Mueller might be over, but Trump remains a Russian asset

Mueller might be over, but Trump remains a Russian asset
Comment: The question of outright collusion may be over, but it's clear Putin and Trump are allies in an axis of authoritarianism, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
28 Mar, 2019
Presidents Trump and Putin at the G20 family photo in Argentina, November 2018 [Getty]
Even from the UK, you can almost feel the deflation and sense of disappointment at the conclusion of Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump's involvement with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  

Mueller has reportedly found no evidence of direct collusion between Trump and Russia.

In the minds of some of the more excitable enemies of the president, this was supposed to lead to his impeachment, though that possibility always seemed a little remote. From the first moment of his darkly surreal victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, pundits were anticipating his imminent demise. 

It's impossible, though, to fully comment on Mueller's report, given it wasn't, and possibly won't ever be revealed to the public.

The conclusions of the report have been compiled for Congress into a four page summary by the comically biased Attorney General Bill Barr. Only 100 lines of Mueller's report are contained in this summary.

So while we know there will be no new indictments, and we know that Mueller has cleared Trump of conspiring directly with Russia, we don't know how he arrived at this conclusion. 

We don't even know much about the only part of Mueller's investigation about a potential - if ambiguous - obstruction charge against Trump. All we have is Trump's henchman Barr saying that whatever the evidence, it isn't enough for a prosecution.

Such evidence isn't needed to know that Trump and Putin have a rather exceptional and globally destructive relationship

And it's perfectly true that the devil might very well be in the detail, but in this case, the devils - namely Trump and Putin - are in plain sight. 

Though it would have been unprecedented if Mueller had found hard evidence of direct collusion between Trump and Russia, the reality is that such evidence isn't needed to know that Trump and Putin have a rather exceptional and globally destructive relationship.

We know that there was definitely some contact between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

Indeed, 17 Trump associates (including Donald Trump Jr and Trump's key backer Roger Stone), were proven to have had relationships with Kremlin-linked Russians or Wikileaks. Assange's organisation has essentially been exposed as doing the Kremlin's bidding, by releasing the Democratic National Committee leaks and the infamous Podesta emails, both of which were hacked by groups linked to the Russian intelligence services for the express purpose of undermining Clinton's presidential campaign.

Then there were the high profile indictments of eight figures associated directly with the Trump campaign and administration, most notably that of his national security advisor Mike Flynn, his senior campaign advisor George Papadopolous and his campaign chairman Paul Manafort. All three were arrested for lying about direct links with Russia or allies of Putin.  

In addition, was the bizarre behaviour from Trump and his campaign during and after the presidential campaign, such as Donald Trump Junior's "I love it" response when he was told about Russia’s attempts to subvert the Clinton campaign and thus US democracy. 

Trump's open call for Russia, a foreign power, to interfere in the campaign to find emails that Clinton had deleted, was yet another example.  

Whether the relationship between Trump and Russia is formal, informal, or something in between, there remains a definitive Russian spectre hanging over the Trump regime.

Regardless of the lack of evidence to indict or impeach Trump for direct collusion with Russia, the moment when the world saw precisely where his loyalties lay came last year in Helsinki. 

Here, during Trump's first face-to-face meeting with Putin, he came out and declared that every single apparatus of US intelligence was wrong about Russia's role in the cyberattacks during the election.

Forget the vast quantities of evidence the NSA, CIA and FBI had compiled implicating Russia, Trump's conviction of their innocence was Putin's "extremely strong and powerful" denial when he spoke to Trump. 

No, it wasn't an impeachable offence that Trump committed when he verbally sided with Russia against his own state, but many within the US saw it as an act of treason. 

There remains a definitive Russian spectre hanging over the Trump regime

For those of us outside of the US, it simply proved what was already apparent through Trump's words and actions: The US president, in all his fascistic and quasi-authoritarian ingloriousness, was on the same page as his fascist and authoritarian Russian counterpart.  

And that's more worrying than the idea that Trump is formally in the service of Russia, or that he simply just agrees with Putin's political vision and practice for the world?

Trump's most zealous supporters have already conceded that even evidence of Trump's collusion with Russia wouldn't dent their support for the leader.  

Read more: Manafort convicted, Cohen caves and Trump's in trouble

So much has been written about the Trump-Putin connection, but by hanging hopes on a smoking gun pointing to direct collusion between the two, the actual raison d'etre of Russia's attempts to boost Trump and undermine Clinton are often overlooked.

A look at her political positions in every single area that relates to Russia is enough to explain why.  

When it came to Ukraine, Clinton was calling, in direct contrast not just to Trump but to his predecessor Obama, for the US to actively aid the country with arms and military equipment in its fight against Russian aggression. 

In Syria, easily the worst of Russia's current imperialist operations, Clinton was calling for no-fly zones to save civilians from Assad and Putin’s bombs, while advocating a new wave of support for the anti-Assad Syrian rebels that Obama had abandoned. This included not just arms, but the use of air support on behalf of the rebels.

In short: In contrast to Obama, who had abandoned Syria to Assad, Iran and Russia, and who had failed to confront Russian aggression against Ukraine, Clinton wanted to bring an end to the genocide-enabling appeasement of Russia and its allies. 

Who better from a Russian perspective to replace the slick appeaser Obama, than Trump?

She understood that every single time Russia had been confronted, whether it was by Turkey or Israel or, almost, the US itself after the Ghouta massacre, Russia was the one desperate to avoid escalation.

But, even beyond these specific things, she was, despite her manifold faults, a centrist who believed in the maintenance of liberal democracy.

So who better from a Russian perspective to replace the slick appeaser Obama, than Trump? A man who is perhaps not a Russian asset in the formal sense, but, with his opposition to egalitarianism and liberal democracy, with his distrust of NATO and the EU, is certainly one in the ideological sense.

It wasn't Russia that got Trump elected, though it certainly helped achieve this outcome. What got Trump elected was a growing movement, fomented and amplified in recent years by Russian-linked fake news, of ethno-chauvinism, right-wing populism and racist majoritarianism. 

These are social issues that cannot be wished away by FBI investigations, or potential impeachments. Though Trump is the figurehead of the movement in the US, it goes much beyond him and the ideology goes beyond US borders.

The only way to undermine the growing axis of authoritarianism to which both Trump and Putin belong is to support in concrete terms all of those around the globe struggling for the establishment or maintenance of liberal democracy and egalitarianism.  

There is no wishing away of and no shortcut to defeat this global nightmare.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.