One of the deepest fears of many Americans is that our government has been taken over, or at least unduly influenced, by Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. And this week’s revelations about Michael Cohen from Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti have done nothing to calm those fears. In fact, it is possible to interpret Avenatti’s disclosures of Cohen’s financial transactions as evidence that Russian influence over the Trump administration does in fact exist, and has existed for years.
Earlier this week the New York Times confirmed the explosive claims made by Avenatti that Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg deposited half a million dollars into a secret account set up by Cohen to pay off Trump’s sexual partners. Vekselberg’s company, Columbus Nova, said the large sum of money was a “consulting fee” paid to Cohen, which really doesn’t explain anything.
Maybe Cohen was doing nothing other than selling access to President Trump. He did receive money from sources other than Vekselberg also. However, until we get more answers about the money trail, the Cohen-Vekselberg relationship raises some alarming questions. In fact, that relationship might be proof that Putin and his cronies (aka, oligarchs) have an uncomfortably close relationship with Donald Trump and his cronies (aka, Michael Cohen, etc.).
Jonathan Chait, in New York Magazine, offers this disturbing analysis:
“Like all Russian oligarchs, Vekselberg operates in cooperation with the Putin government. The payments gave Russia several sources of possible leverage over Cohen and Trump. First, the money itself could amount to some kind of bribe, in return for which a favor would be expected. Second, Russia had knowledge of the secret payoff, which it could always expose. Third, the possibility (at minimum) exists that Russia knew the account was being used to silence Trump’s mistresses, yet another source of kompromat.”
Cohen and Vekselberg met at Trump’s inauguration, and Cohen has been known to be an intermediary between Trump and Russia on other deals. It is possible that Mueller’s files contain much more evidence of Cohen being Trump’s point man in doing favor for Putin and his pals (much as they do for Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort).
There is more evidence that Russia may be holding leverage over the current administration, and possibly even over Republicans in Congress. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee has demanded the right to get inside information about the Mueller probe. Officials in the Department of Justice now suspect Nunes’ goal is to compromise the investigation by handing information from the prosecutors over to Trump.
According to the Washington Post, Nunes has demanded information that intelligence officials believe would “endanger a top-secret intelligence source.” They asked Trump to stop Nunes from getting this classified information, in effect saying the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee cannot be trusted. They said that giving the information to Nunes would “risk severe consequences including potential loss of human lives.” Later Nunes threatened to vote to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress.
Why would a high ranking Congressional Republican risk the betrayal and potential loss of life of an intelligence source? Could it be he is working for Trump’s interests and Russian interests instead of the interests of the American people?
We of course don’t know all of the answers to these questions, but we can observe known behavior, and that points to a relationship with Russia, and with Putin and his oligarchs, that appears uncomfortably close.
When all the facts come out we may look back at this week as the first time we were given concrete evidence of Russian influence over Trump as well as collusion with the Trump campaign. It appears that with two adversaries like Mueller and Avenatti, Trump and Cohen don’t stand a chance.