The MSM and much of the world continues to be obsessed with the issue of whether Donald Trump colluded with Russia to unfairly influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. If Trump did this – and he is trying to prevent investigation into the question, so that is a reasonable possibility – he has committed a serious crime under US law, and this would provide more than enough reason to remove him from office, as many people have always desired for their own less than honourable reasons.
Trump says the investigation into his Russia links is a stunt. In this, he is right, but not in the way he wants us to think. It is in fact Trump himself has the most to profit from any such investigation continuing. After all, it diverts attention from his and America’s own attempts to influence elections all over the world by even more dubious means than the ones Russia is being accused of now.
In a previous article I discussed the role of Cambridge Analytica in creating a barrage of media traffic which encourages people to think that this traffic represents “public opinion” and blackmails governments into following it. This activity can be traced back to Robert Mercer, a right-wing finance man, who has made a number of large, publicly-known donations to organisations which do this work in order to further his pet causes.
But it is now clear that Mercer is himself a front man. Other organisations are also doing the same work, in support of the same positions. But unlike Cambridge Analytica they are not subject to any public scrutiny, as they have no website, registered address or accounts. If you have ever had your email address hacked and sold on the internet you will know how such companies operate, and who actually benefits from what they do.
At the end of the last century there was a controversy in the US when TIME Magazine’s “Most Influential Person of the Century” poll was hijacked by a Turkish journalist and Kemal Ataturk ended up winning the public vote in every category, including “entertainers and artists“. Since then safeguards have been built in to public polls, but it is easy enough to hack them to suit your purposes, particularly when the source of the hacking cannot be traced, even though it is paying public officials to do this work.
So if Russia is hacking the US to achieve its political objectives, is it not equally likely that the US is hacking Russia to do the same? If Trump is the great businessman he claims to be, does he not have a piece of companies he can’t be seen to publicly support, but which have smoothed his path in the US, and that of his friends in many other countries?
Too many ducks in a row
It is well known that Donald Trump was in favour of Brexit. He has said several times what a good decision the British people made. Nigel Farage campaigned for Trump in the US, and has worked with him since as an unofficial adviser.
Theresa May has just appointed a new Brexit minister. He is still proffering the official line that the Brexit referendum result was “the will of the people”, and that this popular will, expressed on one particular day, must be carried out because the public will is sacred, despite the fact the results of other elections are subject to change by the results of subsequent elections.
We now know, as if it wasn’t already obvious, that Robert Mercer and his chums were retained by the Leave campaign to create “public opinion” by constantly giving people the impression that particular views were more common than they actually were. Whether people would have voted the same way without his work, we don’t know. But we do know that the same right-wing groups which promoted Trump’s candidacy have promoted the same views, using the same methods, in the US and elsewhere.
The new Brexit minister is Steve Baker, who has long been chair of a pro-Brexit organisation called the European Research Council. He has declared in the MP’s Register of Interests that in this capacity he received a ₤6,500 payment from a company called the Constitutional Research Council for “providing hospitality“.
The reason the register of interests exists is so that the public, and parliament know if an MP has a connection with a particular subject under discussion. If a constituent complains about a building company, and their MP has received money from that company, the constituent needs to know that the MP may be more interested in defending the company than the constituent. Similarly, if that company’s conduct is being discussed in parliament the MP concerned should not vote on the issue because the outcome of the vote might affect their personal earnings.
But what does the public know about the Constitutional Research Council? It has no website and no accounts, so is not accountable to the public, the tax authorities or anyone else. But it is known that during the Brexit referendum it made a donation of around ₤435,000 to Theresa May’s new partners in government, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which was then channelled into the Vote Leave campaign.
Why the DUP? Because donations to UK parties and campaigns have to be declared, and are subject to a legal limit – unless they are made to a Northern Ireland party. These do not have to declare the source of donations due to security reasons related to the long years of inter-community violence there. No one was likely to bomb the Constitutional Research Council for making this donation, partly because no one knows who is a member of it or where it is based. But it exploited this loophole to get round the law in a way which was never envisaged when the law was drafted.
Where did this money come from? No one seems to know that either. The Constitutional Research Council is considered a “permissible donor” to political causes, despite its lack of transparency. But if the funds used came from an impermissible source they could still not be donated. The only clue we have is that the Constitutional Research Council is run by Richard Cook, a prominent Scottish Conservative. His business dealings are very much in the same mould as Trump’s, and have come under similar scrutiny.
Part of the DUP’s Constitutional Research Council money went to a data analytics firm called AggregateIQ, which is another company linked with Robert Mercer and Cambridge Analytica. Mercer was a major supporter of, and advertiser for, Trump as well as Brexit. Are we to believe that all these connections have arisen spontaneously, with Trump not knowing about them or profiting from them in any way?
Prior to Trump’s election Vladimir Putin praised him in terms which suggest he was seen as “Russia’s friend in the White House”. There is no apparent link between Russia and Robert Mercer’s various organisations. Trump, however, is up to his neck in a wide-ranging manipulation campaign which has graduated from enforcing regime change to buying electorates and politicians with money and means no one can account for.
Perhaps this was what Trump meant by reducing the US’s involvement in costly foreign wars whilst continuing the campaigns in Syria and threatening one in North Korea. Why would such wars be necessary, when you can create public opinion through hacking news sites with fake profiles and then buy the politicians who have to implement that public opinion?
Iron fist in crooked glove
All countries would like other countries to elect people sympathetic to them. The criminal gang which ran Georgia under Mikheil Saakashvili started driving round with “McCain for President” license plates on their cars during the 2008 election, even though none of them could vote for him. They even raised money for his election campaign.
It is also not unusual for other countries’ politicians to make speeches in support of embattled leaders they like, or express concern about the “direction” of a country they don’t like, the international sanctions taken against apartheid South Africa being a good example of this.
Furthermore, in most of the world, national governments depend for their installation and survival on foreign partners who actually run everything behind the scenes to suit themselves. The US was the worst offender in this respect even before it embarked on a policy of blatant regime change and destruction. Anything Russia might have done in the US election is small potatoes compared with what the US and its allies are doing daily in Syria, and unlike there, nobody died.
But in Western democracies there are rules about funding. In some countries there are no limits on campaign spending or donations, but you have to say where you are getting the money from. Usually, there are limits on the amounts individuals or companies can donate, and these donors themselves have to identify where these funds have come from. If you subvert these rules you subvert democracy itself. This is precisely why the US has the law which makes collusion with foreign governments a crime: as these governments aren’t under US jurisdiction, they can’t be bound by US laws, so they can’t be forced to act within the legal frameworks safeguarding democracy, even if they do so voluntarily.
By donating untraceable funds to causes Trump supports, The Constitutional Research Council is serving his interests. It is allowed to get away with refusing to identify its members or donors or publishing any accounts. How can this be happening in countries whose laws theoretically prevent this from happening? Who is colluding with whom to make sure that it does?
The only players we know are involved are connected with the Trump campaign, the Brexit campaign and other campaigns of a similar political orientation. They have no traceable connection with campaigns of a contrary orientation. Doubtless people who oppose Trump have their own networks of influence, and the track record of the Clinton Foundation is a source of similar alarm.
But the clarity and consistency of the connections in this case, and the fact that they are allowed to exist, make it clear that someone with great influence is behind these stunts and able to continue doing them. Trump would doubtless by the first to say that you don’t get any more powerful or influential than President of the United States.
Birds of a feather
During Watergate Richard Nixon argued that if the President of the United States does something, it is not illegal. Donald Trump seems to have the same opinion, as he has been acting illegally since the day he took office. Despite the cynicism surrounding Western politicians, this is not the norm. Individuals who might be compromised by business dealings or other associations divest themselves of these, and there are many mechanisms available for them to do so. Trump can also avail himself of these, but has consistently refused to.
Like the Constitutional Research Council, Trump refuses to release his tax returns, and they were only leaked. Apparently he cannot be held accountable for his financial scams. Like the Constitutional Research Council, he has been able to get away with this for years when most people would be in jail for the same offence by now – this despite encouraging his supporters to chant “lock her up” whenever he mentioned the name of Hillary Clinton, however justified that demand might be.
Trump also has a habit of making the same friends as the Constitutional Research Council. Richard Cook has known business connections with Saudi Arabia and arms dealers. Despite growing international opposition to the Saudi regime over its human rights record and sponsorship of terrorist groups, Trump continues to court the Saudis and has given them a free hand in the Arab world. He didn’t have to do this for either security or diplomatic reasons – indeed he is merely damaging the US’s security and global standing. The connections here make Watergate look like a schoolboy prank.
All this has been reported before. Trump responds to any allegation he doesn’t like by calling it “fake news”. Richard Cook uses exactly the same phrase to describe allegations against him. Like Trump, he won’t go into any further detail to justify this claim. The main actors are even using the same script, and nobody wants to hear it.
Still Cambridge Analytica Robert Mercer and the Constitutional Research Council take on new clients and similar causes all round the world. Still they do it in unaccountable ways, which all seem to benefit Donald Trump more than anyone else. Yet still everyone wants to look at what Russia might have done in the US election, as a red herring. If all those investigating this matter are, quite rightly, outraged at the subversion of democratic process, it is about time they looked at what is going on under their noses, where the hands of Trump and his backers are much more clearly visible, and should be easier to cut off—at least as a convenient diversion.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.