Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on the leftist narrative about collusion between Donald Trump and Russia, featuring an interview aired on Liberty Nation Radio with Dr. Stephen Cohen, progressive scholar on Russia. In part one, Dr. Cohen discussed, among other things, how he studied Russian interference in the 2016 election and found no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.
From the moment Donald Trump was elected president, Democrats, leftists, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have been desperately seeking evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election. And they have succeeded in penetrating the consciousness of the American people. Incredibly, polls reveal that more than 40% of Americans believe that Russians not only meddled in the election campaign, but hacked the actual tabulation of votes. Given that voting machines and paper ballots are not connected to the internet, this is a virtual impossibility.Dr. Stephen Cohen
Dr. Stephen Cohen, longtime leftist scholar on Russia and the Soviet Union, has bravely departed from the progressive reservation with his new book War with Russia?, in which he asserts that leftists have tied the hands of President Trump to a point where he is no longer free to respond appropriately to a Russian nuclear threat.
On Liberty Nation Radio, Dr. Cohen made a crucial – and mostly unreported – point: The U.S. and Russia have been interfering in each other’s elections for decades.
Tim Donner: How did Russian meddling in the 2016 election differ from interference by the Russians or Soviets in previous American presidential elections?
Dr. Cohen: What was different this time is that social media is new in this interference. Before it was publications. It was radio broadcasts. And nobody really paid much attention to it. It was kind of like jaywalking. I don’t see anything. You know, maybe Mueller will turn up something, but if he would, he would have made it known already, anything other than run of the mill jaywalking. Now, neither side should do it, but it’s habitual now. It’s habitual, and we do do it. Look at the two indictments. One is for lying to the FBI, which is a gotcha crime, right? That’s the way they operate.
Tim: Or process crime, as they call it.
Dr. Cohen: Process crime. Correct. More prevalent are financial misdeeds. That is, people who should have registered as foreign agents for other countries did not, but I would bet you that there’s a thousand political operatives in Washington – Americans who represent foreign governments – who are not registered, though a lot of them ran off and got registered as soon as they saw these indictments. You probably read about that.
Tim: Yes I did.
Dr. Cohen: This is another thing that people have been doing for years. It’s a very lucrative business. What Paul Manafort, who’s going to prison, did … is not file. A lot of cash changes hands. They use foreign accounts. They don’t pay their taxes fully. This is bad, but it’s jaywalking when we’re talking wrongly about some kind of conspiracy between Trump and the Kremlin. So I began writing this book in 2014, as the Ukrainian Crisis began. Then came Trump. Then came Russia-gate. The book covers these astonishing charges, unprecedented in American history, that a sitting American president is an agent of the Kremlin. There’s no evidence for it, but it’s exceedingly dangerous.
Tim: Trump put on something of an embarrassing performance at his summit with Putin in Helsinki, and he seems unwilling to criticize Putin publicly, but the president has also taken many actions that weren’t good for Russia: competing against him for energy contracts in Europe, bombing Syria, condemning them for the poison gas attack in England, expelling Russian diplomats, slapping some sanctions on them. How would you describe the relationship between Trump and Putin, as you perceive it?
Trump seems to want to do it, but he’s being prevented from doing it.
Dr. Cohen: Well, let me start at the end of the story. I was in Moscow two weeks ago, and it was very clear from the people I know, who are not actually in the Kremlin, but very close to the Kremlin as advisor … These are people who actually want a good Russian/American relationship. They’re called Pro Western Russians. It’s fairly clear that the Kremlin, Putin, the inner circle, is about at the point where they’re gonna give up completely on Trump. Why? Well, first of all, Trump has canceled three meetings with Putin. That’s embarrassing. In diplomacy it may be unprecedented.
Why did Trump do that? From the moment Trump announced his candidacy, he said he thought cooperating with Russia is a good thing. Now, we used to call that detente. You know that word. In the 20th Century it meant to introduce cooperation and reduce conflict in our relations with Russia. I always favored that. Though I didn’t favor Trump as a presidential candidate, I favored that part of his program, and he’s pretty much stuck to it. You gotta hand it to him. Why didn’t he go ahead? Why didn’t he do the other things, which even Obama didn’t do, harsh measures towards Russia? I think because he’s got this Russia-gate monkey on his back. I mean, he’s got to show that he’s tough and that he’s not Putin’s puppet, as people call him.
Look what happened. The Ukrainians and the Russians had a naval conflict. Do you remember that a couple weeks ago?
Tim: I do.
Dr. Cohen: Trump used that is a reason not to go and meet Putin in Argentina. They had a two hour meeting scheduled there. But think about it. If you’re in a crisis situation with Russia, that’s when you want to go and talk to the Russian leader. That’s what other American presidents did, but the reverse happened with Trump, because of the politics of Russia-gate. He evidently felt that because of these accusations against him, he could not go see Putin in the aftermath of this conflict, even though logically the conflict is a reason why they should have met. I see Trump as a man who, for whatever reasons, believes that a cooperative relationship with Russia would be good. I mean, Reagan was the great cooperator. He thought he had ended the Cold War. There’s precedent in this.
By the way, it’s associated with Republican presidents. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan were the people who did this detente with Russia. Trump seems to want to do it, but he’s being prevented from doing it. Now, you may say he should be stronger or more skillful. I didn’t vote for Trump. I’m not pro-Trump in that sense. But what do you think it’s like to wake up every morning and read in the papers that you’re a Kremlin agent? I mean, what is it like for his kids, and his family, and his wife? This is really unprecedented. That’s what you’ve got to understand.
Tim: Now, you’re working against the grain in progressive circles, where you’ve spent most of your career, in your work with The Nation. You’re a contributing editor. You’ve written for it for years. I’m curious about the reaction of your progressive friends at the Nation and elsewhere to your criticism of the left’s narrative about Trump/Russia collusion.
Dr. Cohen: Well, I mean, you probably know the answer. They don’t like it. Let me tell you what the bottom line is. I’ve been involved in these disputes about American/Russian relations for 40 years. There was always plenty of space in the media for both sides to have their say, always, in the 70s, the 80s, and on. Today there’s not. The mainstream doesn’t want to hear what we, because I’m not alone, have to say about the dangers of the situation and the alternatives that could be pursued if Trump was supported, at least on the issue of Russia. None of the major mainstream media, the cable channels, the newspapers will put us on or publish our views. That’s different.
Tim: Because you’re not conforming to the conventional view that’s expected of you based on your background.
Dr. Cohen: It’s more conventional than anything I’ve ever seen regarding Russia in my lifetime, this Russia-gate thing. I mean, it’s a belief system. I think it’s a kind of cult.
Tim: So, do you think Putin is sitting back and laughing at this whole Trump/Russia collusion thing, or is he worried about it? What do you think Putin is thinking, as this Special Counsel investigation continues to unfold?Vladimir Putin
Dr. Cohen: Well, that’s a key question. It’s the other hand of the two hands. In the book, War with Russia?, and there’s a question mark on the end, I treat Putin and I don’t see Putin as this demonized. He is a recognizable figure in Russian history who came to power 20 years ago when Russia was in utter ruins, with one mission, to rebuild Russia and regain its sovereignty and security. That remains his overriding goal, his mission. For that he needs cooperation with lots of countries, including the United States, but more and more he’s given up on the United States. He’s turned more and more to China, to India, and to a certain extent even to Europe, but there’s one area in which he cannot turn away from us, because it’s been true all our lifetimes.
It’s the nuclear weapons. With the capacity to destroy each other, neither leader, no matter who’s in the Kremlin or who’s in the White House, can run the risk of an accidental and still less intentional war that could then lead to the use of nuclear weapons. In that sense Putin worries a lot about what’s going on in Washington. He wants to talk to Trump. He wants to enhance Russia’s national security, particularly with the weapons.
The problem is that Putin sits in the Kremlin. Whoever sits in the Kremlin has to be the national security partner of whomever sits in the White House. That’s been the case in history. Today it’s not the case, because of Russia-gate.