One the most heavily promoted stories of this year’s campaign is that Donald Trump is a tool of Moscow and no one is pushing it harder than Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Just in the past few days we’ve had stories by numerous outlets regurgitating the idea, including Politico — “Clinton suggests Russia working to elect Trump” — and CNN — “Hillary Clinton: Timing of Russian hack aimed at helping Trump.”
The idea that Trump is Putin’s Manchurian Candidate is too ludicrous to take seriously, as Paul Starobin, Business Week’s former Moscow bureau chief, recently wrote here. But it has gained such currency that when an audience member recently asked Stephen Colbert what question he’d like to ask Trump, he replied, “Well, we’re not broadcasting right now so I would say, ‘What does Vladimir Putin’s dick taste like?’.’ This got picked up widely on the Internet and was treated as politically-informed comedy gold.
Let me state for the 1,000th time that I find Trump, like Clinton, to be a repellent candidate, but there’s no question that he’s getting screwed by the media during this campaign. And one key example is that Hillary Clinton has extensive ties of her own to Russia (more in upcoming stories) and various Eastern European oligarchs, but she’s largely gotten a free pass on these topics.
One of the key attacks on Trump, carried forward from Hillary’s bunker with a full-scale media blitzkrieg, was about how his former top advisor, Paul Manafort, had advocated for deposed Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort’s tab for this PR work was picked up by Rinat Akhmetov, a billionaire oligarch who reportedly had ties to organized crime groups.
The stories trickled out slowly and then in a flood. Major pieces ran in Bloomberg, the Washington Post and Slate, among countless others, right up to the point that Manafort resigned last month. (Disclosure: Manafort is generally bad news and I wrote three stories about him, too, one here and two in Fusion. I don’t think that there’s a battle between good and evil going on in Ukraine, as the general storyline goes, and I never spoke to any Clinton campaign staffers, or even anyone who likes her, for those articles.)
What’s been mostly missing from media coverage is that Hillary Clinton has murky ties of her own to Ukraine and she took actions as secretary of state that could be viewed as a threat to U.S. national security and, separately, were a slap in the face to swing state steelworkers she professes to love on the campaign trail.
So what about Hillary’s Ukraine connections?
Well, let’s look at Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, one of the richest men in Ukraine. He is a supporter of what the media usually lazily describes as the “pro-West” faction in the country, which allegedly makes him a good guy. In reality, there are no true good guys in Ukraine; there are merely competing factions of a predatory elite. (Kind of like here at home, speaking of underreported stories.)
Pinchuk is represented by Doug Schoen, a long-time consultant to Bill and Hillary Clinton and regular cable news commentator. In 2008, Pinchuk made a five-year, $29 million commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, making him one of the Clinton foundation’s largest individual donors.
Pinchuk is the son-in-law of former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who was implicated in the murder by beheading of journalist Georgy Gongadze. Pinchuk started amassing his fortune in 2002 when he married Kuchma’s daughter and soon obtained massive industrial interests at a fraction of their value through rigged privatizations.
With the help of Schoen, Pinchuk tried to transition, with great success, from being a reviled oligarch to serving as a “bridge to the West.” In one PR moved, Pinchuk hosted a conference — in Yalta, of all places — which Hillary attended and where he moderated a panel between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
Meanwhile, Pinchuk’s contributions to the Clinton Foundation apparently paid off. The oligarch got away with trading with Iran, in possible violation of U.S. sanctions, through Interpipe Group, a manufacturer of pipes for oil and gas sectors. Congress called for an investigation into Interpipe’s sanctions-busting but Secretary of State Clinton, for some odd reason, displayed less enthusiasm and her agency declined to launch a probe.
Oh yeah, as the New York Times did report a few years ago, Pinchuk was also “at the center of a trade dispute that placesd him at odds with steelworkers in Pennsylvania and Ohio.” The case involved charges from American steel makers that Ukrainian companies like Interpipe had dumped steel tubes on global markets and undercut U.S. companies in “an industry whose growth has provided one of the few bright spots in the…manufacturing sector.
The Commerce Department did find Interpipe guilty of dumping violations, but Pinchuk’s company will not be hit with added tariffs until July 2017. By then, a Clinton White House could easily reverse course and ditch the penalties against this close Friend of Hillary and major Clinton Foundation donor.
So a key aide to Trump getting paid by a crooked oligarch to promote a corrupt faction of Ukraine’s elite merits 24/7 media coverage. A key Clinton aide paid by a crooked oligarch to promote a corrupt faction of Ukraine’s elite gets far less press — even if Hillary’s pal is a huge donor to her foundation and on her watch as secretary of state got away with sanctions-busting in Iran and may well escape any real punishment for steel-dumping that pummeled the Midwest.
They both seem like good stories, but the Manafort version has gotten far more play than the Schoen version. It’s not hard to guess why.