Liberals are condemning President-elect Donald Trump and his people for supposed links to Vladimir Putin, but there was a time when Democrats were ingratiating themselves to the autocratic Russian leader and his country’s money.
Former President Bill Clinton, for example, took $500,000 in speaking fees in 2010 from a Russian finance company run by former KGB spies closely tied to Mr. Putin, a former KGB officer. At the same time, Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, was leading the way in urging U.S.-Russia business expansion, complete with an American high-tech delegation to Moscow and U.S. investments in Russian cyberskills.
“We are committed to broadening and deepening ties between our two economies,” she said in Moscow with then-Prime Minister Putin at her side.
But what was once a hallmark of President Obama’s foreign policy — an alliance with Mr. Putin — is over.
The White House has joined liberals who charge that Mr. Trump’s people’s dealings with and overtures to Russia are the reasons Mr. Putin allegedly ordered cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Embarrassing stolen emails ended up in the folders of WikiLeaks. The anti-secrecy group released the emails in large batches during the campaign, in much the same way the State Department, under court order, released reams of Mrs. Clinton’s emails from her private server as secretary of state.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest, in what appears to be an unprecedented role for a presidential spokesman during a transition, has launched broad attacks from the briefing room lectern on the incoming president and his staff.
Russia was not always radioactive. It was the Obama administration that opened the gates to deeper business and personal relationships with Mr. Putin, an elected strongman who has all but eliminated any real political opposition to his power.
It was Bill and Hillary Clinton’s charitable foundation that accepted money from Russian business people and Bill who accepted Russian speaking fees.
It began in 2009, when newly confirmed Secretary of State Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. She brought with her a gimmicky “reset” button signaling the dawn of new Washington-Moscow relations that had been soured by Russia’s 2008 military incursion into the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Mrs. Clinton was thus jettisoning President George W. Bush’s cold shoulder to Mr. Putin over his increasingly nationalistic rhetoric.
The Skolkovo Foundation
A year later, Mrs. Clinton traveled to Moscow when Mr. Putin switched seats from president to prime minister and his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, was president. Mr. Putin won election to a third term in 2012.
It was during this visit that Mrs. Clinton called for extensive U.S.-Russian ties. The White House spokesman now is criticizing the Trump team for doing the same thing.
“We believe that this reset of the relationship has led to much greater cooperation, coordination and a constructive ongoing consultation on numerous issues that are important to our bilateral relationship and to the global issues that we both are facing,” she said.
“A United States delegation made up of executives from the information technology companies recently visited Russia to explore joint private-sector-led initiatives in education, e-government and other fields,” she said. “We’re increasing partnerships between Russian and American universities. And there are growing interactions between American and Russian people.”
Later, appearing with Mr. Putin, Mrs. Clinton said, “I appreciate your raising the economic relationship because we are committed to broadening and deepening ties between our two economies, our business leaders and investors.”
That June, the Russian embrace continued in Washington at a Civil Society to Civil Society summit that Mr. Medvedev attended. Mrs. Clinton, noting that Mr. Medvedev had just visited the Silicon Valley tech world, said she would help Russia create a similar zone.
“I think it’s great that Russia is looking to try to create that kind of center for technology and growth right outside Moscow, and we want to help because we think that it’s in everyone’s interest do so,” she said.
What followed was the Russian-run Skolkovo, a high-tech Moscow suburban enclave devoted to all sorts of cybertechnology research, along with a foundation in charge of raising cash. At the urging of Mrs. Clinton, high-tech firms such as Google and Intel (also Clinton Foundation donors) pumped in millions of dollars.
Mrs. Clinton helped Mr. Putin create a research and development center whose work would veer into the portfolio of weapon systems.
Investigative reporter Peter Schweizer’s Government Accountability Institute said the Skolkovo Foundation was filled with Russian and American corporations that gave the Clinton Foundation money. Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who headed the Skolkovo Foundation and is a Putin ally, contributed money through his Renova Group.
Mr. Schweizer said the FBI warned tech companies in 2014 that Skolkovo was a mechanism for the Putin regime to steal U.S. industrial secrets.
The Clinton Foundation
Around this time, economic ties were being forged. The Obama administration was helping manifest Mr. Putin’s dream of controlling more of the world’s uranium. A leaked U.S. memo said he uses nuclear fuel like he uses natural gas and oil — as weapons to bend other states to his will or face a cutoff.
While Mr. Putin was gaining control of uranium, Bill Clinton was snaring a $500,000 speaking fee for talking in Moscow at an event organized by Renaissance Capital, the firm run by ex-KGB agents.
Mr. Schweizer chronicled the entire affair in his book, “Clinton Cash.”
The Putin prize was Uranium One, a Canadian firm that controlled large U.S. uranium deposits.
The suitor was Russia’s Rosatom State Nuclear Agency, a powerhouse of hundreds of nuclear weapon and power entities at home and abroad. It claims it ranks No. 2 globally in controlling uranium reserves and No. 1 in building nuclear reactors for a variety of countries. Rosatom built Iran’s first nuclear power plant at Bushehr.
The Committee on Foreign Investments in the U.S., of which Mrs. Clinton is a member, approved the Rosatom takeover in 2013. She had been a hawk against such deals but did not object.
All the while, huge sums of money from people connected to Uranium One and Rosatom were flowing into the Clinton Foundation, the $3 billion charity operating in nearly 30 countries.
The Clinton Foundation has served as the ex-president’s networking hub. It finances his travels as he hobnobs at conferences and dinners with the rich in Europe and Asia.
Mr. Schweizer reported that Uranium One’s chief, Ian Teller, funneled more than $2 million to the Clinton Foundation.
Rich people associated with the Toronto-based Salida Capital, which invested heavily in uranium companies, also contributed millions to the Clinton Foundation. Salida itself contributed $2.6 million. Rosatom lists a “Salida Capital” as a wholly owned subsidiary. The firm would not speak with Mr. Schweizer.
‘Give me space’
Mr. Obama continued to defend the Putin regime at least as late as 2012. During a televised presidential debate in October, he famously ridiculed Republican Mitt Romney for ranking the Putin-Medvedev regime as the No. 1 U.S. adversary.
“Gov. Romney, I’m glad you recognize al Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what is the biggest geopolitical group facing America, you said Russia — not al Qaeda. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”
It was a planned zinger embraced broadly by the liberal mainstream media. (Mr. Romney also said in 2012 that the U.S. needed to reverse its complete troop pullout and place more troops in Iraq, an idea Mr. Obama also rejected.)
That spring, Mr. Obama sent a similar embrace to Mr. Putin via Mr. Medvedev. The two held a close-in conversation unaware of a “hot mic.”
“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” Mr. Obama said. The “him” referred to Mr. Putin.
“Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you,” the outgoing Russian president responded.
Mr. Obama then said, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
Mr. Medvedev assured Mr. Obama that he would tell “Vladimir,” the incoming president.
Since then, Mr. Putin has invaded Ukraine and sent his forces into Syria, where his planes have indiscriminately bombed civilians, according to NATO. The U.S. charges that hacking cadres under Kremlin control attacked computer networks at the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department.
If there was any concerted retaliatory response by Mr. Obama, it has not come to light.
Today, the Russia rules in Washington have changed, and Mr. Putin is persona non grata.
Mrs. Clinton, who personally vouched for Mr. Putin as someone with whom the U.S. can do business, accused Mr. Trump of being his “puppet” during the campaign.
“Now, maybe because he has praised Putin, maybe because he says he agrees with a lot of what Putin wants to do, maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow, I don’t know the reasons,” Mrs. Clinton said at the second presidential debate. “But we deserve answers. And we should demand that Donald release all of his tax returns so that people can see what are the entanglements and the financial relationships that he has with the Russians and other foreign powers.”
Mr. Trump did not bring up the Russian-linked money that went to Mrs. Clinton’s foundation.
“The reason they blame Russia is because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “I know nothing about Russia. I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.”
With the election over, Mr. Earnest has become an attack dog in a movement to delegitimize Mr. Trump’s victory. At one White House briefing, he listed ties between Russia and Trump people and argued that this was the reason supposed Russian-directed hackers attacked the Democrats.
In the White House briefing room on Dec. 12, as liberals cranked up a talking point that Russian hacking got Mr. Trump elected president, Mr. Earnest issued a broadside against the Trump team.
“It was the president-elect who, over the course of the campaign, indicated that he thought that President Putin was a strong leader,” Mr. Earnest said. “It was the president-elect who indicated the potential that he would withdraw from some of our critically important NATO commitments. It was the president-elect who refused to disclose his financial connections to Russia. It was the president-elect who hired a campaign chairman with extensive, lucrative, personal financial ties to Russia. It was the president-elect who had a national security adviser on the campaign that had been a paid contributor to RT, the Russian propaganda outlet.”
Mr. Earnest said, as evidence that Russia was favoring Mr. Trump, Mr. Podesta’s email account was breached while that of Steven Bannon, the president-elect’s chief strategist, was not.
Mr. Trump has said he has no financial ties in Russia. He has been a global billionaire developer for decades. As such, he has developed relationships with business people from all over the world, including Russia.
His first campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, left the team after reports said he took $12 million for work he did for pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The disgraced former Ukrainian leader lives in exile in Russia. Mr. Manafort denied he received the money and said he had no business ties with Mr. Putin or his government.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s pick for national security adviser, has been deemed by Democrats as too close to the Kremlin. He views Mr. Putin, with whom he dined at an awards banquet on a Russia visit, as a potential ally in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group. Mr. Flynn made appearances on Russia Today, a state-run channel that is now on U.S. cable providers as RT America.
Larry King has his own show on RT, “Larry King Now.” “News with Ed Schultz” is a regular RT show featuring the ardent liberal. Democratic strategists also appear on RT.
Mr. Flynn has said he will relinquish his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, when he joins the White House team. The firm’s website is now inactive.
The Arab Spring
The movement to delegitimize Mr. Trump argues that Mr. Putin directed hackers to penetrate the DNC’s and Mr. Podesta’s emails and give them to WikiLeaks to tilt the election in favor of the New York real estate magnate.
Indeed, the thousands of messages proved embarrassing to the Democrats. They include emails that highlighted Mr. Podesta’s ties to an energy company, Joule Unlimited, that received Russian investments.
Mr. Podesta, Mr. Clinton’s White House chief of staff, was elected to the Joule executive board in 2011.
A Russian government finance firm, Rusnano, provided Joule with a $35 million investment. Then, Anatoly Chubais, Rusnano USA’s chief, joined the Joule board, where he remains today. Two other board members have done extensive banking and investment work for Russian entities.
Mr. Podesta at the time sat on a policy board advising then-Secretary of State Clinton.
The WikiLeaks-provided emails, as analyzed by Mr. Schweizer, show Mr. Podesta still maintained ties to Joule after he supposedly transferred his stock shares to his daughter in California and joined the Obama White House in 2014 as a one-year counselor. Mr. Schweizer says Mr. Podesta was trying to evade federal finance disclosure laws.
Whatever the reason, the saga shows that the chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign had been more than willing to do the type of business with Russia that the liberal press has judged as a negative for Mr. Trump’s team.
Jacob Kipp, a longtime scholar of Russian history, explains how the Obama lovefest with Mr. Putin turned sour by looking at one main reason: the 2011 Arab Spring.
“By 2012, the U.S.-Russia reset was in bad shape,” Mr. Kipp said.
Russia backed a limited bombing campaign to protect civilians in Libya, he said. But when the Obama administration racketed up the sorties into all-out war to oust leader Moammar Gadhafi, Mr. Putin split.
Then came Syria. Russia ally Bashar Assad came under strong pressure from various rebel groups and demonstrators who wanted democracy. Mr. Assad responded with brutal tactics.
Said Mr. Kipp: “The regime’s use of force to repress demonstrations brought a wide range of resistance groups into the field.”
The ensuing civil war created a Washington-Moscow chess match pitting Mr. Putin on one side of the board and the U.S., which wanted Mr. Assad gone, on the other.
By 2014, the White House and State Department computer networks were under attack by hacking groups connected to the Kremlin.
Republicans say today that Mr. Obama had little or no response to a blatant Russian assault on the heart of U.S. government. Perhaps a comprehensive overt countermeasure could have convinced Mr. Putin that continued hacking was not in Russia’s best interest.
Among a list of motives for all the Russian hacking is Mr. Putin’s belief that the Obama administration interfered in Duma elections in 2011 by aiding demonstrators who took to the streets to protest the United Russia party’s continued parliamentary control.
“Then the Arab Spring hit, and Washington found its ability to control very limited,” Mr. Kipp said.