Hint: distraction from big Russia news that day
When outrageous news comes out of the White House, the first question to ask is, what else just happened? When President Trump doesn’t like the news, his go-to strategy is to make other news, often on Twitter. Sometimes that news serves a separate agenda, like humiliating someone who has displeased him, like Reince Priebus or Jeff Sessions. In other cases, it distracts from something serious and potentially damaging.
The media tends to focus on the president’s seemingly constant need for attention and even controversy. But that’s the distraction. What we should look for is what we’re being distracted from.
Anthony Scaramucci’s brief, obscene tenure as White House Communications Director may have seemed like a big mistake, but on the contrary, it served an important purpose. The same goes for Pres. Trump’s sudden announcement (even Ivanka reportedly only learned of it on Twitter) that he was banning transgender people (over 11,000 of them) from serving in the military, something the Pentagon immediately announced it wasn’t going to do until it got proper guidance.
On the two days those things happened, the man behind the Magnitsky Act, the whole reason for Putin’s anger and Don Junior’s meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
On Wednesday 26th July, financier Bill Browder was due to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In pre-prepared remarks published by The Atlantic, he said: “I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use US enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests.”
On the same day Browder was due to testify, President Trump announced, seemingly out of nowhere, that transgender people will not be allowed to serve in “any capacity” in the US military.
Browder’s testimony was then postponed to the next day – the same day The Mooch made headlines when his expletive-ridden tirade was published.
Browder’s testimony, which received relatively little coverage, is extraordinary with a senator calling it one of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s “most important” hearings.
In it he describes a Russian system of government that operates in the shadows using corruption, blackmail, torture and murder – all led by Vladimir Putin.
Bill Browder used to be a friend of Vladimir Putin and had extensive business operations in Russia. Then Browder’s attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered the largest tax fraud in Russian history and was tortured and killed in one of its most infamous prisons. The Magnitsky Act banned a few dozen people from entering the US, froze Russian assets in the US, and sanctioned Russia for human rights violations. An angry Putin retaliated by banning American adoption of Russian orphans, which almost certainly led to the deaths of numerous children.
So when you hear Donald Trump, Jr. and the president say that they discussed “adoptions,” that’s code for Russian attempts to get the Magnitsky Act repealed. Putin, according to Browder, may be the world’s richest man, with some $200 billion in net worth. He keeps much of it in the West, hidden. The freezing of Russian assets threaten him and the oligarchs who prop him up.
And when you hear Don, Jr. deliberately mispronouncing Magnitsky as “Majinsky,” that’s not just him trying to pretend he doesn’t know much. It’s an insult to the memory of an honest man who exposed the theft of vast sums from the Russian people.
It’s a complicated story, further complicated by the fact that, apparently, the actual richest man in the world also heads a failing economy and has nuclear weapons. Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone has been on it. He also has a great explanation of why Russians see it differently. (Hint: it’s because we meddled in their elections.)
But it’s an old con man’s trick that when a story is so complicated, let it stay complicated, and give people a simpler, more flashy story to focus on. And no one does flashy better than Anthony Scaramucci. He served his purpose well. When a magician shows you that there’s nothing in his hand, always look at what the other hand is doing.