How Trump is Working With Russian Intelligence
Stephen Komarnyckj reports on how US Intelligence services are suppressing evidence that the US President is still colluding with Putin’s influence operations
US Senator Christopher Murphy claimed on Twitter that the administration of President Donald Trump was trying to suppress details of a Russian plan to help him win the 2020 election.
Senator Murphy argued that intelligence officials had downplayed Russian intervention because it would hurt the president. He also quoted President Trump’s former security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who told the New York Times on 1 October 2020 that Trump was “aiding and abetting” Putin’s interference campaign.
How accurate are Murphy’s claims and how has Russia tried to influence the current US presidential election? He is after all Trump’s political foe and McMaster, who was fired by tweet, has a grudge against the president.
Senator Murphy claims that reports of Russian intervention began coming into Congress earlier in 2020. These unnamed sources suggested the Russians were “trying to get people close to Trump” and US senators to help with the operation. The Democratic Party leadership had asked the FBI to brief the US Congress in July, but the briefing didn’t occur until 17 September.
Trump’s counterintelligence team released two statements about foreign intervention in the US election. The first statement, issued on 24 July, only had 54 words on Russian intervention in US politics. It referred vaguely to Russia trying to diminish the US’s global role and denigrate a supposed “anti-Russia establishment”.
The second statement, issued on 7 August, referred to “pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach”. It noted that Derkach was “publicising leaked phone calls to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party”. Both statements also focused bafflingly on Iran and China, even though they noted Beijing was only thinking about intervening in US politics.
The statements by US counterintelligence omit crucial details about Andriy Derkach’s operation which have been widely reported in the American and Ukrainian media.
Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, met Derkach in early December 2019. In a Facebook post, Derkach claimed that he had spoken to him about the corrupt misappropriation of US aid to Ukraine. The meeting should have rung alarm bells in the US intelligence community.
Derkach is a graduate of the FSB (Russian intelligence) academy in Moscow and Ukraine’s security services have long viewed him as a Russian asset. Yet nothing was done to hamper his contacts with Giuliani. From May 2020 onwards, Derkach begin publicising hacked calls between the Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, and Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko, accompanied by claims that ex-Vice President Biden had tried to block an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian firm linked to his son, Hunter Biden.
Biden had supposedly pressurised Poroshenko to fire the then-prosecutor Viktor Shokin to stall the investigation into Burisma. These allegations were publicised by Rudy Giuliani himself and by pro-Trump media such as Fox News and One America News. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee tried to investigate the allegations of corruption against Hunter Biden in 2020. Its Chairman, Ron Johnson, is a Giuliani ally and the allegations against the Bidens were promoted on Fox News.
Both US politicians and American media have therefore been spreading allegations promoted by a man the US has now officially identified as a Russian agent.
The lack of any mention of Derkach’s links to Giuliani would seem to bolster Senator Murphy’s claim that US intelligence is downplaying Russian intervention. A former senior intelligence official in the Department of Homeland Security, Brian Murphy, claimed late last year that the White House pressured him to cover up information about Russian intervention because it “made the president look bad”.
What about Trump’s former security advisor McMaster’s claim that the president was himself “aiding and abetting” Russia’s intervention?
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A leaked phone call to the current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on 25 July 2019 has similarities to the allegations Derkach would later make in 2020. He pressured Zelensky to investigate allegations of corruption against the Bidens and referred to the dismissal of ex-prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Why were a Russian agent and the US president making similar unfounded accusations?
There are signs that the US intelligence services are now trying to distance themselves from the Trump administration. On 17 September, the FBI Director Christopher Asher Wray testified to Congress that Russia was indeed trying to intervene and undermine ex-Vice President Biden. US intelligence officials simultaneously briefed Buzzfeed that they had been issuing warnings about Derkach since 2019. Yet no one in US intelligence circles has, so far, pointed out that Trump has been trumpeting the disinformation of a suspected Russian agent.
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