Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow on December 14, 2017. Photo: Reuters via Sputnik / Alexei Druzhinin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow on December 14, 2017. Photo: Reuters via Sputnik / Alexei Druzhinin

The ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller over Russia’s alleged interference in the US election is sputtering. The role of the FBI and the Justice Department in boosting Hillary Clinton’s election prospects last November can no longer be shoved under the carpet.

The email correspondence between top FBI agent Peter Strzok and a bureau lawyer Lisa Page, who were working on the 2016 election (besides having an extramarital affair), suggests that they were fired up with messianic zeal to ensure that somehow Hillary won – and, importantly, that Trump lost. And they probably had ‘in-house’ meetings with then-No. 2 in the FBI Andrew McCabe, presently acting director, who subsequently handpicked Mueller as special counsel.

The same folks appear to have used the alibi of the infamous anti-Trump “dossier” compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele (which was commissioned by the Clinton campaign) to obtain a warrant in mid-2016 from a secret federal court to conduct surveillance of a Trump-campaign official – although the FBI dismissed Steele’s work as “salacious and unverified” in congressional testimony.

The Clinton campaign research project (Steel’s ‘dossier’) involved a Russia analyst who’s the wife of the Obama Justice Department’s associate deputy attorney general. Serious questions arise regarding the role of the Obama FBI and Obama Justice Department – gross misuse of official machinery to boost Hillary’s campaign. Yet, Mueller seems unperturbed that this unsavory aspect is inextricably linked to the alleged Russian interference.

Then, there is the sideshow about Hillary’s emails investigation. The grand jury was denied access to material evidence; Justice Department collaborated with Hillary’s defense lawyers to rein in the FBI from examining digital evidence (and providing immunity grants to suspects) and violated established legal and ethical rules. And the FBI statement exonerated Hillary much before the investigation was complete and key witnesses were yet to be interviewed.

Above all, there was the famous tarmac meeting between Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch and Hillary’s husband Bill Clinton just days before his wife sat for a perfunctory FBI interview, after which the agency’s director announced the decision not to charge her.

Breathtaking climax approaching

This is truly a Kafkaesque situation. The President’s opponent who lost the 2016 election apparently wields more influence to leverage the Washington establishment. Isn’t Trump paying a heavy price for winning the election? A breathtaking climax is approaching. Trump is unlikely to dismiss Mueller for being a partisan and the latter should have recused himself.

It would not be easy to find an attorney of standing in America whom Bill Clinton wouldn’t have known or pallied with during his extraordinary political career, to conduct a thorough investigation into his wife’s activities. But if the prospect of a full investigation into Hillary sails into view, the formula for a truce will emerge.

The international community has high stakes in the outcome. The time between now and March will be most thrilling. If a ceasefire in the American civil war is declared by March, when President Vladimir Putin is certain to obtain a renewed six-year mandate in the Russian presidential election, a new beginning may still be possible in Russian-American relations and world politics may change course.

Any old observer of Kremlin politics would have sensed it in his bones that the friendly remarks about Trump by the Russian leadership in recent days wouldn’t have been mere indulgence in politeness. In a nationally televised interview two weeks ago, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev made flattering remarks about Trump:

“To speak about the outward impression, he (Trump) is a well-wishing political figure who wants to establish full-fledged contacts and perceives absolutely everything adequately.” Yet, Medvedev’s own characterization a few days earlier was that present Russia-US tensions are comparable to the 1980s.

Notably, Putin openly complimented Trump by commending the US’s economic performance – also during a nationally televised news conference on Thursday. This is when anti-US feelings are running high in Russia. Putin, in particular, could have easily tapped into ‘anti-Americanism’ to boost his re-election bid. But he’s doing the exact opposite.

Both Medvedev and Putin may have signaled (with an eye on Washington) to the Russian people that there is new thinking in the Kremlin regarding the future trajectory of relations with the US.

Indeed, Trump promptly took note of Putin’s flattering remarks and called him on the phone immediately to deliver a personal word of thanks. And this is despite the Trump National Security Advisor HR McMaster’s characterization of Putin’s Russia last weekend as an incorrigible revisionist power that is hell-bent on upending the international order.

Most important, the Kremlin has moderated its stance on Jerusalem by distancing itself from the Turkish position – although the Russian Foreign Ministry statement on December 7 was equally critical of Trump’s decision. On Thursday, the Kremlin spokesman spoke cryptically and refused to elaborate.

Back channels seem to be at work between Moscow and Tel Aviv on the one hand and Tel Aviv and Washington on the other. The Kremlin’s calculus on Israel is highly complex. Many elements are at work – Jewish lobby among Russian elites, powerful oligarchs, ethnic Russians’ role in Israeli politics, Moscow’s perception of Israel as a driver of US policies in the Trump administration, etc.

Indeed, Russian self-interest invariably comes first and last in any given situation, and the Kremlin has reason to hope that Israel can swing a course correction in US policies toward Russia. No doubt, Trump’s friendly phone call to Putin last night was an extraordinary gesture on the eve of his unveiling of the new US national security strategy.

Suffice to say, Muller’s investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election can phenomenally change the climate of US-Russia relations.

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