Trump, Russia, organized crime and Jean Claude Van Damme

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Donald Trump in 1997, with palm trees up his ass.

Trump keeps trying to minimize his interests in Russia but it’s apparent that Trump and Russia have had mutual interests for a very long time. Bloomberg has a very interesting article by Timothy L. O’Brien titled “Trump, Russia and a Shadowy Business Partnership” in which “An insider describes the Bayrock Group, its links to the Trump family and its mysterious access to funds. It isn’t pretty.”

But Trump and Russia go waaaay back, evident by this profile of Trump I came across by Mark Singer of The New Yorker from 1997 titled “Trump Solo.” It’s worth a read to get inside Trump’s mind a bit (like the part where he made his son Eric fast-forward through a VHS tape of the Jean Claude Van Damme film Bloodsport to get to the fight scenes), but Trump’s interests in Russia, even twenty years ago, are mentioned. I will quote at length.

A Russian artist, a Christopher Columbus statue and $40 million:

Back at the office, a Times reporter, Michael Gordon, was on the line, calling from Moscow. Gordon had just interviewed a Russian artist named Zurab Tsereteli, a man with a sense of grandiosity familiar to Trump. Was it true, Gordon asked, that Tsereteli and Trump had discussed erecting on the Hudson River a statue of Christopher Columbus that was six feet taller than the Statue of Liberty?

“Yes, it’s already been made, from what I understand,” said Trump, who had met Tsereteli a couple of months earlier, in Moscow. “It’s got forty million dollars’ worth of bronze in it, and Zurab would like it to be at my West Side Yards development”—a seventy-five-acre tract called Riverside South—“and we are working toward that end.”

According to Trump, the head had arrived in America, the rest of the body was still in Moscow, and the whole thing was being donated by the Russian government. “The mayor of Moscow has written a letter to Rudy Giuliani stating that they would like to make a gift of this great work by Zurab. It would be my honor if we could work it out with the City of New York. I am absolutely favorably disposed toward it. Zurab is a very unusual guy. This man is major and legit.”

Trump hung up and said to me, “See what I do? All this bullshit. Know what? After shaking five thousand hands, I think I’ll go wash mine.”

And another excerpt regarding a conversation with a former Russian army general about boxing and a potential real estate deal in Moscow:

When a call came a while back from Aleksandr Ivanovich Lebed, the retired general, amateur boxer, and restless pretender to the Presidency of Russia, explaining that he was headed to New York and wanted to arrange a meeting, Trump was pleased but not surprised. The list of superpower leaders and geopolitical strategists with whom Trump has engaged in frank and fruitful exchanges of viewpoints includes Mikhail Gorbachev, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff. (He’s also pals with Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood, men’s men who enjoy international reputations for racking up massive body counts.) In 1987, fresh from his grandest public-relations coup—repairing in three and a half months, under budget and for no fee, the Wollman skating rink, in Central Park, a job that the city of New York had spent six years and twelve million dollars bungling—Trump contemplated how, in a larger sphere, he could advertise himself as a doer and dealmaker. One stunt involved orchestrating an “invitation” from the federal government to examine the Williamsburg Bridge, which was falling apart. Trump had no real interest in the job, but by putting on a hard hat and taking a stroll on the bridge for the cameras he stoked the fantasy that he could rebuild the city’s entire infrastructure. From there it was only a short leap to saving the planet. What if, say, a troublemaker like Muammar Qaddafi got his hands on a nuclear arsenal? Well, Trump declared, he stood ready to work with the leaders of the then Soviet Union to coördinate a formula for coping with Armageddon-minded lunatics.

The clear purpose of Lebed’s trip to America, an unofficial visit that coincided with the second Clinton Inaugural, was to add some reassuring human texture to his image as a plainspoken tough guy. Simultaneously, his domestic political prospects could be enhanced if voters back home got the message that Western capitalists felt comfortable with him. Somewhere in Lebed’s calculations was the understanding that, to the nouveau entrepreneurs of the freebooter’s paradise that is now Russia, Trump looked and smelled like very old money.

Their rendezvous was scheduled for midmorning. Having enlisted as an interpreter Inga Bogutska, a receptionist whose father, by coincidence, was a Russian general, Trump decided to greet his visitor in the lobby. When it turned out that Lebed, en route from an audience with a group of Times editors and reporters, was running late, Trump occupied himself by practicing his golf swing and surveying the female pedestrians in the atrium. Finally, Lebed arrived, a middle-aged but ageless fellow with a weathered, fleshy face and hooded eyes, wearing a gray business suit and an impassive expression. After posing for a Times photographer, they rode an elevator to the twenty-sixth floor, and along the way Trump asked, “So, how is everything in New York?”

“Well, it’s hard to give an assessment, but I think it is brilliant,” Lebed replied. He had a deep, bullfroggy voice, and his entourage of a half-dozen men included an interpreter, who rendered Inga Bogutska superfluous.

“Yes, it’s been doing very well,” Trump agreed. “New York is on a very strong up. And we’ve been reading a lot of great things about this gentleman and his country.”

Inside his office, Trump immediately began sharing with Lebed some of his treasured possessions. “This is a shoe that was given to me by Shaquille O’Neal,” he said. “Basketball. Shaquille O’Neal. Seven feet three inches, I guess. This is his sneaker, the actual sneaker. In fact, he gave this to me after a game.”

“I’ve always said,” Lebed sagely observed, “that after size 45, which I wear, then you start wearing trunks on your feet.”

“That’s true,” said Trump. He moved on to a replica of a Mike Tyson heavyweight-championship belt, followed by an Evander Holyfield glove. “He gave me this on my fiftieth birthday. And then he beat Tyson. I didn’t know who to root for. And then, again, here is Shaquille O’Neal’s shirt. Here, you might want to see this. This was part of an advertisement for Versace, the fashion designer. These are photographs of Madonna on the stairs at Mar-a-Lago, my house in Florida. And this photograph shows something that we just finished and are very proud of. It’s a big hotel called Trump International. And it’s been very successful. So we’ve had a lot of fun.”

Trump introduced Lebed to Howard Lorber, who had accompanied him a few months earlier on his journey to Moscow, where they looked at properties to which the Trump moniker might be appended. “Howard has major investments in Russia,” he told Lebed, but when Lorber itemized various ventures none seemed to ring a bell.

“See, they don’t know you,” Trump told Lorber. “With all that investment, they don’t know you. Trump they know.”

Some “poisonous people” at the Times, Lebed informed Trump, were “spreading some funny rumors that you are going to cram Moscow with casinos.”

Laughing, Trump said, “Is that right?”

“I told them that I know you build skyscrapers in New York. High-quality skyscrapers.”

“We are actually looking at something in Moscow right now, and it would be skyscrapers and hotels, not casinos. Only quality stuff. But thank you for defending me. I’ll soon be going again to Moscow. We’re looking at the Moskva Hotel. We’re also looking at the Rossiya. That’s a very big project; I think it’s the largest hotel in the world. And we’re working with the local government, the mayor of Moscow and the mayor’s people. So far, they’ve been very responsive.”

Lebed: “You must be a very confident person. You are building straight into the center.”

Trump: “I always go into the center.”

Lebed: “I hope I’m not offending by saying this, but I think you are a litmus testing paper. You are at the end of the edge. If Trump goes to Moscow, I think America will follow. So I consider these projects of yours to be very important. And I’d like to help you as best I can in putting your projects into life. I want to create a canal or riverbed for capital flow. I want to minimize the risks and get rid of situations where the entrepreneur has to try to hide his head between his shoulders. I told the New York Times I was talking to you because you are a professional—a high-level professional—and if you invest, you invest in real stuff. Serious, high-quality projects. And you deal with serious people. And I deem you to be a very serious person. That’s why I’m meeting you.”

Trump: “Well, that’s very nice. Thank you very much. I have something for you. This is a little token of my respect. I hope you like it. This is a book called ‘The Art of the Deal,’ which a lot of people have read. And if you read this book you’ll know the art of the deal better than I do.”

The conversation turned to Lebed’s lunch arrangements and travel logistics—“It’s very tiring to meet so many people,” he confessed—and the dialogue began to feel stilted, as if Trump’s limitations as a Kremlinologist had exhausted the potential topics. There was, however, one more subject he wanted to cover.

“Now, you were a boxer, right?” he said. “We have a lot of big matches at my hotels. We just had a match between Riddick Bowe and Andrew Golota, from Poland, who won the fight but was disqualified. He’s actually a great fighter if he can ever get through a match without being disqualified. And, to me, you look tougher than Andrew Golota.”

In response, Lebed pressed an index finger to his nose, or what was left of it, and flattened it against his face.

“You do look seriously tough,” Trump continued. “Were you an Olympic boxer?”

“No, I had a rather modest career.”

“Really? The newspapers said you had a great career.”

“At a certain point, my company leader put the question straight: either you do the sports or you do the military service. And I selected the military.”

“You made the right decision,” Trump agreed, as if putting to rest any notion he might have entertained about promoting a Lebed exhibition bout in Atlantic City.

Norma Foerderer came in with a camera to snap a few shots for the Trump archives and to congratulate the general for his fancy footwork in Chechnya. Phone numbers were exchanged, and Lebed, before departing, offered Trump a benediction: “You leave on the earth a very good trace for centuries. We’re all mortal, but the things you build will stay forever. You’ve already proven wrong the assertion that the higher the attic, the more trash there is.”

When Trump returned from escorting Lebed to the elevator, I asked him his impressions.

“First of all, you wouldn’t want to play nuclear weapons with this fucker,” he said. “Does he look as tough and cold as you’ve ever seen? This is not like your average real-estate guy who’s rough and mean. This guy’s beyond that. You see it in the eyes. This guy is a killer. How about when I asked, ‘Were you a boxer?’ Whoa—that nose is a piece of rubber. But me he liked. When we went out to the elevator, he was grabbing me, holding me, he felt very good. And he liked what I do. You know what? I think I did a good job for the country today.”

Sure, Trump has had interactions and dealings with people from a bunch of countries, but none, I think, have been so involved as his dealings with Russia, and it would be disingenuous to say otherwise.

I think Trump used his birthday wish to wish the “Russia thing” away.

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The birthday boy.

Donald Trump got two big presents for his 71st birthday: the notoriety that comes with having historically low approval ratings and an investigation into obstruction of justice. Isn’t that special? Not everyone gets to be the target of an investigation by a special counsel. Happy birthday! Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy.

Really, though, I think it was inevitable that Trump would come under investigation for something or other eventually. Might as well be obstruction of justice. And Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee didn’t help. It was a mess. Sessions appeared fidgety and nervous, and who would have thought that he had such a poor memory? The phrase “I don’t recall” popped up numerous times. And I find his excuse for not answering questions regarding his interactions with Trump ridiculous, claiming that it was “policy” (or maybe “principle,” he didn’t seem sure) to reserve a president’s executive privilege, even if that privilege has not yet been invoked(!). I think his testimony, though, was valuable for this reason. We can now just catalog all those questions he refused to answer and go after them.

But I have to say, not all of the senators were very good at questioning him. Some Republicans were laughably chummy and easy on Sessions, while some Democrats were unproductively combative. I did notice that Sessions had a particular tactic for dealing with his interrogators. It was particularly evident in his interaction with Sen. Kamala Harris (an interaction that also showed, by the way, the Republican bias in the Committee favoring Sessions). To Jeff Sessions a yes/no question requires babbling about anything that vaguely has to do with the topic of the question, including his thoughts and speculations at the time, irrelevant events leading up to the topic of the question and basically anything else he could say to use up the allotted five minutes each Senator had to ask questions, all in a slow, southern drawl. Sessions would have failed an audition for the old TV show Dragnet.

But really, I think Trump got the bestest most awesomest birthday ever. Happy birthday, you turd.

BTW, June 14 is also Flag Day, something that Trump wants you to remember coincides with his birthday and the birthday of the US Army, with is about the only thing that they share in common.

Trump lies like the animal that died on his head

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Trump Googling “How to destroy secret tapes.”

Like nearly 9 million other viewers, I saw James Comey’s public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday morning. It was what I expected it would be, following Comey’s pre-released opening statements, but also included some surprises, like the fact that Comey asked a friend to release contents of memo Comey wrote detailing an interaction with Donald Trump with the hope that it would initiate a special counsel. That, I thought, was very smart and really showed Comey’s savvy.

I disagreed with Comey’s fight with Apple last year regarding the San Bernardino iPhone thing, and I thought Comey’s actions regarding the Hillary Clinton email investigation during the 2016 election year was puzzling, but I never doubted Comey’s integrity. Nor did I doubt Comey’s political neutrality, regarding either Clinton or Trump. All in all, I think he’s a good guy who is often placed in extremely difficult positions. I think many probably think this way of Comey.

Amazingly, Trump was silent on Twitter yesterday. I don’t know how he or his aides managed that, but he was true to form today, saying stupid stuff live and on Twitter. Following Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz (who, by the way, has clients with Kremlin ties, just sayin’), made the statement that Trump feels “totally vindicated” simply because Comey made the statement that Trump was not under investigation at that time (I’m betting he is now, though), but then basically called Comey a liar on the other stuff. Trump basically said the same today during a during a press conference today with Romania’s President Klaus Werner Iohannis.

In fact, when asked if he would be willing to give his version of events under oath, Mr Trump replied, “100 per cent.” This is interesting because he basically called Comey a liar (in matters that were derogatory to Trump); that is, he accused Comey of breaking the law, lying under oath. He said, “I didn’t say that,” regarding Comey’s statement that Trump asked for personal loyalty. So who is the liar, Comey or Trump? Who are you going to believe? In matters of integrity there is no contest. On the one hand, we have a well-respected former AG and former FBI Director. On the other we have…Trump. Check out his Four-Pinocchio ratings, in one place. Trump wasn’t under oath during the press conference; he can say whatever he wants. No one has any reason to believe him. Trump volunteering to speak under oath is just silly. He will sooner or later, like it or not. And chances are, if history is any indication, he won’t be very good at it.

Of course, a lot of this “he said/he said” could be resolved if “tapes” between Trump and Comey actually do exist. If you recall, Trump (in)famously Tweet-threatened Comey with the existence of “tapes.” Comey said in his testimony, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” Kind of makes Comey far more believable than Trump, if you ask me. The White House hasn’t been answering questions on whether or not tapes exist, and when asked about the existence of recordings at the press conference Trump said that he would reveal if there are any tapes “over a fairly short period of time,” and added, “Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer, don’t worry.” Huh. So we’ll find out soon, like when Trump promised a revelation regarding Russian hacking and it never came? Or when he said he’d release his tax returns after his audit is complete, but then says “maybe” he’ll release them after he leaves office? Like that?

Anyway, how long does it take to simply answer the question, “Do recordings exist?” Does the White House not know? Of course they know. They either do or do not exist, and I’d bet, considering Trump’s practices in the past, that they do exist, and their reluctance to produce them is because they place Trump at a disadvantage. Maybe they’re just trying to decide whose fireplace to burn them in.

This is happening, folks. The Trump administration is past the point of no return. I don’t have a clue how it will all turn out, but I don’t think it’s going to be pretty for Trump. Whether or not the GOP has the balls to impeach one of their own is another matter to consider, but if they continue to support this train wreck then it makes them look pretty sad as well. Of course, as Philip Bump at the Washington Post points out, Trump may be telling the truth. I mean, it’s possible, right? But how likely is that? Trump lies. It’s what he does. But he won’t be able to hide behind them for long.

Hotline to the Kremlin: first Erik Prince, now Jared Kushner

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Look like someone you can trust?

It came out last week that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House jack-of-all-trades, discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.

Some have tried to make this seem like no big deal, as if it were business-as-usual. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster made the regrettable statement that he was “not concerned” about Kushner setting up back channel communications with the Russians, elaborating, “We have backchannel communications with a number of countries.” This is unfortunate because McMaster is seen by many as one of the few sane minds in Trump’s administration. Looks like he might be jumping the shark. I think it’s obvious that seeking secret communications with Russia should be extremely concerning.

If it was true that Kushner was trying to establish such communications with Russia, then one must ask, from whom is he trying to keep the communications secret? He must have known that communications with Russian officials in the United States are closely monitored by the FBI, and the NSA is watching overseas communications. It seems obvious to me that Kushner is trying to hide communications from the US goverment and its intelligence agencies and I cannot fathom any above-board reason for this.

Also, we should not forget that this attempt to create a secret hotline to Russia is not new: it was reported in April by the Washington Post that Erik Prince attempted to create a backchannel to Russia in a secret meeting with a close friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles earlier this year. Prince is known for founding the now-defunct private military company Blackwater and is the brother of Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He is also an avid supporter of Donald Trump, contributing $250,000 to Trump’s election campaign.

Trump’s ties to Russia seem to become more damning every day. Sure, some point out that there is no evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russians during the 2016 election, but it sure looks like we are getting closer to finding some. I think it’s too much to expect any sort of “smoking gun,” but I can’t think of any way for Trump’s people to make this look even halfway good.

Mu-hu-hah-hah: Putin’s master plan coming to fruition as Trump dishes classified info to the Russians

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Photo courtesy of Russian media.

Donald Trump has confirmed that he has shared classified information with Russian officials. The Washington Post initially reported on Monday that Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week. This meeting took place a day after firing then-FBI Director James Comey. Strangely, no US media were allowed in to take photographs of Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but Russian media was allowed in to take photos.

After the Post reported on this story, the White House went into damage control, with National Securtiy Advisor H.R. McMaster issuing an issuing an evasive statement claiming that no “sources or methods” were compromised, but the Ars Technica article linked above indicates that sources could have been implicitly exposed. Trump has defended his sharing of information with the Russians, citing his authority as President to classify or declassify information.

So, is this what the Russians were wanting? Throughout his presidential campaign and extending into his presidency, Trump has been accused of being too cozy with the Russians, with some speculating a “Machurian candidate” scenario, with Trump as a Russian puppet. I’ve wondered what the Russians could gain by installing Trump as president. Lifting the US sanctions against Russia is an obvious motivation, but intelligence is also a valuable prize. Then comes the question of how to inconspicuously relay that information. Remember, earlier this year some Trump officials have come under fire for their communications with Russian officials.

It seems Trump has gotten around that tedious aspect by reporting to the Russians in person. And, being the President and ultimate classifier of information, he is perfectly within his legal boundaries to say whatever he wants.

Of course, I’m being a little bit facetious here, but, taking in account the totality of the facts, this is concerning. After the US missile strike against Syria, media outlets reported that US-Russia relations has soured, with Russia being an ally with Syria, but I didn’t think so. Looks to me like I was right about that. It looks to me that Putin’s master plan is going as expected. Even if Trump is not an agent of Russia and is only an unwitting pawn of Putin, that’s no comfort.

Of course, Occam’s razor insists that the most likely answer is the simplest one, and that would be that Trump is not a Russian agent or pawn and is simply a buffoon doing his typical buffoonery. Nevertheless, his buffoonery, I’m sure, is very pleasing to Putin.

Eric Trump admits to Russian funding

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Yay, hair gel!

Well, this is interesting. In an interview with Boston’s WBUR prominent golf writer James Dodson claimed that Eric Trump, Donald Trump’s second son, said to him in 2014 regarding funding the Trump golf courses, “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” [Slate article link].

As Dodson tells it:

As we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks—because of the recession, the Great Recession—have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.’ Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting.

Pretty interesting indeed, especially when you consider that Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s first son said in 2008,“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” and that Donald Trump has emphatically denied any ties to Russia. Also, according to the Slate article cited above, Dodson said, “It was a casual remark; it was just two guys golfing and talking…I’m sure he didn’t think anything about it. Why would he think anything about it?” Sure, he wouldn’t have, two years before his father began his election campaign. Being an off-hand comment, I’m inclined to think that there was truth in Eric Trump’s statement, and Dodson, who has a healthy resume of authorship in golf literature, is unlikely to exaggerate the exchange.

Of course, the simplest way to see this connection would be to see Trump’s tax returns, but I am convinced that he will never willingly disclose his taxes. All that bullshit about disclosing his taxes after his audit was just that: bullshit. He never intended to disclose his taxes from the beginning. Why? Because he has something to hide. It’s only a matter of time before something embarrassing comes out. You can hide your dirty laundry, but eventually it’ll start to stink.

Are Trump and Putin on the outs?

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Trump and Putin share a kiss in Lithuanian mural

You say “tomato,” I say “to-mah-to”; you say “potato,” I say “vodka”…let’s call the whole thing off. So is that it? Is the star-crossed bromance between Trump and Putin over? Can they “still be friends?” With benefits?

After the US missile strike against Syria, Trump says U.S. relations with Russia may be at an all-time low. “Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” he said during a White House news conference. The Tomahawk strike that targeted the Syrian air base that launched the chemical attack has raised the ire of Russia, who has friendly relations with Syria. Besides wondering if this retaliation against Syria signals a change of heart in the Trump administration toward the Syrian crisis, many are also now wondering, if not outright proclaiming, that the US’s relationship with Russia is now in the shitter. But let’s take a breath and look at the situation from another angle.

It’s well-known that the interactions of Trump and his associates with Russia have been under intense scrutiny. Indeed, a lot of it looks extremely suspicious, giving the liberal left a chance to indulge in some conspiracy theorizing of their own (hey, why let the right-wing nut jobs have all the fun?). Trump’s son Eric Trump, however, states, “If there was anything that Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.” Hmm, does it?

Trump says U.S. relations with Russia “may be at an all-time low,” but he know he says a lot of things that are deceptive or flat-out untrue. And although a theory that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the chemical weapons massacre to help Trump — distracting Americans from an investigation into Trump’s campaign ties to Russia by provoking the missile strike might be a little too close to tin-foil hat territory, it’s not too far out to speculate that US-Russia relations might not be as rocky as advertised. The timing of this sudden reversal in relations makes this look hinky. To wit:

  • Trump has a long history with Russia, Russians and Eastern Europeans.
  • Trump has long praised Putin as a leader.
  • Many of Trump’s associates have deep connections with Russia.
  • Trump et al. come under scrutiny for these connections.

Now, after a single event with which Russia is only peripherally connected, US-Russia relations are “at an all-time low?”

Further complicating things is the fact that the US warned Russia of the impending attack. Of course, the attack was not against Russia – it was against Syria – so it makes some sense that the US would not want any Russian casualties. No Russian lives were lost and there was little if any material damage of Russian assets. Besides questioning how much this strike actually hurt Syria, we should also look at how much this strike hurt Russia. It appears to me very little.

If US-Russia relations are indeed at an all-time low, then we should be able to tell in ways other than from simple statements by Trump and Putin. We should be able to see if there are any substantive repercussions of this strike. As far as I know, there is only one, and that is that Russia will not be sharing flight information over Syria with the US any longer, but that seems like a small punishment.

I would agree that excessive conspiracy theorizing is detrimental to the examination of what is really going on with Trump and Russia, but I think it’s important to point out that some conspiracies have turned out to be more than theoretical. Trump’s news cycle seems to be very fast and the public has a short memory. We need to keep the big picture in mind.

The fact is, Trump was a Putin fanboy up until recently and all of a sudden he’s not. Putin thought Trump was the bee’s knees and all of a sudden he’s not. How much of this is talk and how much of this is substantive, significant degradation of relations? I have yet to see any of that, but I do see a significant effort to separate the perceived Trump-Russia connection.

And even if US-Russia relations are in the shitter, it doesn’t change whatever coziness Trump and his associates had with Russia prior to the missile strike.