Despite its numerous flaws, one of the more believable accounts in Michael Wolff’s chronicle of the Trump campaign and presidency, Fire and Fury, is the reaction by both Donald and Melania as the returns started to point to a Republican victory.
“This is bigger than I ever dreamed of,” Trump told former head of Fox News Roger Ailes a week before the election. “I don’t think about losing, because it isn’t losing. We’ve totally won.”
Trump was “horrified” when on election night the numbers started trending toward him. If he lost to rival Hillary Clinton, he could start a Trump television network. It was a great future. He would come out of this campaign, Trump assured Ailes, with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities.
As for the candidate’s third spouse:
Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.
What if there was a third person who shared the Trumps’ “losing was winning” mantra, and in hindsight, may turn out to be the biggest loser on November 8, 2016. What if the purpose of the Kremlin’s campaign to suppress the Democratic vote was not to make Donald chief executive, but to ensure Hillary’s coattails did not result in a Democratic Congress.
Remember, the primary goal of Russian election meddling was to create chaos and undermine faith in American democracy. And Trump certainly did his part prepping his supporters to believe the election was “rigged.” The only problem was the puppet-in-chief over performed. A better outcome would have been a close, even contested Clinton victory. A damaged Hillary in the White House, continuously hounded by Congressional investigations and Fox News was the best of all possible worlds. A Republican Congress would never support anything initiated by a Clinton White House including additional Russian sanctions. And finally, without Trump’s upset victory and his efforts to sweep Russian interference under the rug, Russia’s disinformation social media campaign would not have resulted in the current level of scrutiny.
However, as Scottish poet Robert Burns foretold, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” And, in this case, Putin finds himself between a hard place and the oligarchs on whom he depends for political support. Consider the following:
- In December, The Daily Beast reported how oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov (rumored to be worth $8.9 billion) had a substantial portion of his wealth, spread across 23 accounts in a Cyprus bank, frozen.
- The same month, a Dutch branch of the Russia Alfa Bank was raided and the assets frozen. The bank is controlled by four oligarchs with a net worth estimated at $35.6 billion. (NOTE: Alex van der Zwan, who pleaded guilty on February 20 to charges of lying to special counsel Robert Mueller, is the son-in-law of German Khan, one of the four Alfa Bank owners.)
- One of Putin’s internal political goals was to relieve the oligarchs of U.S. sanctions passed on a bi-partisan vote of both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama following the death of Russian dissident Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after being jailed for investigating fraud by Russian tax officials. They remain in place.
- In December, President Obama imposed additional sanctions related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, including seizure of Russian property in the U.S. and expulsion of 35 Russian operatives.
- Instead of relief from existing sanctions, Congress passed additional sanctions in July, 2017 by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority (98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House). The White House has failed to impose the sanctions despite a mandated January deadline.
- Finally, Trump campaign aides succeeded in watering down a plank in the 2016 Republican Party plant that advocated supplying lethal defensive weapons to anti-Russian Ukraine fighters. Under pressure from Congress and national security officials, the Trump administration has since lifted the ban on transfer of such weapons.
So where does that leave Vladimir Putin? Tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars of Russian oligarch’s assets have been frozen. Details of Russian election meddling by the special counsel and the media have undermined an operation which was years in the making at great cost. Exposure of the Russian operation has undermined similar efforts in other Western nations (e.g. France). If only the United States had a living, breathing chief executive who was faithful to his oath of office, Putin would face additional internal political pressure to back off actions which have had the opposite of their intended impact.
Vladimir, in case you have not noticed, “Karma is a bitch.”
For what it’s worth.