Decades before humans could tweet, Czechoslovakian spies tailed Donald Trump. Recently many of their documents were declassified by the Czech Republic government. In December 2016 the English-language news coverage of this document cache tended to emphasize a memo about Trump’s apparent lack of IRS obligations — but it was mention of his political strategizing in the 1980s that sent Trump Watchdogs into a frenzied dig for deeper understanding.
Here we share various “bones” we’ve discovered that might help structure a compelling body of evidence that Russia has long held influence over Donald Trump’s behavior and was his partner (perhaps a dominant partner) in shaping the course and outcome of the 2016 US presidential race.
It’s possible that not all these bones are related. After all, we discovered them along many paths. If those paths indeed cross, that’s quite a Trump weave!
But you might conclude that Trump’s woven himself a very tangled web… It wouldn’t be surprising if a land-hungry spider moved in.
1988: Czechoslovakia’s Spies, Trump and the US Presidency
In December 2016 the Czech Republic’s national news service ČT24 reported that old Czechoslovakian spy documents involving Donald Trump and his first wife, the Czechoslovak-born Ivana, had recently been declassified. These documents were reportedly created in the 1970s and 1980s when Czechoslovakia was a communist state and especially wary of US influence.
(Side notes: The CSSR, or Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, was formed after a Soviet-backed coup d’état. Today the democratic Czech Republic is said to be riddled with Russian spies hoping to topple NATO. The Telegraph reports that Russia dramatically stepped up its spying in 2013.)
According to the December 2016 report on Czech TV, the former CSSR’s secret intelligence agency and Ministry of the Interior covertly monitored Donald and Ivana Trump’s many visits to Ivana’s father in Czechoslovakia; occasionally listened to long distance calls between “Ivana Trumpová” and her father; read the family’s mail; and sent a Trump-focused spy to the US. (You can see the ČT24 report here. For rudimentary translation help see translate.google.com.)
From what we understood of this document cache, of greatest interest to Trump Watchdogs was a Czechoslovak intelligence agent’s 1988 report (as translated in The Guardian) that Donald Trump “was being put under considerable pressure to run for the US presidency.” The spy added that the source of pressure was unclear, and that according to Ivana’s father, Trump seemed confident he could win the 1996 race.
“Under considerable pressure?” From whom? And why might he feel so confident?
Certainly Trump could have felt pressure from domestic sources. But on guard for signs of his partnering with Putin in the 2016 US presidential race, we first sniffed along a Russian path.
2016: British Spy Alleges Russian Cultivation of Trump… And/But FBI Director Breaks Protocol With Anti-Clinton Decision
Delving into reports about Donald Trump and international spies, Trump Watchdogs dug up this chilling October 31, 2016 headline from journalist David Corn with the independent publication Mother Jones: A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.
That’s quite a headline. A jaw-dropper. And yet most Americans who now know the story weren’t aware of the report until January 10, 2017 or later. Why wasn’t this well-known news before the Electoral College certified Trump? After all, Mother Jones is a respectable publication. For instance, the magazine has been a finalist for 31 National Magazine Awards (or Ellies), which are on par with the Pulitzer Prize. And of the seven times that Mother Jones won awards, three were for “General Excellence.”
It might be important to consider the FBI’s other investigations at the time.
Or it might be important to consider the personal (not just professional) motivations of FBI Director James Comey.
Chewing on Comey’s Motivations…
Comey, we believe, is a key to understanding Trump’s rise to power and Trump’s relationship with Russia. The Mother Jones journalist seems to agree. The in-depth article by David Corn opens with a review of Comey’s announcement in late October 2016 regarding Hillary Clinton’s handling of email as Secretary of State. In Corn’s summary, Comey shook up the 2016 election by choosing to share information about an investigation that “was vague and perhaps ultimately irrelevant” so close to a presidential election — a move that broke with Justice Department tradition of non-interference within 60 days and was judged likely to damage Clinton’s campaign.
In hindsight we know that Comey ultimately cleared the new collection of Clinton emails:
On December 20 a judge unsealed the FBI’s request for the new investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. According to Clinton’s lawyer David Kendall, the request “concedes that the FBI had no basis to conclude whether these e-mails were even pertinent to that closed investigation, were significant, or whether they had, in fact, already been reviewed prior to the closing of the investigation.” In defense of Comey an FBI agent had noted in court papers that the computer being investigated (the computer of “Carlos Danger” or Anthony Weiner) was not authorized to handle classified or national defense information; therefore it was prudent to ascertain whether it had been compromised… But even if that were true, would that be reason to bar Clinton from office? These facts seem relevant:
1) The chance of finding information that would discredit Clinton’s fitness for leadership was highly unlikely.
2) The announcement about “new emails” would predictably harm Clinton politically.
Keep those facts in mind as we move onto the spy report. Here’s a key nugget from Corn’s article in October:
[A] former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence tells Mother Jones that in recent months he provided the bureau with memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump — and that the FBI requested more information from him.
The source, writes Corn, spent nearly 20 years as an intelligence officer focused on Russia and has been described as “credible” and “reliable” by a senior US government official. He now works for a US firm that supplies data about Russia to corporate clients. According to the former spy and his current business associates, they began researching Donald Trump in the summer of 2016 on behalf of a client who was critical of the candidate. Ultimately the firm concluded that “there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.” Below are two key points about Trump from the former spy’s memos:
“Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.”
Russian intelligence has information about Trump that it could use as blackmail.
In July 2016 according to Corn, without his company’s permission the former spy sent a report about Donald Trump and the Russians to an FBI contact. In August the FBI requested the entirety of his data, including his sources. He then shared information with the FBI on an ongoing basis. He told Corn, “It’s quite clear there was or is a pretty substantial inquiry going on.”
So… what was Comey’s motivation to chatter publicly about a Hillary Clinton investigation and keep quiet about a Trump investigation? Back in October 2016 many Americans trusted that Comey’s decision — though perhaps faulty and definitely likely to sway the vote — was shaped not by partisanship, but by simple interest in self-preservation or preservation of the FBI’s reputation: If the newly discovered emails ultimately incriminated Clinton, then he and his underlings couldn’t be faulted for having kept quiet. He later explained:
“We don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed,” Comey said. “I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.”
We had wanted to believe that Comey wasn’t playing us, that he wasn’t pretending to throw a ball when really there was nothing to chase. Like loyal pups we trusted our government. We even kept our skepticism in check after the FBI ultimately cleared Clinton — just two days before the election — and when it became clear that the decision indeed had a partisan effect on the election results.
But with new knowledge of Senators’ requests for information (see below), accepting the “self-preservation” argument for Comey would be naïve. And if his decision had been partisan, then the “checks and balances” we learned about as pups have been abandoned. If Comey’s decision was partisan, then the United States is not functioning as its founders planned. When the boundaries of our legislative, executive and judicial branches are blurred, American democracy is merely an illusion.
Digging Up the Past… Watchdogs Raise Eyebrows at Comey
Here’s a look back at some related events from August through January:
In the Mother Jones article Corn writes that in August 2016 Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid had demanded of Comey an investigation of the “connections between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” An excerpt from Reid’s letter:
“In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government… The public has a right to know this information.”
The letter also notes that the senator had requested the same information from Comey months earlier.
In September 2016 Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff, who hold senior positions on the Senate and House intelligence committees, issued a joint statement similar to Reid’s:
“Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election. At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election.”
Comey ultimately delayed meeting with the senators until mid-January, which was after the Electoral College certified Trump’s highly contested win…
On January 12 the Inspector General of the FBI, Michael Horowitz, announced that the agency would be undertaking an internal review of Comey’s work. He stated that concerns raised by Democrats and Republicans regarding Comey’s handling of information would be investigated.
The next day Comey met with lawmakers to address the question of investigations into Donald Trump. Following the meeting, reports emerged that it had shaken lawmakers’ confidence in his leadership. This related partly to information that he shared, and partly to information that he would not disclose.
Here’s an example from MSN of a House member being rattled by new data:
“I was nonjudgmental until the last 15 minutes. I no longer have that confidence in him,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said as he left the meeting in the Capitol.
“Some of the things that were revealed in this classified briefing – my confidence has been shook.”
The same article quotes other legislators who shared Walz’s reactions, as well as some who reportedly still held faith in the FBI chief. But we’re curious about such optimism in light of another issue from the meeting, that of Comey’s refusal to answer specific questions. He had previously said that he wouldn’t discuss the matter of potential Trump investigations “in a public forum” and this led lawmakers to believe he’d have more candor in their closed-door session.
One concern is that Comey reportedly refused to set forth his standards for sharing information. He also dodged the question of the “double standard,” or why he commented publicly on the question about a Clinton investigation but not about the Trump investigations.
What was Comey’s motivation?
Silence from Comey is frustrating… but where can we find chatter? Computers chat. Computers leave traces of activity. Trump Watchdogs next looked into news about:
1) Trump’s computer servers, which reportedly had connections with Russia, and
2) Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal, which gave the FBI a reason to seize his computer. Was it mere coincidence that this computer helped bring down Hillary Clinton’s campaign?