Sanders Dodges Questions on Russia

We all know that I would rather be writing about nearly anything else than Bernie Sanders, but Bernie Sanders is still positioning himself as a progressive leader in U.S. politics and has not ruled out another presidential run, so I'm still obliged to write about Bernie Sanders.

And, unfortunately, the Senator still isn't giving me anything good to say about him. Especially when he pulls shit like this:


Sanders needs to be accountable regarding his own campaign boost from Russians in the 2016 election, even if he isn't planning to run for president again but especially if he is.

He would certainly like us all to believe that he didn't solicit any support from Russia; that whatever support he got didn't have any meaningful effect on the campaign; that there was nothing he could do about it at the time; and that there's nothing he needs to do about it now.

But, with the possible exception that his campaign did not actively seek intervention from Russian operatives, all of that is wrong.

And we need definitive answers about collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia, as well as collusion between his campaign and the Trump campaign, because:

1. His chief campaign strategist, Tad Devine, worked in collaboration with Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort for Putin-aligned former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych for many years.

2. It was Devine, with whom Sanders has worked since the '90s, who convinced Sanders to run as a Democrat — and the Russian campaign to create division among Democrats only worked so well because Sanders ran as a Democrat. It would have been much less successful if Sanders had run as a third-party candidate. (See: Jill Stein.)

3. Devine reached out to his old associate Manafort at least once that we know of during the 2016 U.S. presidential election: To try to arrange the ill-fated debate proposed between Trump and Sanders.
Devine knows campaign chairman Paul Manafort from, among other things, their collaboration on the campaign of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. According to campaign aides, the morning after Trump was on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Weaver asked Devine to give Manafort a call to see if they could actually make the debate happen. They were already fielding offers from most of the networks—including a producer for Stephen Colbert, who wanted to host the debate on his own late night show.

Manafort laughed, said it was a joke, but then again, Trump was on his plane, and he had no idea what the candidate would do. The answer turned out to be a statement killing the speculation. Manafort left a voicemail for Devine saying he'd won over Trump. Devine never called him back.
To be clear, as I noted at the time, the entire charade was an exercise in trying to make Hillary Clinton look bad, because she refused to agree to a debate with Sanders in California. So, the one time we know that Devine and Manafort communicated, it was to orchestrate something that was explicitly to harm Clinton.

4. Sanders' campaign, like every other campaign of Hillary Clinton's chief rivals, advocated a policy of working with Russia in Syria that did not make sense then and does not make sense still.

Before the 2016 election, joining forces with Russia to defeat ISIS was not a mainstream position, on either side of the aisle. [Content Note: Video may autoplay at following link.] That's because, as Hillary Clinton noted during the second presidential debate, Vladimir Putin doesn't give a fuck about ISIS: "Clinton said that Russia 'isn't interested in ISIS' and its assault on Aleppo was aimed at destroying Syrian rebels opposed the regime led by Bashar al-Assad."

But during the 2016 election, the one in which Russian interfered, every single one of Hillary Clinton's leading opponents suggested working with Russia in some manner, using the justification of joining forces to defeat ISIS.

Donald Trump repeatedly insisted throughout the campaign (and still asserts) that we should work with Russia to defeat ISIS, and criticized President Obama for not having done the same, despite the fact that such a plan is "futile and dangerous."

November 2015: Sanders Calls for New NATO That Includes Russia. "Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a new accord between America, its closest allies, and Russia as well as Arab nations as a major plank on how to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)."

September 2016: Gary Johnson: 'What Is Aleppo?' "With regard to Syria I do think it's a mess. I think that the only way that we deal with Syria is to join hands with Russia to diplomatically bring that at an end."

October 2015: Jill Stein Calls for Ceasefire in Syria, Joint Peace Agenda with Russia. "Stein People's Agenda for Global Peace and Agenda lays out a multi-prong approach to pursue peace based on focusing on promote [sic] justice and prosperity for all countries. Stein last week in NYC briefly outlined the proposal to Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who asked her to follow-up with more details."

So, no serious foreign policy suggestions to join with Russia to fight ISIS before 2016. Then, during the election in which Russia intervened with the express purpose of defeating (or critically weakening) Clinton, every one of her opponents from across the political spectrum — her Democratic primary opponent, and her general election Republican, Libertarian, and Green Party opponents — each offered a policy of aligning with Russia, with the rationale of defeating ISIS.

Clinton was also the only candidate who did not have someone with ties to Putin working on her campaign, or a previous campaign. Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Sanders' chief strategist Tad Devine had previously worked in collaboration for pro-Putin former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. Roger Stone was an advisor on Johnson's 2012 campaign, and continued to speak enthuiastically about Johnson in 2016. And Stein rather famously had dinner with Putin herself.

Also at that dinner? Michael Flynn — who then used that curiously shared rationale of defeating ISIS to argue for allying with Russia when his candidate won the White House.

A rationale that has never made, and continues to make, no sense based on the most basic understanding of Russia's objectives and alliances in Syria.

I have questions about how every campaign but Clinton's came to advocate this peculiar policy.

* * *

I believe it's entirely possible that Bernie Sanders has reasonable explanations for all of these things. In which case, it should neither be difficult nor inconvenient for him to account for them, publicly and transparently.

Before he mounts another presidential run, he needs to make some assurances to the people he hopes to represent in the White House, because these are the things we know for sure: Sanders' 2016 campaign was aided by Russian interference; and so was the campaign of the current occupant of the White House, and his governance is clearly compromised as a result.

So we need some straightforward answers. And if Sanders is unhappy about that, he can direct his ire at the Russians (which he should be doing as a sitting United States Senator) and not with the American public and journalists who want and quite reasonably expect serious answers from him.

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