Media figures have raised questions about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's connections, financial and otherwise, to Russia after he told The New York Times that he would honor NATO obligations to defend a member nation from a potential attack by Russia only if the member nation had “fulfilled their obligations to us.” Media figures have called the remarks “downright frightening,” possible evidence of a “non-tacit alliance” between Putin and Trump, and a possible cause for “an urgent investigation into whether Putin is interfering in the current American election.”
Trump Calls NATO Alliances Into Question
Trump Would Defend NATO Allies Only If They “Fulfill Their Obligations To Us.” Trump told The New York Times that before deciding to defend a NATO member nation against a potential attack from Russia, “he would first look at their contributions to the alliance.” No major party presidential candidate has advocated putting conditions on the United States’ defense of a member nation since the U.S. formed the 28-member alliance in 1949. The Times noted NATO’s founding treaty “requires any member to come to the aid of another that NATO declares was attacked.” From the Times’ July 20 article:
Asked about Russia’s threatening activities, which have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”
“If they fulfill their obligations to us,” he added, “the answer is yes.”
Mr. Trump’s statement appeared to be the first time that a major candidate for president had suggested conditioning the United States’ defense of its major allies. It was consistent, however, with his previous threat to withdraw American forces from Europe and Asia if those allies fail to pay more for American protection.
The United States created the 28-nation alliance, and Article 5 of the NATO treaty, signed by President Truman, requires any member to come to the aid of another that NATO declares was attacked. It has been invoked only once: NATO pledged to defend the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. [The New York Times, 7/20/16]
Media Figures Criticize Trump’s NATO Comments And Question His Ties To Russia
AEI Vice President: Trump “Came Across As The Commander In Chief Of Russia, Not The United States.” Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), called Trump’s remarks on NATO “downright frightening” and said Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has “been in the pocket of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Putin cronies.” From the July 24 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS :
FAREED ZAKARIA (HOST): Danielle, commander in chief -- you noted that before the speech, he said some things about NATO that worried you. Did he come across as a commander in chief to you?
DANIELLE PLETKA: Well, yes, unfortunately, he came across as the commander in chief of Russia, not the United States. What he said about NATO in the interview that he gave on Wednesday to The New York Times was so troubling. For many of us who care about national security, and who care intensely about our allies and the countries that we saved from Soviet domination, that we took into our embrace in NATO.What Donald Trump said about not being willing to protect our NATO, our treaty allies, was just downright frightening. And the fact that someone like Paul Manafort, his advisor, who has been in the pocket of Putin and Putin cronies, could actually affect the candidate in this way, could affect the Republican platform in that way, is just totally troubling to anybody who believes in a democracy. [CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, 7/24/16]
Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol: Congress Should Investigate Trump’s Ties To Russia. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol wrote that Trump and Manafort’s positions on foreign policy and ties to Russia should result in “a Republican member of Congress to lead an urgent investigation into whether Putin is interfering in the current American election” if Trump’s tax returns aren’t released. From the July 24 piece:
Furthermore, practically the only change Trump's campaign made to the GOP platform was to weaken language supporting Ukraine. Wikileaks, which appears to have connections to Putin's espionage apparatus, has released emails that are damaging to Hillary Clinton immediately before the Democratic convention. Trump heartily approves of this interference by a foreign power in an American election. They apparently intend to do the same with emails hacked from Clinton Foundation servers. Finally, Trump, to the cheers of the Kremlin establishment, has said he will not uphold our NATO commitments.
These indications provide sufficient grounds for Trump's links to Putin to be further investigated. Politicians who are currently supporting Trump should withdraw their unconditional support “until,” as Mr. Trump might say, “we can figure out what's going on.” One thing that would help us figure out what's going on is if Trump—and Manafort—released their tax returns. They of course haven't done so. Indeed, it's striking that neither seems even to have put his current business interests in any kind of blind trust. So we don't know how direct and close a financial relationship Trump and Manafort have with the Putin regime.
If Trump and Manafort don't act to allay these concerns by releasing their tax returns (or in other ways), wouldn't it be advisable for a Republican member of Congress to lead an urgent investigation into whether Putin is interfering in the current American election? Trump and Manafort may be Putin's chumps. Will other Republicans sit by as the whole Republican party becomes Putin's party? [The Weekly Standard, 7/24/16]
NBC’s Howard Fineman: Trump Sees NATO As A “New Jersey Protection Scheme.” NBC News analyst Howard Fineman said Trump with his NATO remarks viewed the organization as a “New Jersey protection scheme,” adding “it doesn’t work like that.” From the July 24 edition of MSNBC’s AM Joy:
JOY REID (HOST): You ever see anything like this, Howard? This combination of things, pro-Russia, pro-Putin, wavering on whether we would protect NATO and treating it as a business transaction.Is there a precedent for this?
HOWARD FINEMAN: Yes. In broad political terms, there is. In the dynamics of politics you have to go all the way back to 1964, which I did not personally cover.
REID: But you heard about.
FINEMAN: But that I read about. The Democrats attacked Barry Goldwater, a similar, in a way, outside-the-box, frank-speaking Republican candidate, and said, “This guy is going to blow up the world.” And they did that famous daisy ad with the little girl picking and then the mushroom cloud. Now this isn’t a mushroom cloud, but diplomatically, it would be a mushroom crowd to have a president who views NATO as a kind of New Jersey protection scheme. “You pay me the money, maybe we'll protect you.” It doesn't work like that. Trump wants to say one outrageous thing after another. He thinks like a guy who wants to just get clicks and eyeballs on Twitter. Stop it. You're the Republican nominee. As April says, you’re getting security briefings. In theory, you could be president of the United States. Stop trying to shock the world with outrageous statements. [MSNBC, AM Joy, 7/24/16]
TPM’s Josh Marshall: “Substantial Amount Of Evidence” Showing Putin’s Support For Trump. Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall noted that there is “a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men.” Marshall pointed to how “Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia,” Paul Manafort’s connection to Russia, and Trump’s foreign policy advisory, Carter Page, whose “entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia.” From a July 23 blog post:
Over the last year there has been a recurrent refrain about the seeming bromance between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. More seriously, but relatedly, many believe Trump is an admirer and would-be emulator of Putin's increasingly autocratic and illiberal rule. But there's quite a bit more to the story. At a minimum, Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men.
1. All the other discussions of Trump's finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.
2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. Here's a good overview from The Washington Post, with one morsel for illustration …
“Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.
‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. ‘We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”’
4. Then there's Paul Manafort, Trump's nominal 'campaign chair' who now functions as campaign manager and top advisor. Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally. Manafort is running Trump's campaign.
5. Trump's foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you're not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom's role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin's policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time. [Talking Points Memo, 7/23/16]