President Donald Trump’s critics are arguing that GOP calls for the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and Democrats’ ties to Russia are an effort to distract from the real Russia investigation, into potential Trump-Russia collusion.
No, they are not.
Ever since Watergate, the mantra of all major corruption investigations has been to “follow the money.” Well, Americans of all political stripes should be outraged by the fact that both Democrats and Republicans in Washington are up to their eyeballs in Kremlin cash. Russian money found its way into the pockets of not only Trump advisers like Paul Manafort and Rick Gates - who were recently indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III - but also Democratic power lobbyist Tony Podesta, Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.
This should suggest to objective observers that Russia was using its money to influence both sides in order to advance the Kremlin’s interests. And it means that any full and impartial investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence our political process needs to follow the Russian money flowing into the coffers of the Clintons, their foundation and their top associates.
The New York Times reported in 2015 that “shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, [former President Bill] Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.” In total, $145 million went to the Clinton Foundation from interests linked to Uranium One, which was acquired by the Russian government nuclear agency Rosatum.
Think that was just a coincidence? As former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy points out, the Uranium One deal is not a national security scandal, it is a corruption scandal involving “Clinton family self-dealing.” Ask yourself: How many half-a-million-dollar speeches has Bill Clinton given to Kremlin-linked banks since Hillary Clinton was defeated? How much Russian money is flowing into the Clinton Foundation’s coffers today? If Donald Trump had given a $500,000 speech paid for by a Kremlin bank, and his private foundation had accepted $145 million from Vladimir Putin-linked oligarchs and their Western business partners, do you think that his critics would be insisting there was nothing to see here?
Then there is Tony Podesta. It is now front-page news that Podesta has been forced to step down from his soon-to-be-defunct lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, after being ensnared in the same scandal that led to the indictment of Trump campaign aides Manafort and Gates. The Podesta Group failed to register as a foreign agent for Russian interests while lobbying on behalf of the European Center for a Modern Ukraine - a front group that Mueller’s indictment says was “under the ultimate direction” of Ukraine’s Putin-backed president and his political party.
We should all be deeply concerned by how much Russian cash was sloshing around Washington, and how much of it found its way into the bank accounts of the Clintons and those around them. And we should all, Democrats and Republicans alike, want to get to the bottom of it.
As Americans, it goes against our sensibilities to encourage the Justice Department of one party to investigate the vanquished candidate of the other party. But does the fact that Clinton lost mean Americans don’t deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s efforts to influence our political process?
None of this absolves the Trump campaign or calls into question the intelligence community’s conclusion that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help … Trump’s election chances.” But it does underscore that the Russians were smart in what the intelligence community calls their efforts to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process.” They played both sides, and in so doing preyed on the singular weakness of the Clintons and those around them - greed.
Any impartial investigation of Russia’s efforts to meddle in our democratic process needs to include a full inquiry of the Russian money flowing into Clinton world. Such an inquiry is not a distraction. It is critical to restoring public faith in American democracy.
Marc A. Thiessen is a Washington Post columnist.