Mark P. Lagon – Centennial Fellow: Global Justice Blog
Ambassador Mark P. Lagon is a SFS Centennial Fellow and Distinguished Senior Scholar. Lagon most recently served as President of Freedom House, an international nonprofit devoted to research and programs advancing human rights and democratic governance.
The Global Justice Blog addresses ethics, international law, and human rights in today’s fractured world. Centennial Fellow Mark P. Lagon and guest bloggers will grapple will raise key issues and dilemmas among these priorities and strengths of the Walsh School of Foreign Service. A parallel Global Justice Lecture Series will interest readers.
By Mark P. Lagon
On Sunday March 26, 2017, Donald Trump’s friend and campaign consigliere (as well as longtime partner of Paul Manafort), Roger Stone, was interviewed on ABC’s ThisWeek program. Stone typically accommodates central casting by wearing bold suits conjuring up New York and New Jersey mobster chic of yore.
Stone suggested of Trump, “I think he has the potential to be one of our greatest presidents, perhaps even greater than Ronald Reagan.” Needless to say Trump lacks Reagan’s grace, belief in more open trade and immigration, and commitment to leadership to advance democracy globally in the face of threatening dictators. Reagan must be rolling over in his grave witnessing Republicans enabling President Trump and of all things helping deflect concerns of undue influence from Moscow in U.S. politics. In my mind, the latter represents a nadir in a trend my studiously nonpartisan spouse, Susan Lagon, also a political scientist, cannily characterizes as partisanship having devolved into pure “tribalism.”
Back when there weren’t only polarized versions of news and analysis in the media one had to pick between, a great source of thoughtful and penetrating journalism and commentary was The New Republic. Stone was the subject of a cover story in the historic magazine in December 1985, the year I myself was President of the Harvard College Republicans in the wake of Reagan’s reelection. Jacob Weisberg wrote that profile, apted titled “State-of-the-Art Sleazeball,” about which he recently reflected along with a reprinting.
Stone is under scrutiny for allegedly consorting with the Russians and/or internet purveyors of leaked and hacked government documents—in order to time embarrassing material to spill out to Hillary Clinton’s maximum detriment. In a denial, Stone has said that “treason” is not among the elements of his “bag of tricks” as a “hardball” political operative.
Referring to the accusations levied by the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee on ABC’s This Week, Adam Schiff (D-CA), Stone rebutted “The gentleman from California, who is largely full of ‘Schiff.’”
In the name of justice and national security, Democrats and Republicans equally have a responsibility to get the bottom of the accusations about Trump associates and Russia to find the as-yet unclear truth. Any informed citizen ought to simply read the measured but devastating opening statement in a House Intelligence Committee hearing on March 20, 2017 of Mr. Schiff, which follows.
SCHIFF: Mr. Chairman, I thank you. And I also want to thank Director Comey and Admiral Rogers for appearing before us today as the committee holds its first open hearing into the interference campaign waged against our 2016 presidential election.
Last summer at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential presidential campaign, a foreign adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other. That foreign adversary was of course Russia and it activated through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th president of the United States.
The Russian active measures campaign may have begun as early as 2015, when Russian intelligence services launched a series of spear fishing attacks designed to penetrate the computers of a broad array of Washington based Democratic and Republican party organizations, think tanks and other entities. This continued at least through the winter of 2016.
While at first the hacking may have been intended solely for the collection of foreign intelligence. In mid-2016 the Russians weapon eyes the stolen data and used platforms established by the Intel services, such as D.C. leaks in existing third-party channels like WikiLeaks to dump the documents. The stolen documents were almost uniformly damaging to the candidate Putin despised, Hillary Clinton. And by forcing her campaign to constantly respond to the daily drip of disclosures, the releases greatly benefited Donald Trump’s campaign.
None of these facts is seriously in question. And they’re reflected in the consensus conclusion of our intelligence agencies. We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election. Indeed, it is unknowable in a campaign to which so many small changes could have dictated a different result. More importantly, and for the purposes of our investigation, it simply does not matter.
What does matter is this, the Russians successfully meddled in our democracy and our intelligence agencies have concluded they will do so again. Ours is not the first democracy to be attacked by the Russians in this way. Russian intelligence has been simile interfering in the internal and political affairs of our European and other allies for decades.
What is striking here is the degree to which the Russians were willing to undertake such an audacious and risky action against the most powerful nation on Earth. That ought to be a warning to us that if we thought that the Russians would not dare to so blatantly interfere in our affairs, we were wrong.
And if we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future, we will only have ourselves to blame. We know a lot about the Russian operation, about the way they amplified the damage their hacking and dumping of stolen documents was causing through the use of slick propaganda like R.T., the Kremlin’s media arm. But there is a lot we don’t know.
Most important, we do not yet know whether the Russians have the help of U.S. citizens including people associated with the Trump campaign. Many of the Trump’s campaign personnel, including the president himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is of course no crime. On the other hand, if the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history.
In Europe, where the Russians have a much longer history of political interference, they’ve used a variety of techniques to undermine democracy. They employed the hacking and dumping of documents and slick propaganda as they clearly did here. But they’ve also used bribery, blackmail, compromising material, and financial entanglement to secure needed cooperation from individual citizens of targeted countries.
The issue of U.S. person involvement is only one of the important matters that the chairman and I have agreed to investigate and which is memorialized in the detailed and bipartisan scope of investigation that we have signed. We’ll also examine whether the intelligence community’s assessment of the Russian operation is supported by the raw intelligence, whether the U.S. government responded properly or missed the opportunity to stop this Russian attack much earlier and whether the leak of information about Michael Flynn or others is indicative of a systemic problem.
We have also reviewed whether there is any evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama in Trump Tower and found no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous accusation. And we hope that Director Comey can now put that matter permanently to rest. Today, most of my Democratic colleagues will be exploring with the witnesses the potential involvement of U.S. persons in the Russian attack on our democracy. It is not that we feel the other issues are less important; they are very important, but rather because this issue is least understood by the public. We realize of course that the witnesses may not be able to answer many of the questions in open session.
They may or may not be willing to disclose even whether there is an investigation. But we hope to present to you directors and the public why we believe this is a matter of such gravity that it demands a thorough investigation not only by us as we intend to do but by the FBI as well.
Let me give you a short preview of what I expect you’ll be asked by our members. Whether the Russian active measures campaign began as nothing more than an attempt to gather intelligence or was always intended to be more than that, we do not know and is one of the questions we hope to answer. But we do know this; the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal.
It was at this time the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is, why? What was happening in July, August of last year and were U.S. persons involved? Here are some of the matters drawn from public sources alone since that is all we can discuss in this setting that concern us and we believe should concern all Americans.
In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.
According to Christopher Steele, a British — a former British intelligence officer, who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, CEO of the Russian gas giant, Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s.
According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by such an on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share of Rosneft later takes place with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees. Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the campaign has offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability like WikiLeaks.
The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fair share. Policies which even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel have now presently come to pass. In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the — the Trump campaign manager and someone who was a long on the payroll of Pro Russian- Ukrainian interests attends the Russian — the Republican Party Convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests.
Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian Embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party Convention and meets with Carter Page, and additional Trump advisors J.D. Gordon and Walid Phares. It was J.D. Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow.
Ambassador Kislyac also meets with Trump national campaign chair, National Security Campaign Chair and now attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing. Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests.
Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign and altering the platform, but the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, J.D. Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision of the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.
Later in July and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on WikiLeaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker, Guccifer 2.0, claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to WikiLeaks. A leading private cyber security firms including Crowdstrike, Mandiant and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT 28 and APT 29 who are known to be Russian intelligence services.
The U.S. intelligence committee also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises WikiLeaks, says he loves them and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents emails telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.
On August 8th, Roger Stone, a long time Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in his speech that he has communicated with Assange and that more documents would be coming, including an October surprise. In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cut out Guccifer 2.0 and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence.
Then later, in August, Stone does something truly remarkable. When he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published, trust me he says, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel, #crookedHillary. In the weeks that follow, Stone shows remarkable prescience. I have total confidence that WikiLeaks and my hero, Julian Assange will educate the American people soon, he says, #LockHerUp. Payload coming, he predicts and two days later it does.
WikiLeaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis, up until the election. On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high-profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin’s propaganda outfit RT in the past, as well as another Russian entity.
In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak, about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over attacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about the secret conversation. The vice president unknowingly then assures the country that no — no such conversation ever happened. The president is informed that Flynn has lied and Pence has misled the country. The president does nothing.
Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the president is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The president then praises the man who lied, Mr. Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.
Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with a Russian ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians?
Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak, about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke, the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump? Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company, Rosneft, sold a 19 percent share after former British intelligence officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size?
Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russian had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for Pro Russian policies that would later come to pass? Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be a victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself, was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?
Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet. And we owe it to the country to find out.
Director Comey, what you see on the dais in front of you in the form of this small number of members and staff is all we have to commit to this investigation. This is it. We are not supported by hundreds or thousands of agents and investigators with offices around the world. It is just us and our Senate counterparts.
In addition to this investigation we still have our day job which involves overseeing some of the largest and most important agencies in the country. Agencies which by the way are trained to keep secrets. I point this out for two reasons and I’m — I’m wrapping up Chairman. First because we cannot do this work alone and nor should we. We believe these issues are so important that the FBI must devote its resources to investigating each of them thoroughly, to do any less would be negligent in the protection of our country.
We also need your full cooperation with our investigation so that we may have the benefit of what you know and so that we may coordinate our efforts in the discharge of both our responsibilities. And second, I raise this because I believe that we would benefit from the work of an independent commission that can devote the staff resources to this investigation that we do not have. And it can be completely removed from any political considerations.
This should not be a substitute for the work that we, in the intelligence committee, should and must do. But as an important complement to our efforts, just as was the case after 9/11. The stakes are nothing less than the future of our democracy and liberal democracy. Because we’re engaged in a new war of ideas, not communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy and representative government. And in the struggle, our adversary sees our political process as a legitimate field of battle.
Only by understanding what the Russians did can we inoculate ourselves from further Russian interference that we know is coming. Only then can we protect our European allies, who are as we speak, enduring similar Russian interference in their own elections.
And finally, I want to say a word about our own committee investigation. You will undoubtedly observe in the questions and comments that our members make during today’s hearing that the members of both parties share a common concern over the Russian attack on our democracy. But bring a different perspective on the significance of certain issues or the quantum of evidence we have seen in the early — earliest stages of this investigation. This is to be expected.
The question most people have is whether we can really conduct this investigation in the kind of thorough and nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible.
The truth is, I don’t know the answer, but I do know this, if this committee can do its work properly, if we can pursue the facts wherever they lead, unafraid to compel witnesses to testify, to hear what they have to say, to learn what we will. And after exhaustive work reach a common conclusion, it would be a tremendous public service and one that is very much in the national interest. So let us try.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman and I yield back.
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