From Russia with Donald Trump

flat,550x550,075,f.u7

As of 2018, we don’t know whether the Trump campaign willingly colluded with Russia in its efforts to undermine the 2016 election. But we do know that Russia hacked into DNC emails and spread fake news propaganda on social networks to help Donald Trump. We know the Russians wanted Trump to win and did whatever they could to accomplish that. We know the Trump campaign was at least okay with the Russian hacking and efforts. Hell, one Trump campaign official even drunkenly bragged about the Russians hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails. And we know that several Trumpworld figures have corresponded with Russian hackers, Russian oligarchs, and people with ties to the Russian government. Furthermore, Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speeches, even when he’s every opportunity to criticize the Kremlin dictator. Though collusion hasn’t been proven, what we do know of Trumpworld’s connections with Russia gives us a reasonable case for Robert Mueller to investigate.

On November 9, 2016, just a minutes after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, a man named Vyacheslav Nikonov made a very unusual statement in the Russian State Duma. “Dear friends, respected colleagues!” he said. “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections, and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America, and I congratulate you on this.” Since Nikonov is the leader of the pro-Putin United Russia Party, his announcement that day was a clear signal that Trump’s victory was a victory for Putin’s Russia.

Longtime journalist Craig Unger has attempted to gather all the evidence we have of Donald Trump’s connections to the Russian mafia and government and lay it all out in a clear, comprehensive narrative in his book, House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia. Though the book claims to tell the “untold story,” it’s not entirely unclear of how much is new. Because like a lot of the skeletons in Trump’s gilded closet, one of the hardest things to accept about the Trump-Russia saga is how transparent it is. In fact, so much evidence hides in plain sight, and somehow that’s made it more difficult to accept. In his book, Unger names 59 Russians as Trump business associates and follows the purported financial links between them and the Trump Organization, going back decades. Many of them are quite shady. Although Unger doesn’t provide any evidence that Trump gave Russia anything concrete in return for their help, the case he makes for how much potential leverage the Russians have over Trump is damning. In fact, Unger thinks Russia’s use of Trump constitutes “one of the greatest intelligence operations in history,” as he puts in his book.

As Craig Unger claims. what most Americans don’t understand is that the Russian mafia is different from the American mafia. While American crime syndicates are often targets for FBI investigation, the mafia is essentially a state actor in Russia. When asked about the mafia, former KGB Russian counterintelligence operations Gen. Oleg Kalugin told Unger, “Oh, it’s part of the KGB. It’s part of the Russian government.” In Russia, there’s no Wall Street or anything like Goldman Sachs. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, rich gangsters and government officials were able to privatize and loot state-held assets in coal, oil, minerals, and banking. In Vladmir Putin’s Russia, criminal syndicates have become increasingly intertwined with its intelligence services, blurring the line between mafia dons and spies. In fact, Russia expert Mark Galeotti would agree with Unger since he wrote in his book, The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia that Putin’s Kremlin consolidated power by “not simply taming, but absorbing, the underworld.” Putin didn’t care what these gangsters did as long as they strengthened his power and personal financial interests. Since the 1990s, its estimated that some $1.3 trillion has flowed out of Russia.

1_TPTcHJWkZQdqEhX7szGQwQ

Semion Mogilevich is one of the richest and most influential gangsters in the world. Known as the ultimate Russian mob boss, he may not have any direct connection to Donald Trump. But many of his associates and underlings do.

One of the key mob bosses is the squat Ukranian Semion Mogilevich. In Russia, he’s a big time Russian crime boss with a multibillion empire and a wide range of crimes that will make Al Capone look like an inept convenience store robber. According to the FBI, Mogilevich started out as the key money-laundering contact for the Solntsevskaya Bratva, or Brotherhood, one of the richest criminal syndicates in the world. Craig Unger believed that he could’ve been the CEO of Goldman Sachs if he was born in America. The FBI considers Mogilevich the “boss of bosses” of the Russian mafia who’s even feared by his fellow gangsters as “the most powerful mobster in the world.” He’s run drug trafficking rings at an international scale. He’s used a jewelry business in Moscow and Budapest as a front for art that Russian gangsters stole from museums, churches, and synagogues all over Europe. He’s even been accused of selling $20 million in stolen weapons to Iran. From what the FBI has on him, Mogilevich has laundered money through more than 100 front companies around the world and held bank accounts in at least 27 countries. Mogilevich is famous for designing elaborate financial schemes that are extremely difficult, even possible to detect. Since the planning and setup can take years and involve a wide range of people in various positions of power whose roles/identities are sometimes never discovered. In Russia, his influence reaches all the way to the top. Ex-Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko said in an interview with investigators in 2005, “Mogilevich have good relationship with Putin since 1994 or 1993.” A year later Litvinenko was dead, suspiciously poisoned by Kremlin agents. Many of the Russian mobsters who bought units from Donald Trump have ties to this man.

According to Craig Unger, it probably all began as a money-laundering operation with the Russian mafia. After all, anyone who’s known about Donald Trump for a long time knows that he likes doing business with gangsters. Partly because they pay top dollar and loan money when traditional banks won’t. Essentially, for more than 30 years Trump was working with the Russian mafia. He profited from them. They rescued and bailed him out, taking him from being $4 billion in debt to becoming a multibillionaire again. And they fueled his political ambitions. And since Trump had worked with the Russian mafia, he was in bed with the Kremlin as well, whether he knew it or not.

criminals-flock-to-trump-tower

This is a chart of the Russian-linked and notorious criminals who lived and worked at Trump Tower. Since the place has been the HQ for money laundering operations and more. Helps that during the 1980s, it was the only high-rise to accept anonymous buyers.

To Craig Unger’s knowledge, the very first documented episode he could find was in 1984 when a man named David Bogatin met with Donald Trump in Trump Tower right after it opened since it was the only high-rise in New York City at the time to accept anonymous buyers. Now Bogatin is a Russian mobster, convicted gasoline bootlegger, and close ally of major Russian mob boss and king of money launderers Semion Mogilevich. Anyway, Bogatin came to that meeting prepared to spend $6 million which is equivalent to $15 million today. At that meeting, he bought 5 condos, which the Kremlin later seized on claims they were used to launder money for the Russian mob. We don’t exactly know what was in Trump’s head at the time or what he knew. But Unger has documented 1,300 transactions of this kind with Russian mobsters. These real estate transactions were all cash purchases made by anonymous shell companies that were obviously fronts for criminal money-laundering operations. By the early 2000s, 1/3 of the buyers of Trump Tower’s most expensive condos were either Russia-linked shell companies or individuals from the former Soviet Union. In Florida, about 63 Russian buyers spent at least $98 on Trump properties while another 1/3 of the units were bought by shell companies. Since this represents a large chunk of Trump’s real estate activity in the United States, it’s difficult to argue he had no idea what was going on. Aside from Bogatin, there’s his brother Yakov, who was involved in an elaborate stock fraud with Mogilevich. Two of Trump’s Sunny Isles buyers Anatoly Golubchik and Michael Sall were convicted of taking part in a massive international gambling and money laundering syndicate run out of the New York Trump Tower.

Another Trump buyer was an Uzbek mob-connected diamond dealer named Eduard Nektalov. At the time, Nektalov was under investigation by a Treasury Department task force for mob-connected money laundering. He bought a condo in midtown Manhattan’s Trump World Tower on the 79th floor, directly below Kellyanne Conway. A month later, he sold his unit for $500,000 profit. The next year after rumors circulated of him cooperating with federal investigators, Nektalov was gunned down on Sixth Avenue.

In 1991, Semion Mogilevich paid a Russian judge to spring fellow mob boss Vyachelsav Kirillovich Ivankov, from a Siberian gulag. In Russia, Ivankov was infamous for torturing his victims and boasting about murders he arranged. After his release, Ivankov headed to New York City on an illegal business visa. Once there, he bought a Rolls Royce dealership to use “as a front to launder criminal proceeds.” One of Ivankov’s partners in the operation was Felix Komarov, an upscale art dealer who lived in Trump Plaza on Third Avenue. After receiving a briefcase filled with $1.5 million in cash, over the next 3 years, Ivankov oversaw the mob’s growth from a local extortion racket to a multibillion dollar enterprise. According to the FBI, he recruited 2 “combat brigades” of Special Forces veterans from the Soviet war in Afghanistan to run the mafia’s protection racket and kill his enemies. Feds later found out that Ivankov made frequent visit to Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Russian gangsters routinely laundered huge sums of money. So much that it was repeatedly cited by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for having inadequate money-laundering controls. And in 2015, was fined $10 million and admitted for having “willfully violated” anti-money-laundering regulations for years. The also found that he lived in a luxury condo at Trump Tower. Though despite being Donald Trump’s neighbor, there’s no evidence they knew each other personally. But the fact a top Russian mafia boss lived and worked in Trump’s building shows just how much high-level Russian gangsters saw Trump’s properties as a home away from home.

Then there’s Russian mob leader Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov who ran an entire gambling and money-laundering network out of Unit 63A at Trump Tower (which is 3 floors below Donald Trump’s residence). In fact, Tokhtakhounov was a VIP attendee at Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow just 7 months after the FBI busted his gambling rings and rounded up 29 suspects. The operation, which prosecutors called “the world’s largest sports book,” was run out of Trump Tower condos, including the building’s whole 51st floor. In addition, Unit 63A served as “sophisticated money-laundering scheme” moving an estimated $100 million out of the former Soviet Union, through shell companies in Cyprus, and into investments in the United States. According to the federal indictment, the money launderers paid Tokhtakhounov $10 million. A decade earlier, Tokhtakhounov was indicted for conspiring to fix the ice-skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics and was the only suspect to avoid arrest.

Russian mobsters and oligarchs also had ties to some of Donald Trump’s other properties outside the United States. In November 2017, NBC News reported Trump’s Panama hotel had ties to organized crime. While a Russian state-owned bank under US sanctions helped finance the construction of the 65-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto. And in December 2016, Jared Kushner met with that bank’s CEO. Since this represents a large chunk of Trump’s real estate activity in the United States, it’s difficult to argue he had no idea what was going on.

But how did Donald Trump become a “person of interest” to the Russians over 30 years ago, before his ascent to the presidency was even fathomable? It’s actually not as strange as it seems. First of all, Russians have always wanted to align with certain powerful businessman. Nor was Trump the only guy they targeted. For the Russians have a history going back to the American businessman Armand Hammer during the 1970s-80s who they turned into an asset. In fact, Russia had hundreds of agents and assets in the US. According to Gen. Kalugin, the US was a paradise for spies and they had recruited roughly 300 agents and assets in the country. Trump was one of them.

Nor were Russian operations just limited to money laundering for there was a parallel effort to seduce Donald Trump. Sometime in 1986, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Yuri Dubinin visited Trump in Trump Tower, said that his building was “fabulous,” suggested that he should build one in Moscow, and they arranged for a trip to the Russian capital. According to Gen. Kalugin, this was likely the first step in the process to recruit and compromise Trump, which they probably succeed with flying colors. Since Trump is a sucker for flattery. So we shouldn’t be the least surprised if the Russians have compromising materials on Trump’s Moscow activities. Since they’re very good at acquiring compromising stuff on just about anyone. Not that it would be hard for them.

untitled

Here’s a picture of Donald Trump with Tevfik Artif and Felix Sater. Artif would be busted for running a prostitution ring on his boat in Turkey. While Sater served as an informant while doing his Russia-linked dirty deeds to avoid prison time for racketeering.

Though we don’t have evidence whether such compromising material on Donald Trump’s Moscow activities exists and Craig Unger has tried but couldn’t find any corroboration from several people who assured him it does. But that’s all beside the point. Since Unger believes that the real evidence is already out there in the form of the Bayrock Group, a real estate development company located on Trump Tower’s 24th floor. The founder was a Kazakh man named Tevfik Arif while the managing director was Felix Sater. In 2005, Bayrock proceeded to partner with Trump and helped him develop a new business model he desperately needed. Because Trump was $4 billion in debt after his Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt that he couldn’t get a bank loan from anywhere in the West. Bayrock came in with a new business model that says, “You don’t have to raise any money. You don’t have to do any of the real estate development. We just want to franchise your name, we’ll give you 18 to 25 percent royalties, and we’ll effectively do all the work. And if the Trump Organization gets involved in the management of these buildings, they’ll get extra fees for that.” Apparently, Trump found the idea fabulously lucrative. Meanwhile, the Bayrock associates (particularly Sater) operated out of Trump Tower as well as constantly flew back and forth to Russia. In his book, Unger detailed several channels through which various people at Bayrock have close ties to the Kremlin. While he talked about Sater’s trips to Moscow even as late as 2016, hoping to build Trump Tower there.

Yet, Bayrock and its deals became quickly mired in controversy. First, Forbes and other publications reported that the company was financed by a notoriously corrupt group known as the Trio. In 2010, Turkish prosecutors arrested Tevfik Arif on charges of setting up a prostitution ring after found aboard his boat with 9 young women, 2 of whom were 16 years old. He was later acquitted since the women refused to talk. That same year, 2 former Bayrock executives filed a lawsuit alleging Artif started a firm “backed by oligarchs and money they stole from the Russian people.” In addition, the suit alleged Bayrock “was substantially and covertly mob-owned and operated.” According to them, the company’s real purpose was to develop expensive properties bearing the Trump brand and use the projects to launder money and evade taxes. Though the suit doesn’t claim that Donald Trump was complicit in the scam, The Financial Times found that Trump SoHo had “multiple ties to an alleged international money-laundering network.” In one case, a former Kazakh energy minister is being sued in federal court for conspiring to “systematically loot hundreds of millions of dollars of public assets” before purchasing three condos in Trump SoHo to launder his “ill-gotten funds.”

bloomberg-trump-associate-felix-sater-allegedly-swindled-holocaust-survivors

Donald Trump has often denied his association with Felix Sater. Yet, in reality, the two have been quite close as this business card shows.

During his collaboration with Bayrock, Donald Trump became close to the man who ran the firm’s daily operations, Felix Sater. Sater had numerous ties to Russian oligarchs and Russian intelligence. His father was a boss for Semion Mogilevich who was convicted for extorting local restaurants, grocery stores, and a medical clinic. Sater tried making it as a stockbroker. But his career came to an end in 1991 when he stabbed a Wall Street foe in the face with a broken margarita glass during a bar fight, opening wounds requiring 110 stitches. He then lost his trading license over the attack and served a year in prison. In 1998, Sater pleaded guilty to racketeering on grounds of operating a “pump and dump” stock fraud partnership with alleged Russian mobsters that bilked investors of at least $40 million. To avoid prison time, Sater turned informer. But according to documents from the lawsuit against Bayrock, he also resumed “his old tricks.” By 2003, the suit alleges, Sater controlled the majority of Bayrock shares and proceeded to use the firm to launder hundreds of millions of dollars while skimming and extorting millions more. In addition, the suit claimed that Sater committed fraud by concealing his racketeering and that he threatened “to kill anyone at the firm he thought knew of the crimes committed there and might report it.”

By Felix Sater’s account in sworn testimony, he was very tight with Donald Trump. He flew to Colorado with him. He accompanied Donald Jr. And Ivanka on a trip to Moscow at Trump’s invitation. And he met with Trump’s inner circle “constantly.” In Trump Tower, he often dropped by Trump’s office to pitch business ideas. Trump and his lawyers claim he wasn’t aware of Sater’s checkered past when he signed on to do business with Bayrock. This is plausible since Sater’s plea deal in the stock fraud was kept secred due to his role as an informant. But even after The New York Times revealed Sater’s criminal record in 2007, Sater kept using office space provided by the Trump Organization. In 2010, he received a Trump Organization business card reading: FELIX H. SATER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP. As of 2017, Sater apparently remains close to Trump’s inner circle. One week before National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was fired for failing to report meetings with Russian officials, Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen hand-delivered a “back channel plan” for lifting sanctions on Russia to Flynn’s office. According to the Times, the co-author was Felix Sater.

Nonetheless, like many of Donald Trump’s business projects, his deals with Bayrock didn’t bear fruit. International projects in Russia and Poland never materialized. A Trump Tower being built in Ft. Lauderdale ran out of money before completion, leaving behind a massive concrete shell. Trump SoHo was ultimately foreclosed and resold. But Trump’s Russian investors left him with a high-profile property he could leverage since he and Ivanka are still listed as managers. And it’s said he made $3 million from it in 2015.

But is there any evidence that Donald Trump actively sought out Russian money by making clear that his businesses could be used to hide ill-gotten gains? According to Craig Unger, it’s difficult to say. Because he’s not sure if Trump had to. From how the Russian mob transactions took place, Trump didn’t have to say anything. After all, the Trump Organization was desperate for money and knew the caliber of people they were dealing with. So they were either okay with this or deliberately chose not to do their due diligence. Other real estate developers may do this as well, but they usually don’t become president of the United States.

Donald Trump seems much more motivated by money than political ideology. But was his drift into politics in any way influenced by his financial entanglements? There’s no clear answer. Yet, Craig Unger told Vox one weird anecdote about Trump’s first wife, Ivana, whom he married in 1977. Apparently, Czech secret police had started following her and her family in the late 1980s and one of their files said that Trump was being pressured to run for president. But what does that mean? Who was pressuring him and why? How were they applying the pressure? And did it have anything to do with potentially compromising materials the Russians had on Trump during his 1987 trip to Moscow? What we do know is that when Trump returned from his first Moscow trip, he took out full-page ads in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Boston Globe which pushed anti-European and anti-NATO views that were aligned with the Soviet plan to destroy the Western alliance. Whether he always believed such things or not, it’s worth noting.

Now Craig Unger didn’t go to Russia for obvious reasons given how Vladimir Putin tends to murder critical reporters. But most of what he found out came from public sources, which is stunning. One of his sources tipped him off on the high-ranking Russian mob boss Semion Mogilevich, whom he had never heard of before. He’s even been accused of selling $20 million in stolen weapons to Iran. Anyway, that led Unger to an online database revealing home ownership in the state of New York, along with purchases and sales. So he went to the Trump properties. Every time Unger found a Russian name, he’d research it. He’d take their name and Mogilevich in Google and as he told Vox, “it was like hitting the jackpot on a slot machine, time after time after time.” Among the Russians Unger found on the Trump property listings, there were countless people either indicted on money laundering or gunned down on Sixth Avenue. He also found a huge percentage with criminal histories, which sort of got him started. He also had a research assistant who spoke Russian and helped him break the language barrier for him.

But does Craig Unger’s book about Donald Trump and Russia offer anything new? Well, the insights Unger gained from Gen. Kalugin were completely new. Yet, most of what he did was compile what was out there but haven’t been pieced together. For instance, he found a lot of the Russian-connected stories published in the crime pages of the New York Post and the New York Daily News. These were just straight-up crime stories you’d see in a tabloid. After all, Americans don’t think crime stories involving the Russian mob would have any geopolitical implications or forces behind it. Nevertheless, many of these seemingly random Russian crime stories appearing in the tabloids again and again was connected to a much larger operation ensnaring Trump and the people around him.

Still, even if Donald Trump has no idea how many deals he and his businesses made with Russian investors, he certainly didn’t “stay away” from Russia. After all, he and his organization have aggressively promoted his business there for decades, seeking to entice investors and buyers for some of his most high-profile developments. Whether he knew it or not, Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling, and racketeering, but even as a base for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, Trump wouldn’t be president of the United States.

However, if Donald Trump is a Russian asset, he’s not the only one targeted. During the 1980s and 1990s, the US government saw a pattern by which criminals used condos to launder money. As former Clinton official Jonathan Winer told The New Republic, “It didn’t matter that you paid too much, because the real estate values would rise, and it was a way of turning dirty money into clean money. It was done very systematically, and it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold but no one is living in them.” One of the things Craig Unger’s book shows is that there’s a new kind of global war going on in which the weapons are information, data, social media, and financial institutions. The Russian mafia is only one weapon in this global conflict and the Russians have been smartly fighting it since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russians start businesses and front companies and commodities firms appearing legitimate but essentially work to advance the Russian state’s interests. Many of today’s Russian oligarchs seek to portray themselves as unremarkable businessmen, preferring that their life-and-death struggles for riches in the 1990s fade into history. Yet, as their influence in the west grows, it becomes more important to understand any links to the authoritarians and kleptocrats back home. The Russians are very good at getting people financially entangled and then using that leverage to get what they want. This appears what the Russians have done with Trump and now he’s president. As former top official Elsie Bean told The Financial Times, “Russia has long been associated with dirty money. Anyone getting substantial funds originating in the former Soviet Union should have known that the funds were high risk and required a careful due diligence review to ensure the money was clean.”

Nonetheless, the most troubling part of all this is that the Russians simply exploited our own corrupt system. The studied our pay-to-play culture, found its weak spots, and very carefully manipulated it. As long as our culture remains unchanged, we should expect this kind of exploitation. Sometimes the worst part about a scandal is what’s legal. The Russians studied our campaign system and campaign finance law and masterfully exploited it. They’ve used pharmaceutical companies, energy companies, and financial institutions to pour money into politics. And we really have no idea the extent of their influence. Vladimir Putin may be right in his insistence that American democracy is also corrupt while he’s showing us exactly how screwed up it is. Donald Trump is just the most glaring example. But there are others, most of who we don’t know anything about.

Whether you believe Donald Trump is owned by the Russian mob or not, Craig Unger presents a compelling case in his book. Though some of his statements in issues might read like conspiracy theories, but so much of it makes a lot of sense. Besides, Unger isn’t the only guy who thinks the Russian mafia owns Trump. Nor Trump is the only prominent figure with shady Russian ties as you can see within his administration. Nor is the Trump Organization the only entity. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen had an uncle who owned a Brooklyn catering hall called El Caribe, which “for decades was the scene of mob weddings and Christmas parties,” and housed offices of “two of New York’s most notorious Russian mobsters.” Then there’s the matter with the NRA receiving money from 23 Russian donors during the 2016 campaign. Not to mention, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher was considered “Putin’s favorite congressman” long before Trump ran for president and was instrumental in killing some critical anti-Russian legislation. Thankfully, he’s lost to a Democrat this year. We may not know whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia or the full extent of the Trump-Russian relationship. But as with many aspects of Trump’s business practices, what we know is damning. There is no doubt that Trump has taken Russian money. And when Trump receives millions of dollars from someone, he’s more likely to be beholden to them. But that doesn’t mean Trump is loyal to them, because he’s just as likely to drop his Russian backers once they prove no longer useful. Since Trump’s true loyalty is only to himself. So we must be concerned.

Advertisements

A Disgrace to the Nation, a Disgrace to the Presidency

I have not been shy about my fierce antagonism to Donald Trump. But his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin culminated in a show stopping trainwreck that should’ve shocked nobody but generated bipartisan outrage across the United States. On Monday, July 16, 2018, Trump held a friendly rendezvous with Putin who sabotaged an American election on his behalf. And he has been rewarded by seeing an American foreign policy turn in a pro-Russian direction.

When Donald Trump issued a plea on a podium in Doral, Florida on July 27, 2016, he stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” We all know he was referring to the emails Hillary Clinton had deleted as irrelevant to her work as Secretary of State. But for those who don’t understand, Trump was publicly asking for Russian agents to break into her computer systems, steal documents she had erased, and release them to the public. And according to recently released indictments Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed a few days before, that same day, for the first time, Russian hackers attempted to hack into, “email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” They also, “targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.” Now Russia’s campaign to interfere in the election had been an ongoing campaign as early as March that year. What Trump’s request seems to have done was focus efforts on Clinton’s inbox. There are plenty of plausible explanations of wat happened here. Maybe the Russians heard Trump’s call and heeded it. Perhaps Trump’s invitation was attached to a private plea to Russian contacts like one sent by either Paul Manafort or Roger Stone. It’s possible the whole thing was just coincidental. But we should resist the tendency to speculate since it’ll just distract us from what we do know. And it’s damning.

Nonetheless, it should be glaringly apparent that Vladimir Putin is not our friend. He does not share our values nor does he care for democracy. In fact, he rules Russia as a kleptocratic dictator with a repressive iron fist. For God’s sake, the guy had his critics and political opponents murdered, including journalists and ex-spies like Alexander Litvanenko in Great Britain. It’s obvious that Russia couldn’t have meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign by hacking into the DCCC, DNC, and Hillary Clinton’s team without his orders. And we know they orchestrated this massive information theft on the Dems and used it to help Donald Trump win. Not to mention, Russia’s efforts to help Trump win included social media campaigns to inflame racial divisions on his behalf with armies of bots meant to elevate stories boosting him and hurting Clinton along with efforts to compromise state voting machines. None of this is in doubt.

Even before Donald Trump decided to run for president, the Russian ties were there. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said of the Trump Organization, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” And in 2014, Eric Trump added, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” From 2003-2017, “buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City.” Trump’s onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort had ties to the Kremlin and was deeply in debt to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, closely connected to Vladimir Putin. And he was keeping in touch with this guy’s team during the election as well as asked of his powerful position in the Trump campaign, “How do we use [it] to get whole?”

Yet, we also know that Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin even at considerable political cost after asking Russia to hack into Clinton’s emails, which it did. We know that Trump associates like Roger Stone seem to have advanced warning of the hacked emails’ release. We know that the willingness to cooperate with the Russians wasn’t one of Trump’s idiosyncratic musings. It was suffused in the Trump campaign’s top ranks since members of his inner circle like Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort eagerly accepted a meeting with Russian operatives promising Hillary Clinton dirt. And that Trump dictated the statement lying about the infamous Trump Tower meeting’s purpose. Additionally, we know the Trump campaign interfered in the Republican National Committee’s platform drafting to softening the language on Russia and Ukraine. We know that Jared Kushner sought a secret communications channel with the Russians so the US government couldn’t hear their negotiations.

The Russia strokefest even carry on to Donald Trump’s presidency for there has never been a single issue haunting his administration as long or as much as his Russian ties. Since his election, he’s bucked his party, his administration, and decades of foreign policy in attempts to shield Russia from sanctions for electoral interference, pull American support back from NATO and the European Union, and forge a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin. Then there’s Trump’s own testimony about firing FBI Director James Comey to end his investigation into Russia’s role into the 2016 election. In addition, he wanted to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for failing to protect him from the investigation. An it’s no wonder the Trump administration has moved from arguing that Trump didn’t obstruct justice to arguing that by definition, the president can’t obstruct justice. All of this leads to Trump insisting on the Helsinki meeting with Putin over his staff’s objections and despite the absence of any clear agenda.

Indeed, Donald Trump addressed the election hacking during his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. “I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said. Well, you think? Because of course he’d deny that he’d have anything to do with election hacking despite all evidence to the contrary. Trump then added, “And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.” Uh, no it’s not. If anything, that’s like having Al Capone offering to help the cops with the investigation over the guys involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. You know that things won’t turn well. If anything, Putin isn’t interested with working with the Mueller investigation. More likely he’d offer to help with respect to draw people from the Mueller team into Russia to kill them.

Donald Trump then attacked US intelligence services and again mused how much better it might’ve been if Russia cracked into Hillary Clinton’s server and gotten her documents. “What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails?” he demanded as if anyone cared about her emails 2 years after the 2016 election. “33,000 emails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.” Even his allies were dumbstruck, with former Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher tweeting: “I continue to believe there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But when Trump so easily and naively accepts Putin’s line about not being involved, I can understand why Ds think Putin must have the goods on him.” Asked if Russia had compromising material on Trump, Putin replied, “it’s difficult to imagine utter nonsense on a bigger scale than this. Please disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.” Though you can imagine him privately laughing maniacally with fellow Russian officials. When asked about whether he holds Russia accountable for their actions contributing to the deterioration in the US-Russia relationship, he replied in an answer reeking of treason:

“Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time, frankly, before I got to office. I think we’re all to blame. I think that the United States now has stepped forward along with Russia. We’re getting together and we have a chance to do some great things, whether it’s nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping, we have to do it — ultimately, that’s probably the most important thing that we can be working on.

“I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know, virtually, none of it related to the campaign. They will have to try really hard to find something that did relate to the campaign.

“That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily and, frankly, we beat her. And I’m not even saying from the standpoint — we won that race. It’s a shame there could be a cloud over it. People know that. People understand it. The main thing — and we discussed this also — is zero collusion. It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”
He’s basically saying that the US is no better than Russia. And that he won a clean campaign so all what the Mueller probe is doing is hurting our relationship with Russia.

Despite that 12 Russian agents hacked into Democratic emails on Putin’s orders and for Trump’s benefit. And the Trump team was eager to let it all happen. Later, when asked specifically about Russia-backed hackers stealing Americans’ private correspondence, Donald Trump replied: “My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, and said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties.” Uh, Coats and his team didn’t think it’s Russia. They said it was Russia. But anyways, as president of the United States, Trump stated that he has equal confidence in Vladimir Putin and the American intelligence community the same way he believes that both the white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Such remarks are politically baffling since such remarks only undermine his position. The simplest explanation for why a president who happily outsources his domestic policy to Paul Ryan and his judicial nominations to the Federalist Society insists on freelancing around Russia is that there’s a genuine meeting of minds between Trump and Putin on a wide range of issues.

Take the matter of the natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 Germany plans to build which Russia hawks in the US and Europe have long been concerned about. Such pipeline would give Russian fossil fuels more access to the European market. Donald Trump often likes to criticize Germany but rarely likes to bash Russia. But somehow, he surprised many observers by criticizing this pipeline at the NATO Conference in Brussels. On the surface, it appears that Trump had tried to ingratiate his passion for making trouble with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with something resembling routine American foreign policy. But the Helsinki summit quickly dashed those hopes. Asked by a Russian journalist about the pipeline and how he’d characterize the US-Russia relationship, Trump made it clear his pipeline concern isn’t that it would give Russia undue political leverage over Germany, but simply that would be bad for fossil fuel interests:

“I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is. I think the word competitor is a compliment. I think that we will be competing when you talk about the pipeline. I’m not sure necessarily that it’s in the best interests of Germany or not. That was a decision that they made. We will be competing. As you know, the United States is now, or soon will be, but I think it is right now the largest in the oil and gas world. So we’re going to be selling LNG. We’ll have to be competing with the pipeline. I think we will compete successfully. Although there is a little advantage locationally. I wish them luck.

“I discussed with Angela Merkel in pretty strong tones. But I also know where they’re coming from. They have a very close source. We will see how that all works out. But we have lots of sources now. The United States is much different than it was a number of years ago when we weren’t able to extract what we can extract today. So today, we’re number one in the world at that. I think we will be out there competing very strongly. Thank you very much.”

Essentially, Donald Trump’s view on the relationship with NATO to Nord Stream 2 make absolutely no sense. But it’s consistent with his overall worldview. While a normal US leader may worry that Russo-German energy ties might undermine Germany’s ability to lead an independent Europe at a political level, Trump’s objection is backward. He doesn’t think it’s worth America’s while to contribute to Europe’s defense through NATO if Europe turns around and buys Russian gas. He defines Russia as a “competitor” to the United States exclusively in the commercial sphere rather than a geopolitical one. That’s why he called the EU a “foe” in much stronger terms in regards to competition levels in export markets. If you view world affairs through a mercantile like Trump does, then America’s closest allies who are mostly rich democracies are our biggest enemies and deterring Russian expansionism is a waste of cash. Nonetheless, it’s time to accept that this is what Trump really thinks and that’s how he’s governing accordingly.

In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait published a speculative idea that Donald Trump had been a compromised Russian agent since the 1980s, which though chilling borders more on conspiracy theory than anything else. It’s more likely that Trump is more concerned on how the Russian election meddling for his behalf may render his electoral victory illegitimate. Though he doesn’t care much about how to win since he’s employed dubious means in the past. In fact, he’s more worried about getting caught. Nevertheless, like much of the debate, Chait’s piece reflects the view we’re still largely in the dark about the Trump Organization’s true nature of its relationship with Russia. Except we’re not. In fact, we know a vast amount about Trump’s Russia connections, Russia’s role in the 2016 election, the Trump Organization’s efforts to conceal Russian contacts, Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation into the matter, and about his treatment of Russia, Putin, and NATO since his election. As former NSA official and executive editor of Lawfare Susan Hennessy told Vox, “Every single time we’ve heard of that the Russians reached out to offer something — dirt on Hillary Clinton, access to another trove of emails, secret meetings, back channels — the common theme of every single individual in Trump’s orbit was, ‘Yes. Help us out.’ That is the really astounding picture that has emerged.”

While there is much left to find out, learning the truth is important for its own sake. Yet, the obsessive focus on what we still don’t know reflects a hope among Donald Trump’s opponents that Mueller will find something, reveal something, or bait Trump into doing something that will trigger consequences of some kind. However, there’s nothing so automatic in the system. And there’s no reason to believe further revelations would call forth that kind of response. At this point, the big issue isn’t what we don’t know. It’s what to do with what we do know.

Thanks to politics, the 2018 and 2020 elections can’t and won’t act as a clear way for accountability on Donald Trump and Russia. From issues such as Supreme Court justices, tax policy, Obamacare’s future, civil rights, workers’ rights, and environmental regulations, there is too much at stake at any given election these days and there are too few choices available for voters for them to answer a problem as complex and unusual as this one. This is especially true since Republicans control both houses of Congress and many in the House have went out of his way to protect him. Because they know their future is tied to Trump’s survival. Anything that weakens his administration weakens their 2018 reelection prospects, their ability to fill judgeships, and their ability to pass tax cuts. Thus, their political lives depend on Trump’s political strength.

It’s hard to remember now that Donald Trump entered the White House with an unexpectedly low level of support from his own party. Vulnerable Republican senators and House members refused to admit voting for him while Speaker Paul Ryan stated he’d no longer defend him. As a candidate, Trump was personally hostile to a number of established GOP figures like US Senator Ted Cruz and expressed heterodox views on a wide range of policy issues. Theoretically, it could’ve led to an unusual dynamic where congressional Republicans subjected Trump to an uncommonly stringent level of oversight for a same-party president, and Trump engaged in an uncommonly high level of policymaking cutting across established party lines. In practice, Trump and the GOP reached a Faustian compromise. Republicans would give no restraint whatsoever on Trump’s personal corruption or financial conflicts of interests. While Trump won’t attempt to pursue heterodox agendas on infrastructure, healthcare, anti-trust, etc. that he promised on the campaign trail, which was easy enough since he made them to give socially conservative white working-class voters no incentive to vote with their economic interests. And he doesn’t care much about those supporters anyway and had no plans on fulfilling what he promised them. The deal has worked well on domestic issues, culminating in the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

But it’s begun falling apart on foreign affairs after a successful 2017. Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and others with conventional conservative Republican views hold key advisor jobs in the Trump administration. However, Trump had no interest taking their advice since he thinks that advice is wrong. And now he’s acting to unravel America’s global trading relationships, doing what he can to undermine NATO and the EU, trying to find excuses to get out of defense obligations to South Korea, and otherwise implement a mercantilist vision he’s articulated over and over again. Thus, it’s time for congressional Republicans to stop issuing gutless statements denouncing him and start taking this seriously as his policy agenda. But since Republicans place a higher value on party unity than the foreign policy issues they claim to stand for, they will do whatever they can to stay in Trump’s good graces and avoid angering his base before the upcoming midterm elections. Because they don’t want to jeopardize their legislative agenda, they’ll let their Snowflake King take a sledge hammer on decades of US foreign policy on Russia and other issues. At the same time, the mainstream GOP tries desperately to at least pretend they can be anti-Putin and pro-Trump. However, the Trump-Putin presser makes it clear that it’s impossible.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats don’t have the power to do anything right now and are more focused taking back Congress back in 2018. But even if they do win the election, their priority will be retaking the presidency in 2020. So they’ll more likely focus on healthcare and Social Security, not Russia and the 2016 campaign. Thus, it’s best we don’t expect impeachment down the line in the foreseeable future. Since while the Democrats can successfully impeach him and remove him from office quite easily once they’re in power, that might mean President Mike Pence. And no one in the Democratic Party wants that.

As for the rest of the legal system, well, there’s nothing necessarily illegal about Donald Trump publicly asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. Just as there’s nothing illegal about him pursuing a stunningly pro-Putin foreign policy after receiving Russia’s aid. The actual hacking was illegal, no doubt. But who’s going to hold Russia accountable for that? It won’t be the Trump administration who asked for and benefitted from their help. For when asked by a Reuters journalist “Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular” that has contributed to the decline in the US-Russia bilateral relationship, Trump delivered the defining answer of his foreign policy that he doesn’t. Nor did he object to Vladimir Putin’s oppression, Russia’s 2008 effort to dismember the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Russia-backed forces shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 and killing hundreds of civilians, Russia’s invasion of Crimea, its subsequent invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Russia’s apparent use of a deadly nerve agent in the UK, or of course, the computer hacking associated with the 2016 election.

Though Mueller’s indictments were announced just before the infamous Trump and Putin summit, it first led to talk of whether Trump might cancel it meeting (which he didn’t) and then speculation over whether and how he’d confront Putin over Russia’s actions. But everyone knows that Trump’s actual response to Russia’s intervention on his behalf has always been of gratitude and solicitousness. So what other response is there to a world power doing exactly what you asked of them in a time of political need?

Nevertheless, after a massive bipartisan condemnation of Donald Trump’s disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki where he questioned Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump held a surprise press conference the next day to walk back on his comments. Sitting at a table with members of Congress, he read clearly prepared statement asserting he had “accepted” US intelligence’s findings that Russia was behind cyberattacks leading up to the 2016 election. He claimed he had misspoken about the press conference when he questioned the idea of Russian interference which might be plausible in theory. But take his statement in the context of what Trump actually said, it makes no sense. And it’s very clear he’s still expressing skepticism about Russia’s guilt as he states:

“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others; they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. … I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people [Russian agents indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for election interference]. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

What he’s saying is that there’s a conflict between US intelligence and Russia claims, that he’s not sure who’s right, and that he’d appreciate Russian intelligence’s help in clearing up what happened. Despite the fact that the 12 newly indicted Russians were intelligence agents so we’re in no position to trust Russian intelligence on such matters whatsoever. What’s more he still reiterated his skepticism when he said, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” following it up with, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” He still doesn’t believe Russia is involved and he’s trying to convinced us that he didn’t mean what he said. Let’s not kid ourselves that Trump’s trying to gaslight the entire world and assert something he didn’t by sheer force of confidence. He’s brazenly lying to us and we shouldn’t let him get away with it. Russia meddled with the 2016 presidential campaign of which can there be no doubt. We shouldn’t believe otherwise.

Yes, Virginia, There Was a Manchurian Candidate and Now He’s President

While Donald Trump was out of the country acting like a complete disgrace toward our closest ally, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment against 12 Russian officers for crimes related to hacking and publicly releasing the Democrats’ emails as part of an effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign. As long suspected, Mueller alleges it was Russian intelligence officers behind the high-profile hackings of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and various Hillary Clinton campaign staff emails, including those of her campaign manager John Podesta. Many of these were posted by 3 separate entities. Two of those, “Guccifer 2.0” and “the DCL Leaks website” were created and controlled by GRU officers from Russia’s intelligence agency. The third, Wikileaks, got the stolen DNC emails from these officials (and eventually, the Podesta emails), but referred as “Organization 1” it’s not yet charged with anything.

The indictment presents significant technical evidence on precisely how these Russians pulled off the hack, including electronic communications and transfers of information between the various figures involved. However, there’s no allegation that any Americans or any Trump campaign member were criminally or knowingly involved in the hackings or leaks. Or at least not yet. But nonetheless, this new slew of indictments brings the entire total in the Mueller probe to 32 individuals and 3 companies.

The new indictments released on Friday, July 13, 2018, provide concrete evidence that the release of the hacked DNC emails was timed for maximum political impact. And they suggest Russian intelligence agents and Wikileaks planned to engineer discord between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. According to the latest Mueller statement, a conversation between Russian intelligence and Wikileaks on July 6, 2016 had the latter correspond with GRU officers with “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” After the Russians responded with, “ok … i see,” Wikileaks explained their motives for wanting information that would reveal tension between the Sanders and Hillary camps. They replied with, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.” Of course, tensions between Sanders and Clinton existed long before the hacked emails were released since it was why the DNC was such a splash. But Russia and Wikileaks knew that releasing the information at the opportune time would have ripple effects. The Democratic National Convention was meant to be a coming together moment to focus on defeating Donald Trump and the Republicans after a long and bitter primary between Clinton and Sanders. In fact, Sanders actively encouraged his fans to vote for Clinton in his convention speech. Yet, with the leaked emails as backdrop, he was booed at every turn and some Berniecrats didn’t heed his call to vote at all in 2016. Though there is a lot of speculation about how the trove of leaked DNC documents spurred discord between the two groups, the indictments suggest that this is exactly what the Russians wanted.

Mueller’s indictments also detailed a Russian hack into a state board of elections website (believed to be Illinois) in July 2016. According to him, Kremlin-linked hackers, “stole information related to approximately 500,000 voters, including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.” In addition, Russian spies penetrated a US vender that supplied voter-registration verification software and, in November 2016, sent over 1,000 spearfishing emails to “organizations and personnel involved in administering elections in numerous Florida counties.” They even visited election websites in Georgia, Florida, and Iowa in an attempt to find vulnerabilities. The incursions into the US voting infrastructure have been widely reported. But Mueller’s indictment present clear evidence that Russian intelligence probed into the systems. Though there’s no proof that these hacks altered the vote count or election outcome. Yet, Russia wasn’t poking around for kicks since spies were likely gathering information and searching out vulnerabilities.

But these 12 new indictments of Russian intelligence officers are a powerful reminder of the 2 hard core truths of the Trump-Russia story that often go missing amid the political controversy and amateur detective work. First, whether the anyone in Trump campaign was knowingly involved or not, real crimes were committed in 2016 with real victims. Second, since announcing his candidacy for the presidency in 2015, Donald Trump has gone out of his way to shield those who committed these crimes from exposure or accountability. But whether that’s because his campaign colluded with Russia or that he merely benefited from these crimes remains to be seen. Yet, these points are worth dwelling over because they cut against 2 commonplace narratives about the case. One renders the entire issue as a question of mystery and spycraft, leading ultimately to things like Jonathan Chait’s maximalist speculation that perhaps Trump had been a KGB asset since the 1980s or anything comparable to the stuff of Cold War fiction like The Manchurian Candidate. The other renders it as a narrowly political question where passionate Hillary Clinton fans should feel robbed of an election win. Though her critics across the political spectrum can smugly feel self-assured there were other reasons she lost.

Obviously, illegal hacking and invasion of privacy is a bad thing on its own terms regardless of election outcome. When Russian hackers pilfered John Podesta’s Gmail inbox, they didn’t exclusively obtain material highly relevant to Hillary Clinton’s career and political prospects. In fact, the vast majority was simply the personal correspondence of a man involved with Democratic Party politics. Wikileaks then laundered through his emails to disguise their origins and posted their entirety online with no regard to privacy or newsworthiness. The contents include a risotto recipe, an email birth announcement by a friend, a performance evaluation on a previous job, and hundreds upon hundreds of examples that had nothing to do with Clinton or American politics. But once the emails were out, there were few visible alternatives but to cover them. It’s understandable why Republicans chose to opportunistically take advantage of the crimes by gleefully citing them as a damning indictment on Clinton. However, fundamentally, all Americans using email have a genuine interest not seeing this form of privacy invasion not to become a routine aspect in our lives. It’s illegal for a reason, and it would be good for people committing this kind of crime to be caught and punished.

But Donald Trump has consistently acted to prevent any form of accountability. In fact, during the 2016 campaign, he publicly lauded the criminals on TV. Of course, he shouldn’t have done this since it was in poor form. But the fact he did this probably deserved to be a bigger point of emphasis in the coverage at the time. Yet, what’s really remarkable is that Trump has kept operating as a kind of de facto accessory after the fact of the crimes. He’s repeatedly denied the existence of a Russian hacking campaign by over and over again suggesting that Mueller and the federal investigators looking into the crime are nothing but a partisan political ploy. However, at best, it’s Trump rather than Mueller who’s exclusively viewing the whole thing through a partisan lens. But a less generous interpretation of Trump can be that he’s deliberately trying to stymie the investigation because he’s aware that he’s personally guilty of serious crimes. And he fears a thorough investigation will expose them.

Even if that’s not the case and Donald Trump is merely reacting to the partisan interest in the Trump-Russia investigation with his own partisan antics, the misconduct involved is serious. A president has obligations to the country and to its citizens, including those who didn’t vote for him. Donald Trump’s inability to even feign anger or outrage at the real crimes committed against real American citizens is remarkably relative to the context of what’s ordinarily considered acceptable presidential behavior. That it seems banal from Trump itself is perhaps not surprising given how flagrantly and consistently he reminds us that he doesn’t care about anyone outside his narrow circle of support. Yet, that’s merely a measure of how far we’ve fallen as a society in the Trump era. But it’s not a real reason to ignore it.

Still, you have to wonder about Donald Trump’s conduct over the whole Russia investigation. On July 27, 2016, in front of TV cameras in front of the whole world, he said he hoped Russia would, “find the 30,000 emails that are missing … I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Apparently, Russian intelligence officers were happy to oblige since they launched a new attack to hack and publicly Democratic emails, according to Mueller’s latest indictments. To be clear, the DNC emails had been hacked and leaked by then while Podesta’s inbox was already compromised. In fact, the Russian email phishing expeditions against the Democrats were well underway by March 2016 when the Podesta emails were infiltrated. In May, George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragged about Russians having dirt on Hillary Clinton to an Australian diplomat. The infamous Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort took place in June. Thus, Trump’s comments can’t be claimed as the start of Russia’s digital attacks against American political parties and figures. But the timing is nevertheless uncanny. Because the same day he called for Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails, the hackers went after Clinton’s personal email within hours. As the indictment states:

“The conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton campaign through the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.”

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s brazen comment urging a foreign power to hack his opponent has always been difficult to decipher. Was it a typical Trump bluster, at a time when hacked emails and Clinton’s email server were huge news stories? Or was there something more sinister going on. The new Mueller indictment doesn’t answer that. But it sure looks like when Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails, Russia heard him.

In addition, the White House’s reaction to Mueller’s new indictments included zero condemnation of Russia for interfering in a US presidential election. But instead focused on bolstering Donald Trump’s longtime assertions that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia and that interference didn’t change the 2016 election’s outcome. Apparently, calling out Russia for launching a malicious attack against American democracy wasn’t a Trump White House priority. Since it was a glaring omission people noticed immediately as one guy tweeted: “The White House statement on today’s indictment includes no condemnation of Russia. It also refers to “alleged hacking.” The fact that hacking happened is not an allegation.” Except that Russia intelligence was behind the high-profile DNC and DCCC hacking breaches during the 2016 campaign. And while the indictment doesn’t allege any American or Trump campaign involvement yet (at least knowingly), it seems that was the message the White House wanted us to take away.

Despite that the new indictments don’t prove that the Trump campaign was entirely innocent either. In fact, far from it. During the 2016 campaign, it was apparent enough that Donald Trump was unusually friendly to Russia and that the Russian interventions seemed aimed at trying to help his electoral chances at Hillary Clinton’s expense. After the election, more and more attention became devoted whether any Trump’s associates and Putin’s government coordinated to intervene in the campaign in some way. Though there’s no smoking gun yet, it’s not mere idle speculation either. As of July 2018, there are at least 6 instances in which Trump associates tried to get Russian dirt communicated with hacking and leaking figures. The FBI investigation kicked off when George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragged to an Australian diplomat about getting Russian dirt against Hillary Clinton. Then there’s the infamous Trump Tower meeting that June involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort meeting with Russians to discuss “adoption” through Next, we have Cambridge Analytica, Roger Stone, and Donald Trump Jr.’s contacts with Wikileaks. In addition, Roger Stone corresponded with Guccifer 2.0 while remaining in Trump’s orbit as an impromptu adviser. Last, there’s the matter of Republican operative Peter Smith trying to find the missing Hillary Clinton emails who claimed he was in contact with Michael Flynn and other Trump staff.

Nonetheless, the 12 new indictments of Russian intelligence officers come at a very bad time for Donald Trump who’s supposed to meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin within three days at the time. It’s more likely Mueller announced the indictments on July 13 because that’s when they were ready since they reflect months and months of work by him and his team. While the Putin meeting only materialized just weeks ago. According to Assistant Attorney General Rob Rosenstein, the timing of the release “is a function of the collection of the facts, the evidence, and the law and a determination that it was sufficient to present the indictment at this time.” But even if that wasn’t intentional, it’s extremely awkward for Trump since he’s about to meet Putin for a high-stakes diplomatic meeting in Helsinki, which they’re expected to discuss Russia’s election hanky panky among other things. While that’ll be contentious, Putin will again deny Russia interfere at all while Trump will say he believes him as a matter of course. Yet, thanks to the Mueller indictments proving that Russian spies were behind the Democratic hacking breach, Trump will find it a lot harder to say he believes Putin without looking like a complete fool in the process at best or complicit a worst. In fact, Trump will at least find it harder to avoid the topic altogether.

For in Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled Russia, it’s nearly impossible to believe all these people operated for months to sway the US election without their boss’s green light, as 3 US intelligence concluded in January 2017. At the minimum, it stretches credulity to think Putin at least didn’t know about the efforts. Yet, with all the evidence piling up, there’s a miniscule chance Donald Trump will challenge Putin’s denial when they meet. Hell, he might even stop praising Putin and Russia as he has over the past few days despite knowing the imminent indictments days ago. If any of this happens, it’d be a huge shift in his approach toward the Russian dictator and the Mueller investigation. But don’t bet on that because admitting that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to get Trump elected will likely tarnish his victory which he likes bragging about. He could heed Democratic calls to cancel the meeting entirely.

On Saturday, July 14, 2018, Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets with, “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?….Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep State?” Indeed, Barack Obama was president during that time. But the hacks at the DNC, DCCC, and the Hillary Clinton campaign were meant to hurt her and help Trump, which the US intelligence community has repeatedly asserted. Furthermore, why Obama didn’t act sooner is complicated but he did send Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, CIA Director John Brennan, and other administration members to look into it as soon as he knew about it. But he didn’t make a show of it due to squabbles among Democratic and Republican leaders. Vice President Joe Biden even said that during an event or the Council of Foreign Relations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to sign a bipartisan condemning Russia’s 2016 activities. And that the Obama administration worried that without a bipartisan front, it would look like they were trying to sway the election, which he didn’t want. As Biden told Politico, “Can you imagine if the president called a press conference in October, with this fella, [Trump campaign CEO Steve] Bannon, and company, and said, ‘Tell you what: Russians are trying to interfere in our elections and we have to do something about it.’ What do you think would have happened? Would things have gotten better, or would it further look like we were trying to delegitimize the electoral process, because of our opponent?” Though the Obama administration formally accused the Russian government that October, it came just a half-hour before the infamous Access Hollywood tape leaked. And we all know which story got more publicity.

In the meantime, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned of the intensifying threat of cyberattacks against US digital infrastructure, calling Russia “the most aggressive foreign” in attempts to disrupt and divide America. He told the audience at the Hudson Institute, “These actions are persistent, they’re pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not. The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. And it is why I believe we are at a critical point.” Coats has been one of the more vocal voices in the Trump administration about the very real threat of Russia incursions into US digital infrastructure and its meddling to sow discord and division. He has previously warned that the 2018 midterms could be a Russian hacking target and according to the New York Times, he indicated that the federal government was working with state and local jurisdictions to secure their infrastructure. Yet, Russia isn’t the only offender for North Korea, China, and Iran are also waging cyberattacks at all fronts: federal, state, and local governments along with private entities. However, Coats stated that so far analysts haven’t seen, “electoral interference in specific states and in voter databases that we experienced. However, we realize we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.” So it pays to remain vigilant of future Russian hacks.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Shit Has Hit the Fan

Recently, it has come to our attention that the New York Times has revealed that Donald Trump Jr. welcomed a meeting with a Russian government-connected lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya after learning she had information that “that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] … and would be very useful to your father” and that it was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. has confirmed the meeting took place in June 2016 at Trump Tower (despite initially denying it) which also had his dad’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner in attendance. But he has downplayed the meeting’s significance claiming it was over adoption laws and later that the woman wasn’t a government official who provided anything useful. On Tuesday July 11, 2017, he has disclosed a series of e-mails of him corresponding with a British music publicist named Rob Goldstone at behest of the Agalarov family in order to prevent another NYT scoop. Except he totally didn’t and now that e-mail chain has been retrieved and released for the public and prosecutors to see. Furthermore, the chain basically debunks every lie he’s made, erodes his credibility, and confirms he’s hiding something all along.

For months, Donald Trump and his team have denied and disparaged reports that the Moscow tried to help his candidacy and that there was any collusion between the two. In fact, Trump has publicly claimed he didn’t believe that the Russian government wasn’t behind the hackings and leaks of prominent Democrats’ e-mails, which US intelligence agencies have resoundingly confirmed. Since January of 2017, reports of suspicious behavior between Trump and his team around Russia emerged  though we still lacked outright proof whether there was any behind-the-scenes collaboration between them. Though it remained theoretically possible that there was a multifaceted Russian effort to help Trump win without anyone from the Trump team knowing about it.

However, that is no longer possible since the Trump Jr. e-mail chain provides indisputable proof that people close to Donald Trump such as his son, his son-in-law, and then-campaign chair not only knew about but also encouraged a Russian government effort to help him win the White House. Seriously, Goldstone sent Trump Jr. an e-mail saying his information would be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” as if Russia’s support for Lord Cheetohead was an unremarkable fact. Instead of being confused or asking what Goldstone means, Trump Jr. cheerfully answers, “If it’s what you say I love it,” tries to get the details, and forwards the whole thread to Kushner and Manafort. Any other American who knew what Goldstone was getting at would’ve turned him down and notify the candidate and the FBI. Because that is what campaign workers are supposed to do since getting help from a foreign government to win an election goes against federal law. Yet, there’s no way you can read these e-mails and not conclude that the Trump campaign’s top guys knew Russia supported their man but were willing to help. And I’m sure that President Pussygrabber knew about this going on all along.

Why? Well, how can he not? Sure the White House claims that Donald Trump knew about his son’s meeting recently. But he’s complained about the Russia investigation for months and fired his own FBI director in May, possibly to stop information that could expose him or his team to criminal charges from turning up. We should also note that Trump has often seen himself as above the law and has gone to great lengths to avoid responsibility for his actions his whole life. Not to mention, he and his team constantly lie in public about anything that makes him look bad.

What the Trump camp talked about with the Moscow-linked parties that June day at Trump Tower may never be known. But even if that meeting did lead nowhere, it still raises questions of what else Manafort and Kushner and ousted National Security adviser Michael Flynn may have said or done with the Russians. Yet, what’s clear is that we can no longer dispute the investigations into the Trump campaign and that Russian collusion is a serious mater. Robert Mueller must proceed unimpeded in his inquiry while congressional investigators need to work as well. Because the US needs to get to the bottom of this.

But why should we care about Trump’s ties to Russia? Because the Trump team’s habit of publicly lying about its contacts with Russia government emissaries is very problematic on its own terms. But it’s especially troubling since it raises a possibility that blackmail fears can influence American foreign policy. For instance, take the bombshell from US government surveillance that then Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak revealed he and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed sanctions during the Obama-Trump transition period, which Flynn lied about. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that “the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.” Meaning, that if you lie about meeting a Russian official in public, then the Russian government will know and could threaten to release embarrassing and personally damaging information unless you take positions they like. When the press got a hold of this, Flynn was fired. Still, Russian intelligence knows exactly what went down between their government and the Trump campaign. Their knowledge of the facts along with the Trump team’s relentless dishonesty as well as the high consequences of getting caught, means a potentially large swath of Trump’s inner circle has been (or still may be) exposed to blackmail. This in turn makes it hard for the nation and our allies to trust that American foreign policy toward Russia serves American interests rather than in service of keeping Trump’s people out of legal and political trouble. This might be easy to ignore if Trump’s attitude and policies toward Russia was typical for an American politician. But his contempt for NATO and his unwillingness to punish Moscow for election meddling shows they’re not.

Thus, we should understand while the Donald Trump Jr. scandal is new to us, it’s not to the Russians. Keep in mind that before releasing the e-mail thread pertaining to his meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr. had publicly denied meeting Russian government representatives for months. And he called allegations that anyone on the Trump team might’ve worked with the Russians as “disgusting” and “phony.” Not to mention, his dad and many of his spokespeople have maintained what Trump Jr. said was true through the entire campaign. His e-mail messages to Goldstone show that it wasn’t. At minimum, Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Veselnitskaya under the impression that she’d provide them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” But while revelations and e-mails about the meeting caused a sensation in the States, Veselnitskaya knew it all along. And if she knew it, the Russian government probably did, too. And it’s something they could’ve used to increase the legal and political jeopardy facing both father and son at any moment. Still, information is power. Since Russia has the info about the Trump/Russia contacts and because the Trump team keeps lying about them, the Russia government have a lot of power. And Trump’s team knows that Russia has the goods.

So far in the Trump/Russia contact, we know that members of Trump’s campaign team met with the Russians. We know that then Alabama US Senator Jeff Sessions met Kislyak at least twice during the Trump campaign which he lied about under oath during his confirmation hearing for Attorney General. We know Jared Kushner met with Kislyak on multiple occasions. And that one of these meetings was an effort to set up a secure backchannel for Trump to communicate with the Kremlin using Russian equipment and facilities. Yet, Kushner didn’t list that foreign contact on his clearance form. Then there’s Blackwater founder and Trump backer Eric Prince who made an effort to set up back-channel communications to Russia via a meeting in Seychelles, it’s not clear what came of that. Or take Paul Manafort who was fired months before the election over receiving Russian front money in Ukraine. But he continued to advise the Trump campaign, including on the post-election Russia investigation. Or adviser Carter Page whose meeting with the Russians I know absolutely nothing about. Yet, the Russians have known all of this before the US did and then some.

Then there’s the matter with Donald Trump’s finances. We all know he still hasn’t released his tax returns and probably never will. But we all remember back in January when he erupted over the “Steele Dossier” with its wilder allegations that a secret Russian kompromat is blackmailing him over a tape depicting hookers peeing on him. However, it also contains much more boring allegation that Trump paid bribes in St. Petersburg “very discreetly and only through affiliated companies” while exploring some business deals there. Now paying bribes to Russian officials isn’t particularly shocking, especially for a real estate man like Trump. But paying bribes in pursuit of a business deal is technically illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Trump has called the FCPA a “horrible law” that “this country is absolutely crazy” to have on the books because it puts American businesses at a “huge disadvantage.” His business philosophy has long been a willingness to plow ahead legal gray areas as he had once dispensed with normal FCPA compliance procedures and basically go away with it. He probably did the same thing in St. Petersburg. His new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission is a longtime FCPA critic. So Trump pretty clearly believes that American businesses should be allowed to bribe foreign officials. Nevertheless, while American authorities have little incentive to heavily scrutinize Trump’s FCPA compliance in Russia, Moscow is well-positioned to know a great deal about this. They’re also in a good position to know if the surge in Trump condo property purchases through anonymous shell companies involves any Russian citizens.

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump’s actual policy toward Russia has remained extremely idiosyncratic and friendly toward Moscow. His former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about meeting with Kislyak along Sessions and Kushner. His Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has an extremely unusual resume for a top American diplomat, which featured zero military or diplomatic experience. But he has spent some time lobbying against sanctions on Russia and received the Order of Friendship award from the Russian government. Trump also appears to have explored relaxing Russian sanctions and was strikingly reluctant to affirm America’s commitment to NATO. He’s repeatedly seemed to side with the Russian government over American intelligence agencies over Russian culpability on hacking. He briefly suggested a joint Russia-US cybersecurity initiative. Furthermore, he’s made clear that Russia won’t face any repercussions for its election meddling, something lawmakers of both parties see as a direct assault on American democracy. There are plenty of explanations for his behavior, but it’s reasonable to suspect that Trump wants to keep Vladimir Putin happy so the Russians won’t release embarrassing information.

Nevertheless, a responsible administration would’ve taken Sally Yates seriously in the first place. It would’ve fired Flynn right away or forced him to come clean and apologize at once. And it would’ve learned that despite the awkward political scrutiny on Russia-related matters, lying about it would’ve been even more troubling. But the Trump administration didn’t learn that lesson as Washington remains swamp with new stories and revelations time after time. Each time, their defense consists of “this new undisclosed e-mail or meeting hardly proves wrongdoing.” But Yates points out that under the circumstances, the very lack of disclosure itself was the problem. A reluctance to come clean can reflect blundering, stubbornness, or simply blindness to a problem’s extent. Yet, the Trump crew could be hiding the truth because the truth is very bad. Thus, lying to the public to avoid Russian exposure might be the Trump administration’s best strategy. However, by repeatedly and publicly committing itself to false narratives about Russian government interactions, the Trump administration has put themselves under Russia’s thumb. Under normal circumstances, letting a president have this kind of threat hanging over him would be seen as completely intolerable. But since congressional Republicans control the federal government and do what they want, they’ll probably rationalize the matter. Like they’ve done with tolerating an admitted sexual predator in the White House and accommodating his desire to run his businesses in a way that makes it easy to bribe him. After all, H. R. McMaster and Jim Mattis will be along to babysit him except when Trump leaves them out at key summit meetings, unexpectedly drops text from a major speech, or otherwise needs to respond in real time to a crisis. Nevertheless, this puts our allies in an uncomfortable situation and our foreign policy at a downright catastrophic one. Partly because nobody has any idea about the extent of exposure and what kind of pro-Putin policies Trump might pursue in the future. Even worse, congressional Republicans apparently decided they’d rather not know and treat the Trump-Russia story as an endless series of annoying White House mistakes instead of a potentially crippling national security risk it certainly is. And if you have a former Bush ethics chief say Trump Jr.’s e-mails contain what’s “borderline treason,” then Republicans really need to wake up.

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 77 – The Space Race

Image

The Right Stuff is a 1983 film about the breaking of the sound barrier as well as the original astronauts of the Mercury 7. The film isn’t entirely historically accurate and does get a lot of stuff wrong but it’s among the great movies featured on Roger Ebert’s list. Still, while it has an almost all-star cast, the guys they portrayed were much shorter in real life since NASA height limit was 5’11.”

One of the key events in the Cold War was the Space Race in which the United States and Russia competed to put the first artificial satellite (Russia), the first manned spaceflight (Russia), and the first man on the moon (US). Of course, if there was a more constructive way to channel Cold War aggression and competitiveness, then the race to Space Exploration was it. After all, the race for nuclear weapons kind of scared the hell out of people while the Space Race gave everyone a way to boast about one’s national technological marvels while not having to worry about being blown to oblivion. Thus, when US President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the national desire to launch an artificial satellite in 1955, the Space Race was on. Then the Soviets beat the US in the first round in 1957 with Sputnik 1 which basically sent the US freaking. Then the Russians launched Sputnik 2 which carried a dog named Laika into space who died five to seven hours after launch due to stress and overheating (well, the satellite was never intended to bring her back alive, though Moscow said she was euthanized but her death was kept secret for over 40 years). In 1958, the US launched Explorer 1 that discovered the Van Allen belt. Then you have the race for manned spaceflight in 1961 with Soviet Yuri Gagarin being the first man in space on Vostok 1 and the Russians would launch the first woman Valentina Tereshkova two years later (though the US would launch the first LGBT person in space in the 1980s if you know what I mean). Later in 1961, the US would launch Alan Shepard as their first man in space followed by John Glenn in 1962 as the first man to orbit the earth. Yet, even later that year, US President John F. Kennedy announced the US’ intent to land on the moon by the end of the decade. However, the US would beat the Soviets on this one and put a man on the moon by the end of the decade mostly because the Soviet manned moon program was beset with problems from the start, though they did send a probe there before Neil Armstrong made his one small step for man. Nevertheless, movies made pertaining to the Space Race do have their share of inaccuracies which I shall list.

Yuri Gagarin:

Yuri Gagarin lifted off into space at night. (He lifted off at 9:07AM Moscow time.)

Werner Von Braun:

Werner Von Braun was involved in the failed attempt to launch the Vanguard rocket. (Sorry, Homer Hickam, but you had no need to send your condolences to him since he wasn’t involved in the project and wouldn’t have been upset at all. You should’ve sent them to the Navy, much to Von Braun’s disliking.)

NASA:

NASA astronauts were over 6 feet tall. (Let’s just say the maximum height limit NASA is 5’11” thus, anyone over that would be considered ineligible. But astronauts in movies are always played by taller people.)

NASA scientists were bumbling idiots who needed design tips from the astronauts to even make the spaceships. (Contrary to The Right Stuff, it was the NASA scientists who designed the spaceships that put the astronauts into space and brought them right back. Also, NASA scientists were among the best and the brightest minds in the nation. Heck, at the time there were German scientists from WWII like Werner von Braun who were able to duck war crimes indictments because the US needed to compete with the Russians. These guys deserve their own movie, too.)

President John F. Kennedy inspired the US space program. (NASA was established during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency in 1958 contrary to Apollo 13.)

The Mercury 7:

Virgil “Gus” Grissom was 5’10.” (Contrary to Fred Ward’s portrayal of him in The Right Stuff, he was 5’5.” Also, his full name was Virgil Ivan Grissom, with the first he found personally embarrassing and the middle a propaganda embarrassment in itself. It’s no wonder why they called him, “Gus.” Also, the first guy to be launched into space twice as well as the first one of the Mercury 7 to die when he met his end during a launch pad test for the Apollo 1 mission.)

All the Mercury 7 astronauts all raised their hands when asked “Which one of you will be the first into space?” (Contrary to The Right Stuff, the question was actually about whether they were confident they would return from space.)

Gordon Cooper was a Korean War veteran. (Contrary to The Right Stuff, he was the only astronaut of the Mercury 7 who wasn’t a combat veteran. He was also the only nonsmoker and managed to hold his breath longer than John Glenn or Scott Carpenter unlike in the movie.)

Though John Glenn was planned to go on seven orbits on Friendship 7, he only landed after three. (He was always planned to land after 3 orbits and did so though the ground did tell him that he was to go for 7 it was to inform him that he was in a stable orbit. Also, he was the oldest man in space then since he was the oldest astronaut of the Mercury 7 and he’s the only one of that group still living at the age of 93 as of 2014.)

NASA chose Alan Shepard to be the first American man in space. (Actually while this is implied in The Right Stuff, Shepard was actually chosen by his peers.)

Gordon Cooper was the last American to go into space alone. (As of 1982 when The Right Stuff came out and as an astronaut of NASA. However in 2004 two guys on Scale Composite’s SpaceShipOne named Mike Mevill and Brian Binnie have the latter on the day when Gordon Cooper died.)

John Glenn traveled 17,500 miles per hour on Friendship 7. (No Mercury spacecraft had a guidance system that permitted to measure its velocity.)

Gordon Cooper was the only person of the Mercury 7 not to fly a Mercury mission. (Deke Slayton was due to a heart condition but he’ll go into space in 1975 during the Apollo-Soyuz test project as a docking module pilot. As for Gordon Cooper, he went into space in 1963 on Faith 7 and was the first American to spend more than a day in space. He would also be the commander on Gemini 5 two years later.)

Deke Slayton could swim. (Despite the pool scene in The Right Stuff, he could not and never told anyone. Also, during underwater training, Slayton sank to the bottom and had to be rescued. He subsequently practiced holding his breath in the kitchen sink according to his wife Marge.)

Gus Grissom panicked when his Liberty 7 sank in a splashdown landing that he caused the premature detonation of the hatch’s explosive bolts. (Actually contrary to The Right Stuff, the premature detonation was due to mechanical failure, not human error. Yet, it took a long time to find that out.)

Gus Grissom was an incompetent pilot as well as a womanizer. (He was neither contrary to his portrayal in The Right Stuff. Besides, NASA didn’t see him as an idiot since he flew on a Gemini mission and was selected to command the Apollo 1 mission before a fire during practice killed everyone on the launch pad. Not to mention, neither did his fellow astronauts on the Mercury 7 either. By contrast, Scott Carpenter had a little controversy with his mission in the realm of fuel management and never flew again.)
John Glenn hummed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during his potentially fatal re-entry. (Contrary to The Right Stuff, he didn’t do this.)

John Glenn was threatened of being replaced by another astronaut when he got into a shouting match with a NASA official who ordered him to get on the phone with his wife Annie and tell her to let Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson in. (Contrary to The Right Stuff, Glenn did confirm the incident but didn’t mention other astronauts, “I saw red. I said that if they wanted to do that, they’d have a press conference to announce their decision and I’d have one to announce mine, and if they wanted to talk about it anymore, they’d have to wait until I took a shower. When I came back, they were gone and I never heard any more about it.”)

All John Glenn did during his flight on Friendship 7 was gaze at the star and talked about the so-called “fireflies” outside his spacecraft (“They were droplets of frozen water vapor from the capsule’s heat exchanger system, but their fireflylike glow remains a mystery” as John Glenn wrote). (Contrary to The Right Stuff, Glenn said he did more than that including taking his blood pressure, taking pictures of the Canary Islands and the Sahara, testing his vision, and doing exercises with bungee cords to compare his readings to previous ones taken on the ground.)

Apollo 13:

The glitch on Apollo 13 sent the crew into total chaos. (Actually contrary to Apollo 13, NASA had already simulated many of the faults that would occur on the actual Apollo 13. Not to mention, the astronauts remained with cool heads at all times than what the film implies with the emotional tensions being played up for drama.)

Jim Lovell and Fred Haise were a bit mistrustful of Jack Swigert who replaced Ken Mattingly when the latter had to pull out due to rubella. They were also worried about his competence with docking the Command Module. (Contrary to Apollo 13, Swigert was an expert on the Apollo command module who literally wrote the book on emergency procedures, many of which were actually used on the mission. Yes, there was a little apprehension when he replaced Mattingly but it was short-lived and had more to do with the fact he was a last-minute inclusion they had to bunk with for the duration than with his abilities, especially after what happened. Also, if he couldn’t dock the Command Modules, his cremates could’ve done it.)

Ken Mattingly was bumped off from the Apollo 13 mission for rubella. (Yes, he was yet though the film gets this correct as well as the fact he never contracted it. Yet, viewers may have a hard time wondering why Mattingly was grounded despite never contracting the disease. The answer is that a week prior to the launch, one of the backup crew members named Charles Duke contracted rubella from his kids and everyone else on both the prime and backup crew was exposed since they trained together. Aside from the obvious exception of Duke, Mattingly was the only one of both crews who didn’t have rubella as a child, and thus, wasn’t immune. So three days before the launch, Mattingly was out and Swigert was in.)

Ken Mattingly was rewarded for not nobly going into space and saving his stricken crewmembers from the control center. (Contrary to Apollo 13, the tasks Mattingly performed were down to a whole team operating more closely on the lines of existing procedures.)
Commander James Lovell said, “Houston we have a problem.” (Actually he said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem” though he probably should’ve said that. Also, the real Jim Lovell looked more like an older Edward Norton than Tom Hanks.)

Ken Mattingly was at home drinking when the Apollo 13 accident occurred and only knew from watching the TV. (Contrary to the film, he was at Mission Control at the time. Also, Gary Sinise was much more attractive than he was in real life.)

A team of engineers devised a solution to the Command Module on Apollo 13 by making its air filters fit the incompatible slots of the Lunar Module’s filters. (Contrary to Apollo 13, this was devised by a single NASA engineer while driving to work.)

Marilyn Lovell’s wedding ring went down the drain while she was taking a shower before her husband’s Apollo 13 mission. (Unlike in Apollo 13, her ring was too big to fall through the drain cover and Marilyn was able to retrieve it.)

Alan Shepard was bumped to Apollo 14 because of inner ear problems. (Contrary to Apollo 13, it was his lack of training and the relatively short time until launch. Bumping his crew up to Apollo 14 would give his crew more time to train. Still, Alan Shepard would get to be on the moon and use his own golf clubs, too.)

Miscellaneous:

The launches of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin took place in Star City, Russia. (They took place in Baikonur Cosmodrome which is in present-day Kazakhstan. Still, it’s worth noting that Yuri Gagarin was mistaken for an alien when he landed in a Russian village and asked them for a phone. I’m sure being 5’2” in an orange jumpsuit didn’t help.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 76 – The Cold War

Image

Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove: or How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb is one of the great Cold War satires that perfectly captures the historical mood of the time. Peter Sellers’ titular character shown here is based off of guys like Henry Kissinger, Edward Teller, and Werner Von Braun. Sellers also plays the President of the United States and a British Lieutenant stuck with General Ripper. Yet, one of the most surprising things in this movie is the presence of James Earl Jones as an Air Force pilot (yes, that James Earl Jones).

The problem with doing a movie history of the Cold War is that for many years there are so many movies that use it as a contemporary setting, particularly spy films. Thus, it makes the idea particularly hard to separate the history from the fantasy, well, maybe not that hard but close enough. Still, Hollywood had plenty of material to go by with the Cold War and it shows, even today with every James Bond movie or Tom Clancy or John LeCarre film adaptation. Nevertheless, from 1945 to 1991, the Western societies and Communist countries were locked in a war of influence with The United States and the Soviet Union being the two major superpowers involved. It was a time of arms races with building doomsday weapons and scrambling to get to outer space (which I’ll get to later). It was time in which indirect conflicts would be backed by one or the other. And it was a time of paranoia and scares in which people were afraid of nuclear annihilation and suspicious of opposing spies. You also had the Berlin Wall. Yet, it would all come down in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which made many bummed out of their minds. Nevertheless, there were plenty of movies made pertaining to this era which have their share of inaccuracies I shall list.

Red Scare:

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was an upstart member of the US Senate who just went a little too crazy over the Red Scare of the 1950s as well as well-liked figure in the Republican Party. (Actually, by 1948, McCarthy was in a career crisis mode by that time after allegations of bribery arose in 1948 which might have brought him impeachment or at the very least censure. Either way, his political career was on the way out and by this point, even the Republicans felt that he was an embarrassment so they sent him to do a speech in Wheeling where McCarthy made his famous anti-Communist stump speech that led to seven years of witch-hunts as well as made him politically bulletproof until 1954. Though Hollywood may make it seem otherwise, the Republican Party at the time didn’t intend to make Senator McCarthy a major political sensation. Rather, they were just trying to make him quietly go away.)

Senator Joseph McCarthy’s influence was at its height by 1953. (It was already on the wane by the time Edward R. Murrow’s show about him aired due to years of investigative reporting by other journalists by Drew Pearson. As Murrow said in Newsweek, “It’s a sad state of affairs when people think I was courageous” in presenting his show. Still, having Joseph McCarthy on See It Now certainly helped Americans everywhere to see how batshit insane this guy really was. Oh, and the Joe McCarthy footage in Good Night and Good Luck, well, it’s actually him despite some people complaining that the actor playing him hammed too much.)

The McCarthy era was one of the worst Red Scare eras in American history. (The notorious Palmer Raids of 1919-1920 would make the McCarthy hearings look like a picnic.)

McCarthyism made the job of finding Soviet spies easier. (It made the job harder. Not only that but accusing people of being Communist Party members actually allowed many bonafide Soviet spies to escape prosecution like Mary Jane Keeney who worked for the GRU and she was the only one of McCarthy’s accusations who was anything close to guilty. You could say that McCarthy was kind of a godsend to Soviet spies operating in the US.)

J. Edgar Hoover had little involvement in McCarthyism. (If it wasn’t for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, then the McCarthy witch-hunt would’ve been written off akin to the bullshit you’d typically hear on Fox News that nobody should take seriously. J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI were the muscle behind the McCarthy witch-hunts and the reason why the Red Scare of the 1950s ruined so many lives.)

American Communists were cynical opportunists as well as racists only interested in seizing power in the US on behalf of the Soviets and not improving social and labor conditions in the country. (The movie I Was a Communist for the FBI portrays American Communists as this. However, the reality was {mostly} the opposite in regards to people like Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, or a lot of other folk singers as well as others. One critic was especially critical of the 1951 film writing, “In many respects, this heated item bears comparison to the hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee—which, incidentally, it extols. … For instance, in glibly detailing how the Communists foment racial hate and labor unrest in this country … [it] hint[s] that most Negroes and most laborers are ‘pinks’. It raises suspicion of school teachers … [and] that people who embrace liberal causes, such as the Scottsboro trial defense, are Communist dupes … and the film itself glows with patriotism. But it plays a bit recklessly with fire.”)

The K-19 Submarine Accident:

K-19 was the Soviet Union’s first nuclear submarine. (It was actually the Russians’ first nuclear missile submarine. The first nuclear Russian submarine was K-3 {an attack sub} which wasn’t as prone to serious nuclear accidents as K-19 was though similarly “reliable.” Also, contrary to the titular film K-19: The Widowmaker, the sub was actually much roomier than it’s depicted since it’s being played by a diesel sub. Of course, Kathryn Bigelow and the other filmmakers did try to secure the boat as a production set but the Russian Navy declined {for obvious reasons since it had a service life marred by a large number of accidents. The Russian Navy probably was worried about the film crew’s safety or thought filming there would be nuts}. As of 2014, the submarine is said to be preserved in a submarine graveyard after it was bought by one of the members of the original crew. Still, it’s worth mentioning that its first submarine commander did look a lot like Harrison Ford though {though his character’s name was changed out respect for the real life counterpart’s family}, which partly explains why his performance was praised by the remaining survivors.)

Seven men died as a result of radiation exposure during the K-19 nuclear accident. (Contrary to the 2002 film, 8 did that included all 7 members of the engineering team along with their divisional officer, within the next month from July 4, 1961. However, 15 would die from the after-effects of radiation exposure within the next two years.)

The K-19 was nicknamed: “The Widowmaker.” (It was never nicknamed “The Widowmaker” though it would’ve been an appropriate one since it did create a lot of widows and quite a few widowers during its construction and service. Rather its nickname was “Hiroshima” but after the accident. It would have a lot more accidents in its subsequent years of service with some resulting in fatalities {yes, it was put back into service after the meltdown}. Incidents include a 1972 fire that would kill 30 people and an electrical short circuit in 1982 that would kill one. Still, “The Widowmaker” is a lot more badass name than “Hiroshima.”)

There was an actual mutiny on the K-19 during the 1961 accident. (Contrary to the movie, the Captain was savvy enough to throw almost all the submarine’s small arms overboard out of concern of the possibility of mutiny.)

The Bay of Pigs Invasion:

The New York Times didn’t publish a story on the Bay of Pigs Invasion and regretted it. (This is a widely believed myth that’s depicted in Thirteen Days. The paper published a front-page story on the Bay of Pigs Invasion preparations two weeks before the event occurred, but it didn’t address any CIA involvement and that invasion was imminent.)

The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the political fallout that followed may have been the first strike that eventually became a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. (Contrary to JFK, there’s no proof of this.)

Cuban Missile Crisis:

Kenneth O’ Donnell was the chief agent in preventing the Cuban Missile Crisis from escalating. (It was really, Ted Sorensen. As former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara said, “For God’s sakes, Kenny O’Donnell didn’t have any role whatsoever in the missile crisis; he was a political appointment secretary to the President; that’s absurd.” I wonder why they put Kenny O’Donnell in Thirteen Days because he’s played by Kevin Costner {who looks nothing like the real guy at all} and Ted Sorensen’s not. Yet, almost everyone in the Kennedy Executive Committee of National Security was more important than Kenneth O’Donnell. Shame Thirteen Days didn’t have the guts or funding to keep Kevin Costner out of the film.)

John F. Kennedy was worried about the prospect of millions of people dying in a nuclear holocaust around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Yes, he certainly was and so was almost everyone in the Kennedy White House during that time. Yet, contrary to Thirteen Days, it wasn’t the only thing on his mind since his first comment to the real Kenneth O’Donnell when the crisis broke out was about how two militant Anti-Castro Republicans would do in the polls: “We’ve just elected [Homer] Capehart in Indiana, and Ken Keating will probably be the next president of the United States.” Yet, let’s just say that a president worrying about his electoral prospects in such a crisis may be understandable. Still, while Thirteen Days was criticized for not devoting much time to Cuba and Russia, this is understandable since it’s based on memoirs from various Kennedy officials. Khrushchev had to get to Kennedy through Radio Moscow to talk to him during this time. Then again, perhaps Khrushchev should’ve been more worried about his job because he’d lose it after the Cuban Missile Crisis {which he kind of started}, though he got off pretty easy compared to other Soviet leaders.)

Kenneth O’Donnell made phone calls to Commander Ecker and Adlai Stevenson during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (O’Donnell played almost no part at all in the Cuban Missile Crisis despite his Kevin Costner portrayal in Thirteen Days. Thus, these phone calls never occurred.)

The secret deal with the Soviets over the Turkish missiles was shared with the members of the Executive Committee of National Security in the Kennedy Administration. (Contrary to Thirteen Days, it was only known to very few people such as JFK, RFK, Dean Rusk, Ted Sorensen, and perhaps McNamara. Robert F. Kennedy vaguely hinted at this deal in his 1968 memoir Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The secret deal wasn’t known to the public until 1989 when it was officially confirmed by Ted Sorensen.)

President John F. Kennedy didn’t wear a hat when he left Chicago during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Contrary to Thirteen Days, he did, supposedly with a cold, since the White House Press Corps certainly would’ve noticed it for JFK almost never wore one.)

Nikita Khrushchev’s acceptance of peace contained the lines, “you and I should not now pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the harder you and I pull, the tighter the knot will become…”(Contrary to Thirteen Days, this quote appeared in Khrushchev’s first letter from October 26, 1962, not October 27.)

The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in November 1962. (It took place in October.)

Soviet-Afghan War:

Representative Charlie Wilson greeted Pakistani president General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in Islamabad in a smart suit. (Unlike in Charlie Wilson’s War, he was in a Stetson hat and heeled cowboy boots almost making him look 7ft tall. Also, the conversation was about India, not fighting the Soviets. Not to mention, Pakistan was developing a nuclear bomb at this time, but you wouldn’t know it from the film. Then again, Wilson denied in front of congressional subcommittees. At the same time it’s said he told Zia at a state dinner, “Mr. President, as far as I’m concerned you can make all the bombs you want because you are our friends and they, the Indians, are our enemies.” {Actually the bit about the Indians isn’t exactly true for they weren’t US enemies}.)

Representative Charlie Wilson was a womanizing booze hound. (His exploits weren’t just limited to women and booze. He was also said to be a drug user.)

Charlie Wilson and General Zia were willing to help the Afghans so they could improve the lives of refugees. (Sure the refugee bit as a main motivation was more to make Wilson and Zia sympathetic characters in the Aaron Sorkin film though the refugee bit wasn’t even the half of it as far as motivations were concerned. It had more to do with Cold War politics and an enemy infidel invasion next door as far as the US and Pakistan were concerned. Yet, the story is far too complex for 1 ½ hour film.)

Charlie Wilson was willing to build a few schools in Afghanistan after the Soviets were defeated. (I’m not sure about this. Still, Charlie Wilson’s War leaves out actions by the ISI, MI6, CIA, and Saudi Arabia as well as the various factions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also, he had no remorse or regret over arming the Afghan rebels despite the consequences.)

Charlie Wilson was the only American politician involved with the Soviet War in Afghanistan. (Contrary to Charlie Wilson’s War, Ronald Reagan actually gave the order to provide the Mujahadeen with Stinger missiles that denied the Soviets air supremacy and turn the momentum of battle after 1986. And remember that many of the Mujahadeen would later become Islamic warriors and form the Taliban so, yeah, he did negotiate with terrorists. Still, Charlie Wilson didn’t carry out his operation without the government’s knowledge but with the government’s approval.)

All of Charlie Wilson’s aides were gorgeous women. (His chief aide was a man named Charlie Schnabel.)

Robert Hanssen:

Robert Hanssen’s wife Bonnie didn’t know that he was a spy for the Russians. (Contrary to Breach, she knew since 1969 when she found $10,000 in cash at their home. Yet, by Hanssen’s capture in 2001, she was living in denial. Still, despite all the shit he had her put up with, Bonnie still wouldn’t want to divorce him. Yet, judging by the fact that Hanssen was a member of Opus Dei who videotaped himself having sex with his wife he’d watch with a high school buddy, he probably did it for the money.)

Miscellaneous:

Everything in the USSR was terrible, or technically backward, and that life was worse for them in every way, compared to the “democratic West.” (While the citizens of the Soviet Union certainly lacked civil rights compared to us, there were many aspects of their country that was advanced. For example, they were landing their cosmonauts on land, while ours had to fall into the sea. Their literacy rate was higher than the US, and their public education system superior. There was very little crime and doctors were making house calls right up to the bitter end – of communism, that is.)

The Soviets had the ability to nuke the US to oblivion. (Contrary to most movies that gives us the impression that the Soviets had thousands of nukes ready to unleash a fiery death on American cities, they only had 200 strategic bombers in all, tops. Their missiles weren’t much better. Yet, let’s just say, in the nuclear capabilities department, the Soviet Union was behind at least in the 1950s. If the Soviet Union had a chance to nuke the US into oblivion, it would’ve been in the 1980s.)

All Russians were Caucasian. (Russians came from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities as well as cultures.)

All Communist countries were Soviet puppets. (Maybe Poland and East Germany though their relations with the USSR weren’t entirely smooth. As for the rest of the Iron Curtain, they tried to gain more autonomy from the Soviet Union even though they were Communist. As for the Asian Communist states, China was at odds with Russian and tried to invade Vietnam, the Korean War was Kim Il-Sung’s idea, and Vietnam actually thwarted the Chinese invasion. Oh, and Vietnam wouldn’t put up with China invading them either.)

Communist banned religion in their countries. (Officially atheist, sure, but many religious traditions in those countries did survive to this day. Not to mention, many Chinese religions actually don’t require belief in a god and tend to have characteristics that resemble philosophy. Also, explain to me how John Paul II was able to become Pope? I mean John Paul II spent most of his life before pope as a Catholic priest/bishop in a Communist country. Not to mention, though the Soviet Union did persecute clergymen and tried to dismantle religious institutions, the laity was mostly tolerated {same goes for other Eastern Bloc nations} since persecuting a group that made up the majority of Russia’s population was a bad idea. Not to mention, Josef Stalin would actually revive the Russian Orthodox Church to drum up support for Russia’s entry into WWII and never bothered to persecute the Georgian Orthodox Church because he was afraid of angering his mother. There would be a time when the anti-religious policies would be revived under Khrushchev , they’d be considerably relaxed under Brezhnev onward.)

Some East German Stasi agents would betray their agency and help those they had under surveillance. (The plot to The Lives of Others revolves around this but unfortunately, no Stasi agent has publically regretted their actions, let alone help their victims. Also, the Stasi agents watching were also under surveillance so they wouldn’t get away with what Wiesler did. Ironically, they guy who played Wiesler was also under surveillance and later found out that his then wife was a registered informant on him.)

Russia was a US ally in 1947. (A more accurate term would be frenemy since they still kept ambassadors {enemy nations don’t send ambassadors to each other} but Russia and the US weren’t exactly friends.)

At least one woman was awarded the “Hero of the Soviet Union” twice. (This is the Soviet equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. 92 Soviet women were awarded this once {50 posthumously} yet there’s no record of any woman being awarded it twice.)

The Soviets had the power to launch nuclear missiles with a push of a button. (Contrary to Dr. Strangelove {which is a great satire by the way}, unless the Russians were planning an offensive on the US in which use of nukes was imminent, the Soviet premier couldn’t just press a button to start off a nuke. The Soviets used a particularly toxic and rather corrosive blend of rocket fuel for their missiles and since they didn’t have the kind of metallurgy the US did; Russian missiles could only be fueled for a limited time before they’d have to be unfueled, maintained, and refueled. As a result unless an offensive posture was needed in the event of a nuclear war, the Soviet missiles were kept empty of rocket fuel until they were set to be launched. And the fueling process of Soviet nuke missiles usually took up to four hours, which would’ve made launching preparations very problematic. Oh, and the Soviets had a mostly train-based missile launch system under an impression that it would be more difficult to destroy a mobile target than one at a stationary reinforced location. Yet, such train-based missile launch system made US intelligence agencies very good at finding things with the increasingly ubiquitous spy satellites that were more or less developed to spy on the Soviet Union. Let’s just say if Nikita Khrushchev was able to cause a nuclear holocaust with a push of a red button, there probably would’ve been no Cuban Missile Crisis since he was only willing to deploy Soviet missiles at Cuba after the US has had deployed their missiles in Turkey which could hit Moscow within 16 minutes to launch. Yet, problems arose when it became uncertain of whether Cuba had any authority to launch them or whether Cuba would launch them anyway as well as the United States finding out. Maybe the Russians should’ve stuck to making assault weapons since the AK-47 is the most widely used and popular assault rifle on earth and has killed far more people than nukes.)

Soviet officers wore beards. (Facial hair was prohibited in the Soviet Union’s armed forces.)

Russian soldiers were equipped with Swedish Gustav M45 submachine gun. (Look, unless this is a WWII movie of the Eastern Front or any time before 1946, it would be best if Russian soldiers during the Cold War would be equipped with AK-47s since it’s the most recognized Soviet Union weapon on earth and is made all over the world. Not to mention, everyone practically knows what they look like and can be found anywhere.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 65 – World War II: The Eastern Front

Image

My main reasons why I have Roman Polanski’s 2002 picture The Pianist as a picture for the Eastern Front during World War II is that it manages to bring both the action of the war and the Holocaust in the same film as well as to such a personal level as Adrien Brody’s well deserved Oscar-winning portrayal of survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman. Szpilman may have survived both of these events through the kindness of strangers and sheer dumb luck but he lost practically everything in the process. Still, the Second World War brought the conflict much closer to home than any other war has before or since and The Pianist greatly embodies the experience of those on the Eastern Front whether they be soldiers, civilians, or targets of genocide.

If there was any place during World War II you didn’t want to be in (with the possible exception of Nazi Germany), then Eastern Europe would probably take the cake. The Eastern Front was perhaps the one of the bloodiest theaters of the war with a death toll mounting to over 25 million alone, making the war in the Eastern Europe perhaps one of the worst wars in history by itself. It was also wracked with lots of genocide if you know what I mean. Hollywood usually doesn’t cover this part mostly because you can’t have have an English speaking protagonist in these movies. Yet, there are plenty of these movies covering the Eastern Front that were made in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union. Another reason why it’s not very much represented in Hollywood is due to the Cold War and the fact that much of the war in this region was conducted under Soviet forces led by Josef Stalin who was among the Allies. And if it weren’t for Soviet Russia being on the Allies side, then they would’ve lost the war.This isn’t an easy fact to swallow but it’s rather important despite how uncomfortable Americans were about Communism and how bad Stalin was, Russia was the primary Allied power in this region. This doesn’t really fit well with the whole idea of World War II being fought to make the world “safe for democracy” while the US and Britain joined forces with a leader who had absolutely no interest in it and also committed many crimes against humanity like genocide. Still, another event taking place on the Eastern Front that many would be more familiar with is the Holocaust since most of Hitler’s death camps would be built in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland. Millions would be killed in these camps particularly Jews who were one of the Nazis’ primary targets. Many would be killed in massacres as well. Still, many movies pertaining to World War II in this region have their share of inaccuracies which I shall list accordingly.

The Holocaust:

Almost every European Jew knew he or she was, lived among Jews, and practiced Judaism. (Actually many European Jews had assimilated into mainstream European culture, many didn’t practice Judaism, some even married non-Jews, and some even didn’t know that they were Jewish at all nor identified as Jews either.)

The local populace outside the concentration camps didn’t know that the Holocaust was happening even if there was a death camp in their neighborhood. (Of course, there were people who said that they had no idea that the Holocaust was happening in their towns but I’d just call these people being in flagrant denial. Besides, there’s no way that anyone nearby the death camps wouldn’t be ignorant of the Holocaust. I mean you can’t deny something terrible was going on after seeing the sight of black smoke and the stench of burning flesh afterwards. You can’t shelter a kid from that.)

Most Jews knew about the gas chambers at concentration camps during the Holocaust. (Most of them didn’t know anything about the gas chambers at the concentration camp until they were either in one {which was too late to tell anyone about them} or after the war during the Allied concentration camp liberation.)

The Nazis only went after Jews. (They also went after other people as well including people who were married and friends with Jews, gypsies, gays, social radicals, scientists, Soviet POWs, and later rich Poles.)

European Jewish people would never betray each other even if they had to pay with their lives. (Schindler’s List and The Pianist correct this with the Jewish Police.)

Concentration camp prisoners were always well fed, visibly clean, trimmed, and hairless. (Of course, no one could make a historically accurate Nazi concentration camp scene without starving the actors. Besides, the real images from concentration camp of naked and starved prisoners full of lice would’ve been particularly horrifying.)

It wasn’t unusual for German boys to strike up a chat with concentration camp inmates through a fence. (This is a premise for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. However, there would absolutely be no way for a German boy to stroll up to the fence for chats with camp inmates because he would’ve been shot on site the first time he tried son of an SS officer or not. Also, unlike what the film implies, even an 8 year-old German boy would certainly know who Adolf Hitler was.)

The public knew that the Nazis were capable of staging a mass genocide. (Actually while anti-Semitism had been pervasive in Europe for a millennium up to World War II, most people at the time would’ve thought the idea of a Jewish genocide as monstrous and unthinkable. Unfortunately, this is why the Nazis came so close to succeeding because nobody thought they’d do, despite evidence and even survivors until Allied troops saw the death camps for themselves.)

King Christian of Denmark publicly wore a yellow Star of David in defiance of a Nazi order that all Danish Jews do so. (This is a myth for Danish Jews were never ordered to wear a yellow star in the first place.)

Anne Frank:

Anne Frank received her diary after her family went into hiding. (She received it on her 13th birthday a few days before the family went into hiding. The makers of the 1959 film about her probably just wanted to save money because most of her diary takes place in the Secret Annex anyway. Also, when her diary was published some of the names were changed to preserve anonymity.)

Wladyslaw Szpilman:

Wladyslaw Szpilman stumbled away from the Treblinka train as the Jewish police officer said “Don’t Run!” (Contrary to The Pianist, this didn’t happen exactly as Szpilman recounted it though he was saved by a Jewish policeman while his whole family was gassed. However, some of that train scene consisted of some material Roman Polanski supplanted from his own Holocaust experience. Oh, and Szpilman had other friends who helped him besides the couple of entertainers featured. Still, Adrien Brody is almost a dead ringer for the real thing.)

Oskar Schindler:

Oskar Schindler didn’t start helping Jews until he saw an old one armed man killed by Nazis in his factory. (Actually he tried to save as many Jews possible almost from the moment the Final Solution was implemented. Nevertheless, it was Itzhak Stern who discovered a way to use the channel of forced labor to Schindler to help his fellow Jews. He even traveled to Budapest, Hungary where he met with representatives of Jewish organizations to tell them what was happening in Poland as early as 1942. Not to mention, he also worked as an agent for the Abwehr during the 1930s before arriving to Krakow which was headed by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris who was covertly working against the Nazi regime. And it was his Abwehr connections that helped him protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death in Nazi concentration camps. Of course, Spielberg kind of exaggerated Schindler’s journey from greedy jerk to hero in Schindler’s List.)

Oskar Schindler was German. (He was born in the present day Czech Republic and so was his wife. They were ethnic Germans though but not technically German citizens. Still, Schindler was never as good looking as Liam Neeson.)

Oskar Schindler’s factory hired Jews all through the Second World War. (Actually most of his original employees in his enamelware factory in Krakow were Poles and he switched to hiring Jews because they were cheaper and after he hired Itzhak Stern.)

Oskar Schindler named Jewish workers at his Krakow factory to be taken to what is now the Czech Republic in 1944. (At this time, some claim that Schindler was in jail for bribing the brutal SS commander Captain Amon Goeth during the latter’s investigation of corruption by the SS. As for Stern, well, he wasn’t even working for Schindler then. Also, there’s evidence that the names of the factory workers were compiled in 9 lists, the first 4 of them by a corrupt Jewish security police named Marcel Goldberg, who was a loathsome figure who accepted bribes to get people on the list which resulted in some Jews being removed. The Jews who worked for Schindler didn’t have fond memories of him and would’ve made a poor character in Schindler’s List. Schindler may not have written a lot of the list but he’s said to be primarily responsible for the fact there was one.)

Emilie Schindler did nothing to aid the Jews under her husband’s care except stoically support her philandering husband. (Emilie was also involved in her husband’s efforts though she was a forgiving wife. She cooked for the workers and cared for the sick at her husband’s second plant in the present day Czech Republic as well as assisted in her husband’s heroic efforts that she was honored as a Righteous Gentile as well. Her husband meanwhile he provided for his workers well beyond giving them the security of employment. He spent his own money providing them food, clothes, and medical care. He’s even said to provide weapons for them, too. He encouraged them to practices their religious rituals including Jewish burial rites. He accepted a shipment of 2 boxcars of literally frozen Jews and personally aided them in their recovery.)

Oskar Schindler was named a Righteous Gentile in 1958. (He was actually named in 1993 nearly 20 years after his death and during the time when Schindler’s List was filmed. His wife was also named a Righteous Gentile after her death as well.)

Invasion of Poland:

Plumbing fixtures were untouched during the bombings of Warsaw. (Contrary to The Pianist where water was still in the bathtubs after the bombings, you wouldn’t be able to get a bath if you tried since there was no running water. Maybe Wladyslaw Szpilman lived near a river or something. Then again, maybe the water had been in the bathtubs for a very long time.)

The Soviet Front:

Russia fought for the Allies in early 1941. (Contrary to Pearl Harbor, in early 1941, Russia was still an ally to Nazi Germany. The Russians wouldn’t switch sides until June of that year once the Germans invade the Soviet Union. And even then, Russia wouldn’t be considered one of the Allies until January of 1942.)

Female Soviet soldiers were hopeless, uncommitted fighters, and sexual predators. (No wonder Cross of Iron was said to be misogynist. Then again, since it’s a film by Sam Peckinpah, no one should be surprised. Still, Soviet women were allowed a more active role in combat than women in any other nation during World War II. Many Soviet women served as highly decorated fighters, pilots, and snipers.)

Whistles were used in the Soviet Army as signals for attack. (They weren’t.)

Soviet soldiers never attached bayonets on their rifles. (Soviet soldiers always went into battles with bayonets on their rifles.)

Snipers could duel each other over the vast expanses over the empty ruins of Stalingrad without collateral casualties. (Except that during the Battle of Stalingrad, these ruins weren’t empty but had hundreds of thousands if not millions of soldiers crammed into an area that was only a few square miles.)

15-year-old Sacha Fillipov was hung by  Major Konig. (Contrary to Enemy at the Gates, the boy was hung with several other children by the Germans on Christmas Eve 1942. He was a spy for the Russians though and did exist. However, it’s likely Konig didn’t.)

The “Zagradotryad” wore regular Red Army uniforms. (They were an NKVD {secret police} unit that was responsible for shooting retreating troops. Thus, they’d wear NKVD issued uniforms.)

Mass attacks were utilized at Stalingrad. (Those attacks you see in Enemy at the Gates were never utilized in Stalingrad because open squares were few and far between. Actual fighting took place in street-to-street and entire battles could take place in a single building. But what World War II would be without tanks? Still, The Pianist does have a scene where a battle takes place in an entire building even though the movie takes place in Warsaw.)

“Oy Kozaro” was a Russian fighting song. (It’s a Yugoslav fighting song. Russians wouldn’t know this.)

The Red Army never had enough rifles or ammunition to arm their soldiers. (They actually were swimming in guns following the German invasion. Still, some units at Stalingrad did suffer from rifle shortages mostly due to logistics problems. Yet, there’s no evidence that Soviet soldiers were sent to attack the Germans with one weapon for every two men. Nor is there any record of any Soviet soldier being sent into combat unarmed.)

If the West had overcome its anti-Soviet prejudice, then World War II wouldn’t have happened. (According to Mission to Moscow that is. Seriously, this is the most fucked up shit I’ve ever heard. Still, according to historian Robert Osborne, “At the time this movie was made it had one of the largest casts ever assembled … When it was shown in Moscow, despite all the good will, people who saw it considered it a comedy—its portrayal of average, everyday life in the Soviet Union apparently way off the mark for 1943.” However, it is based on what US ambassador Joseph E. Davies thought about the Soviet Union, propaganda or not. Nevertheless, he’s usually derided as a political naïf and “useful idiot” for the Stalin regime and for good reason.)

Leon Trotsky and his followers were spies for Germany and Japan during World War II. (Trotsky was in Mexico at this time trying to stay alive. Stalin would eventually catch up to him though. As for Trotsky’s followers, do you think they’d give a shit about Germany and Japan? No. Besides, wasn’t it Stalin who signed the non-aggression pact with Hitler? Yeah, and little did Stalin realize that Hitler would break the pact with Operation Barbarossa in June of 1941 by invading Soviet territories. Oh, and there’s evidence that Soviet intelligence had full knowledge about Operation Barbarossa but Stalin refused to accept it until it was too late.)

Josef Stalin:

Josef Stalin’s purges were a justified investigation against pro-Nazi spies. (Oh, for fucking God’s sake! Doesn’t anyone behind Mission to Moscow ever understand that Stalin staged his purges in the 1920s and 1930s which wiped out up to 30 million of his own people? His purges during this time would significantly weaken Russia before the German invasion in 1941. Not only that, but his killing off of experienced officers would also hinder Russia’s defense capabilities for a time as well, which is why the Germans were able to go as far as they did. Still, if you want to make a movie about tolerance for other countries and cultures, don’t have it take place in Stalinist Russia {at least one that features Stalin as a good guy} or any place that has a leader known for committing crimes against humanity.)

Nikita Khruschev:

During World War II, Commissar Nikita Khruschev (yes, that one) feasted and resided in luxury while his soldiers languished in a damp basement. (Khruschev wouldn’t be happy with his portrayal in Enemy at the Gates. This is a man who considered a flush toilet as an unnecessary luxury and at his meals on oak plywood. Russian officers didn’t lead decadent lifestyles at all.)

Nikita Khruschev led the Red Army during the Battle of Stalingrad. (The real leaders were Vasilevsky, Chuikov and Zhukov. Good luck finding them in Enemy at the Gates, because they’re nowhere to be seen. Zhukov’s efforts in World War II led him to be such a popular war hero that Stalin couldn’t kill or imprison him despite his jealousy of Russia’s most famous war hero.)

Vassili Zaitsev:

Soviet sniper Vassili Zaitsev engaged in a sniper duel with a German Major Erwin Konig. (No sniper named Konig has ever been identified in the German records, though Zaitsev claimed this. Yet, unlike Enemy at the Gates, the sniper duel is said to have lasted for 3 days until Konig was killed if it happened. Zaitsev also said that he was the head of the Berlin sniper school but there’s no information to verify that. Actually other than Zaitsev’s memoirs, there’s no documentary evidence to prove that Konig actually existed, or that the duel ever took place. It’s pretty likely that Zaitsev either made the whole thing up or just didn’t know who the guy was.)

Vasili Zaitsev carried a romance with Tania Chernova who was also involved with Commissar Danilov. (He never claimed to have any relationship with anyone during the war, let alone be in a love triangle involving his boss. However, it’s said that Zaitsev and Tania were involved {despite being no love triangle since Tania could never have met Danilov for his contact with Zaitsev was limited} but they later separated and were each wounded in landmines. Both thought the other person was dead though Tania later found out that Zaitsev ended up marrying another woman and became devastated. She never married because of her love for Zaitsev. Zaitsev, on the other hand, he might’ve went to the grave thinking that Tania never survived the war. Actually the love story in Enemy at the Gates has more basis in historic fact than the sniper duel despite loud protests from critics who thought it as an unnecessary Hollywood addition to the gritty sniper duel action. Also, the rank of commissar was eliminated in October 1942, well before the end of the Battle of Stalingrad.)

Vaisili Zaitsev was a peasant pressed into military service in the Soviet Union’s darkest hour. (He was actually an experienced hunter with some education as well as had been a technical clerk in the Soviet Navy in the Pacific fleet. Also, he was a senior sergeant during the Battle of Stalingrad. In Enemy at the Gates, he’s a naïve shepherd boy who’s especially good at killing.)

Vaisili Zaitsev was an ace sniper. (He wasn’t said to be the best. Also, there were more than a million men fighting on both sides in Stalingrad.)

Tania Chernova:

Tania Chernova was an innocent sniper girl. (Except that she’s said to have a tough military background as an expert sniper with a long roster of kills. Oh, and while her and Zaitsev were involved in real life, her relationship took a back seat to her assassination missions. Also, Tania was said to be from the US and wouldn’t be speaking English in a British accent.)

Tania Chernova was wounded during an evacuation from Stalingrad. (She was wounded during an attempt to find and assassinate German General Frederich von Paulus, commander of the 6th Army, when a female sniper ahead of her stepped on a mine. Severely wounded, Zaitsev carried her back and they never saw each other again. But in Enemy at the Gates, she and Zaitsev are reunited at her hospital bed and live happily ever after.)

The Bielski Brothers:

Tuvia and Zus Bielski were the oldest brothers. (Actually out of the four Bielski brothers in Defiance the birth order is as follows: Tuvia, Asael, Zus, and Aron. They also had six other brothers and two sisters.)

Tuvia Bielski was emotionally conflicted over killing a policeman responsible for his parents’ arrest. (Yes, he killed the guy but he had no emotional qualms over it. Actually the Bielski brothers were fearsome fighters who targeted many Nazi collaborators, often executing entire families. They wanted to send a message loud and clear such as, “if you target Jews, there’s going to be hell to pay from us.”)

The Bielski group found the Soviet partisans greatly unhelpful. (Their alliance with the Soviet partisans wasn’t the most comfortable. The Soviets were fairly anti-Semitic while the Bielskis weren’t so fond on Communism. However, Tuvia knew how to deal with the leaders by downplaying the group’s Jewish identity and exaggerating their pro-Communist sentiments. That and proving his group’s worth with frequent acts of sabotage against the Nazis. The Bielskis alliance with the Soviets was an uneasy one but they managed to work fairly closely together, though Defiance implies otherwise.)

Asael Bielski was in his twenties during his time with the Bielski partisans. (He was 33 and was 4 years older than his brother Zus as well as 2 years younger than Tuvia contrary to Defiance.)

Tuvia Bielski met his wife Lilka in the forest in Nazi occupied Belarus during his time in the war. (Maybe but she was his step-niece of his second wife. She was also half-his age and perhaps would’ve been a teenager at the time contrary to Defiance. His second wife would’ve made a more suitable love interest. Still, Tuvia looked more like Eli Thompson from Boardwalk Empire with darker hair than Daniel Craig.)

Zus Bielski left his brothers to join the Soviet partisans. (The Bielskis stayed together until the last few months of the war when Moscow took direct control of the partisan fighters ordering Zus and Asael into separate units.)

The heroism of the Bielski brothers lay primarily in their willingness to wreck revenge on the Nazis. (Actually they weren’t the only group wreaking revenge as other Jewish and Eastern European groups did the same. Their real heroism lay primarily with their work in rescuing and protecting other Jews including those too weak or old to fight from almost certain death. This resulted in the rescue and survival of over a thousand Jews under their watch.)

The Bielski group had an egalitarian society within their ranks. (According to one book about women in the Holocaust, some of the Bielski brigade members said that the brothers ate better and the fighters had first pick among the women as sexual partners. “There is no equality in any place and there was no equality in the forest either,” according to one survivor.)