Posted by: David Offutt | August 10, 2018

Putin May Own Trump, but Other Presidents Have Worked with Foreign Powers to Win Elections

Trump continues to look more and more to be a “Manchurian Candidate” groomed by Putin and Russia to do their bidding. The analogy pertains to the classic film of 1962.

There seems to be no doubt that Russia’s Vladimir Putin wanted his man Donald Trump in the White House and that the Trump team welcomed his help. Trump himself no longer denies any collusion but insists there was nothing illegal about it. The big thing in question is this: Was that collusion decisive in Trump’s Electoral College victory? The Donald definitely does not want an answer to that.

Attorney General Comey’s irresponsible announcement of a new investigation into some of Hillary Clinton’s emails just a few days before the election was probably more influential, even though her emails were always essentially a distraction. Also, there was the overall ineptness of the Clinton campaign that, even more likely, determined the final disaster. We’ll probably never know which was the most “decisive.”

JFK’s short presidency included these finest hours: his inaugural address, his accepting full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs debacle, his resolving the Cuban Missile crises, and his Ich Bien Berliner speech. (Photo: detail of Jamie Wyeth’s 1967 “Portrait of John F. Kennedy” taken by David Offutt Aug. 2, 1915, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.)

On June 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy met with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna and was startled to be told by the Russian premier that he was personally responsible for Kennedy’s defeat over Richard Nixon in the Election of 1960. Of course, JFK asked for an explanation. Just as Vladimir Putin didn’t like Hillary Clinton, Khrushchev had no use for Nixon.

Khrushchev explained to Kennedy that the Soviets wanted to return the American U2 pilot whom they had shot down and captured on May 1, 1960. However, they were afraid to release him so close to the U.S. election because Vice President Nixon might claim credit for getting him back. They decided to wait until after the election to negotiate his release, thereby helping Kennedy to get elected. JFK had to admit that their strategy may have been very helpful to him. (Francis Gary Powers, the U2 pilot in question, was returned to the U.S. as part of a prisoner exchange on February 10, 1962.) Nevertheless, there was no collusion between Khrushchev and Kennedy during the campaign of 1960.

Richard Nixon’s finest hours included these: his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, his SALT agreement with the USSR, his trip to China, and his resignation to avoid impeachment and conviction. (Photo: Andy Warhol’s 1972 “Vote McGovern” of Nixon taken by David Offutt Aug. 7, 2015, at NYC’s Whitney Museum .

Nixon, having lost in ’60, made a dramatic comeback in ’68. Much of his victory had to do with his sabotage of the Vietnam Peace Talks in Paris just before the election. Nixon didn’t collude with our adversary, North Vietnam, but with our ally South Vietnam. Nixon opened a secret channel to the South Vietnamese through Anna Chennault, a prominent Republican fundraiser and Washington hostess. Via Ms. Chennault, he persuaded South Vietnam to reject the peace proposals in Paris, wait for his election, and get better terms from him.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson learned of this and considered it to be treasonous, but took no action against Nixon. Nixon’s sabotage and “treason” prevented an end to the Vietnam War before the Election of 1968, prevented the election of Hubert Humphrey by a very small margin, and introduced the most lawless administration in American history up to that time. Our involvement in the war continued another four years with an additional loss of nearly 30,000 more American lives. Nixon resigned after the exposure of all the multiple scandals known as Watergate.

The 1980 campaign of Ronald Reagan was terrified that Iran, suffering severely from sanctions by the Carter administration, would release the 52 American hostages held in Tehran before the election. Reagan’s staff feared that would likely assure Jimmy Carter’s reelection. According to Iranian agents, representatives of the Reagan campaign met with them to arrange for better terms for Iran if they held out and kept the hostages until after the election. After 444 days of captivity, the hostages were released at the end of President Reagan’s inaugural address.

After some of the Iranian agents made the agreement public – and there was no particular reason why they did – a congressional investigation determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the matter. Also, former president Carter did not want it pursued because the scandal was too close to Watergate: he feared the American people might lose all faith in its government.

David Offutt at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (July 1, 2016) – Reagan’s finest hours included these: his calming grandfatherly handling of the Challenger explosion, his bringing Howard Baker to the White House as his chief of staff to get us through his last two years, and his signing – with Mikhail Gorbachev – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987..

If Reagan didn’t know what his people were doing or if the deal had never been made, you would never think it considering what he authorized after taking his oath. He immediately ordered flights to deliver supplies to Iran and later authorized selling missiles to Iran in return for other individual hostages. Sales of missiles to Iran provided money to buy Soviet weaponry to give to the Contra rebels who were trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, which violated American law. Reagan later convinced investigators that he really didn’t understand what the Iran-Contra affair was about and escaped impeachment by being considered only “guilty of sloth.”

George W. Bush’s heist of the Election of 2000 had no foreign involvement that we know of. It was purely a family affair – both literally and figuratively. Had the vote count not centered on Florida where his brother Jeb was governor and the U.S. Supreme Court vote of 5 to 4 not depended on the five Republican justices, would he ever have become president? Justice Antonin Scalia gave the game away when he said, “I was glad to be able to do it.”

George W. Bush’s finest hours included these: his Medicare prescription drug program, which may have been intended to be a boondoggle for the pharmaceutical companies, but has been very helpful to seniors and his aid to Africa to help stem the AIDS epidemic. (Photo: Bush with Bob Beckwith after the 9/11 attack – taken by David Offutt at the National Presidential Wax Museum July 3, 2013, in Keystone, SD.)

The Bush administration’s 950 documented lies that got us distracted from a possible success in Afghanistan and led us into the disastrous perpetual war in Iraq – and consequently also in Afghanistan – surpassed the lies that Richard Nixon was well known for throughout his career. It also overwhelmed Ronald Reagan’s “Reign of Error” in which his staff was always having to explain “what he meant to say”: Reagan did well when he read a speech, but it was nutball when he adlibbed.

Donald J. Trump is now our fourth Nixonian president. His daily lies and errors have already outrun those of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush put together. Hopefully he will be the culmination of those who came before him – but he’s coming at us with a vengeance and the devastation that will follow his wake will test us all as never before.

(Note: I have recently read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America and will soon comment on it and its relation to Trump and Putin. Watch this space!)


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