions about the “deliberative process” behind the Syria pullout. This sugests that there likely was no deliberative process — the president acted on his own.
“I’ve never seen a decision like this,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) after meeting at the White House to discuss the decision. “For all involved, this was a major shock.”
Others who are often critical of the president also found the move bewildering.
“Why would Trump do this now? Who knows?” wrote commentator Max Boot. “Given that he is acting at odds with his advisers, this is clearly not the result of a normal policy-review process. This is the Trump Doctrine in operation: Trump does whatever he wants. It could be based on what he had for breakfast — or there could be something more sinister going on.”
Another move brought by the Trump administration Wednesday will likely mean Putin is going to be even more pleased with the president. The Treasury Department annouced Wednesday that it will be rolling back sanctions — passed by Congress as punishment for Russia’s election interference — on entities tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Ostensibly, this move was taken because Deripaska is divesting a significant portion of his financial stakes in these entities. However, there are serious reasons for concern about this action.
For one, Deripaska himself has troubling ties to the Trump campaign. Court filings show that Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort was heavily indebted to Deripaska. And uncovered emails have shown that, during the campaign, Manafort reportedly offered his position within the Trump campaign as having the potential to resolve his debt to Deripaska.
But even leaving aside the shady Deripaska connection, the Treasury’s move is troubling on its own terms.
As law professor Jed Shugerman pointed out, the entities buying up Deripaska’s shares in the sanctioned businesses are themselves deeply suspicious. One of those entities, VTB Bank, has been named as a potential funder for the Trump Tower Moscow project the president was working on during the campaign. The other firm is Glencore.
“Glencore is being investigated for money laundering, and has been doing big business with Deripaska for years,” noted Shugerman.
So after fighting Congress over Russia sanctions all along the way, the Trump administration is now rolling back some of these key penalties under highly dubious circumstances.
In response to the rollback of the sanctions, former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah said: “So, the quid pro quo in plain sight.”
It’s not clear yet if there was an explicit conspiracy between Trump and Russians in the run-up to the 2016 election. But is clear that Putin had a strong desire for Trump to win — in part because he hated Hillary Clinton and in part because he thought Trump would be amenable to his interests. This Christmas season, it’s clear Putin is getting exactly what he wanted.
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Trump’s Dinner With Kanye Also Included a Former Aide Accused in Pay-for-Pardon Play, and White Supremacist Fuentes
Donald Trump‘s dinner earlier this week with antisemite Kanye West and holocaust denier and white supremacist Nick Fuentes may also have included two other right-wingers, hinted at by the former president himself.
After Axios‘ reporting confirmed that Fuentes had in fact had dinner with Trump, Trump issued a statement saying, “Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.”
But later, on Friday afternoon via his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote a defense of the dinner with an expanded guest list.
“This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago,” Trump wrote. “Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about. We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport.”
As The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman noted, Trump did not denounce his guest’s extremist beliefs.
“Three of his friends,” according to the far-right wing website Breitbart, apparently includes Fuentes, far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and former Trump 2016 aide Karen Giorno.
Breitbart states, “two people who say they were at the dinner on Tuesday evening–Yiannopoulos and onetime Trump aide Karen Giorno–have publicly stated that Fuentes was in fact at the dinner with West and Trump.”
“’Nick attended the dinner and sat across from the president. I sat to the president’s right and Ye to his left,’ Giorno said in a statement to podcaster Tim Poole’s website Timcast,” Breitbart reports. “‘The president was by himself for dinner but invited Ye to meet some people on the patio.'”
Politico reports Giorno “confirmed to Politico that she was also at the dinner with Trump, West and Fuentes,” but does not mention Yiannopoulos as a dinner guest.
Referring to Kanye West by his new name, VICE News adds: “Ye, who has been been on an antisemitic spiral in recent months, announced he is going to be running for president in 2024, and Yiannopoulos is his campaign manager. He claimed that he asked the former president to run with him as his vice-president. According to Ye, the dinner involving the billionaire, the rapper, and the white nationalist devolved into screaming and derogatory epithets.”
Yiannopoulos is the former Breitbart editor who became disgraced after saying, “I think in the gay world some of the most important, enriching and incredibly life-affirming, important shaping relationships very often between younger boys and older men.” Earlier this year U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene came under fire for hiring, as an intern, Yiannopoulos, even after he appeared to support sexual “relationships” between boys as young as 13 and older men.
Karen Giorno, The New York Times reported early last year, “had access to people around the president, having run Mr. Trump’s campaign in Florida during the 2016 primary and remaining on board as a senior political adviser during the general election.”
“In July 2018, Ms. Giorno signed an agreement with Mr. Kiriakou, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, ‘to seek a full pardon from President Donald Trump of his conviction’ for $50,000 and promised another $50,000 as a bonus if she secured a pardon,” The Times reports.
Kiriakou is John Kiriakou, who The Times identifies as “a former C.I.A. officer convicted of illegally disclosing classified information.”
On what appears to be her Instagram page, Giorno has photos of herself with numerous Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mike Flynn, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida attorney general Ashley Moody and several other top Florida elected officials, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, and Sarah Palin, among others.
Trump Claims He ‘Knew Nothing About’ the White Supremacist Antisemite Who He and Kanye West Dined With at Mar-a-Lago
Donald Trump and Kanye West had dinner at Mar-a-Lago Tuesday night and the disgraced artist who goes by “Ye” brought a guest, the white supremacist, antisemite and “America First” and “Big Lie” purveyor Nick Fuentes. Now the former president is claiming Fuentes was a guest of West, and he knows “nothing” about him.
“Trump’s direct engagement with a man labeled a ‘white supremacist’ by the Justice Department, one week after declaring his 2024 candidacy, is likely to draw renewed outrage over the former president’s embrace of extremists,” Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu report.
Axios notes that in a video West posted to his recently restored Twitter account, he says, “Trump was ‘really impressed’ with Fuentes because ‘unlike so many of the lawyers and so many people that he was left with on his 2020 campaign, he’s actually a loyalist.'”
“Ye, who has lost major sponsorships over his anti-Semitism and recent far-right associations, has said he wants to run for president in 2024,” Axios adds. “The rapper claims Trump started ‘screaming’ at him at the dinner and told him he would lose — ‘most perturbed’ by Ye asking Trump to be his running mate.”
Swan says Trump issued a statement in response to his reporting, claiming he does not know Fuentes.
“Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago,” Trump’s statement says, an apparent attempt to minimize his dining with two racists and antisemites. “Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.”
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman observes that Trump’s “statement does nothing to denounce that background, including Holocaust denialism, or even acknowledge it.”
Trump first claiming West just wanted to see Mar-a-Lago, but immediately after calling it a “meeting” is notable, given that West has since suggested he is running for president.
Axios importantly adds that “Fuentes first gained notoriety after attending the white supremacist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville in 2017,” and, “Trump was heavily criticized at the time for his response to the racist violence.”
Journalist Jeff Sharlet is the executive producer of Netflix’s “The Family,” based on his books that exposed the secretive Christian right organization of the same name. The Family, also called The Fellowship, hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Its members were involved in Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.
Sharlet warns this is an “inflection point.”
“Trump dinner with Ye, at this point, is a major story,” Sharlet tweeted. “But with Nick Fuentes? That’s an inflection point even for a former president already committed to fascism.”
Journalist and activist Elad Nehorai tweeted: “Never let a single right winger or Republican claim they care about Jews after this. Fuentes openly praises Hitler. He is a Holocaust denier. He is one of the US’s most dangerous white nationalists. Trump hosted him & not one Republican had said a word.”
Attorney and former Republican Ron Filipkowski, who tracks and reports on right wing extremism, says Trump’s statement “reminds me of the time when Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was in the WH in Dec 2020 and said he was just there to check out the Christmas decorations.”
Tarrio told ABC News last year he “got invited to the White House Christmas decorations tour through ‘Latinos For Trump.'”
Top national security attorney Brad Moss mocked Trump’s claim about the Mar-a-Lago dinner.
“Trump legal team: MAL is a totally secure place where we can be trusted to store classified records,” he tweeted. “Trump PR team: Security at MAL is so lax that a raving white supremacist can just crash Trump’s dinner party with Ye.”
Indeed, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman commented, “It’s not the central issue with meeting with Fuentes, but the fact that people can show up unvetted and meet with Trump at his club is part of what alarmed the DOJ about his retention of government records, including classified material, when he left office.”
She also posted a screenshot from her book, relevant to Trump’s embrace of the two racists and antisemites. She quotes him saying, “A lot of these people vote,” in relation to “Trump’s refusal to condemn David Duke’s support forcefully in early 2016.”
Related: from CONFIDENCE MAN, Trump’s refusal to condemn David Duke’s support forcefully in early 2016. “A lot of these people vote.” pic.twitter.com/BcsX7pXKbb
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) November 25, 2022
The AntiDefamation League (ADL) in a 2021 report wrote, “Nicholas Fuentes is a white supremacist leader and organizer and podcaster who seeks to forge a white nationalist alternative to the mainstream GOP.”
Some of Fuentes’ antisemitism has been documented by ADL.
“Fuentes has made a number of racist and antisemitic comments under the guise of being provocative and ironic,” ADLs report states. “For example, he has referred to Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh as ‘shabbos goy race traitor’ because he works for Jews (Ben Shapiro, a Jewish conservative, runs the Daily Wire). On a livestream episode, Fuentes ‘jokingly’ denied the Holocaust and compared Jews burnt in concentration camps to cookies in an oven. On May 24, 2021, Fuentes participated in a debate on right-wing conspiracist Alex Jones’ InfoWars with Robert Barnes, a man described as a ‘constitutional lawyer’ who has legally defended both Jones and Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse. During the debate, Fuentes made numerous antisemitic remarks, including, ‘I don’t see Jews as Europeans and I don’t see them as part of Western civilization, particularly because they are not Christians.'”
Fuentes is strongly pro-Trump, as West alluded to.
“Fuentes promoted election fraud narratives and encouraged his adherents to participate in nationwide ‘Stop the Steal’ protests,” according to ADL.
This article has been updated to include Jeff Sharlet’s remarks.
Trump Gets Famous Founding Father’s Quote Wrong in Angry Thanksgiving Pity Party: ‘Give Me Freedom or Give Me Death’
The former leader of the free world lashed out on Thursday at one of the prosecutors investigating alleged misconduct.
“The Manhattan D.A. Case should never have been brought,” Trump posted to his Truth Social website.
He also attacked the Mazars Group, which used to handle the accounting for the Trump Organization.
“This case should be dismissed immediately, and the large, highly paid and ‘prestigious’ accounting firm that we relied on to do their job, but didn’t, should pay us a fortune in damages,” Trump said.
As he often does, he labeled the investigation “a total witch hunt!”
Two minutes later, he returned to Truth Social to post the quote, “Give me freedom or give me death.”
The quote is similar to the famous “give me liberty or give me death” quote founding father Patrick Henry said when speaking at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775.
Less than one hour later, Trump complained about judges and justices, claiming “it is almost impossible to get a fair decision on a case if you are a Republican. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is!”
Trump went on the attack the investigations by special prosecutor Jack Smith as a “rigged scam.”
“Did nothing wrong on Jan. 6 (peacefully & patrioticly (sic)), or with documents (check out past presidents),” Trump wrote.
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