Earlier this week the Director of National Intelligence released a report detailing how Vladimir Putin tried, and ultimately failed, to help Donald Trump get reelected in 2020. It was a reminder that Putin isn’t omnipotent and doesn’t have a magic wand. It also suggested that the Trump experiment ended up making Putin weaker, not stronger.
Now the knives appear to be coming out. Putin has been playing high stakes poker since 2009, when he had journalist Sergei Magnitsky murdered. That resulted in costly international sanctions, which Putin tried to make up for in 2014 by invading Ukraine and seizing its assets. That resulted in even more sanctions, which Putin then tried to get eliminated by installing Trump as U.S. President. Trump was able to prevent additional sanctions, but never could get the existing sanctions undone.
It’s always felt like Putin overreacted when it came to Magnitsky, and he’s spent the past twelve years trying to dig himself out of that hole. Now we’re finally learning why Putin had Magnitsky taken out to begin with. The Daily Beast is reporting that the fraud Magnitsky uncovered was funding Putin’s chemical weapons program. Oops.
So now we know why Putin was so desperate to kill off Magnitsky and scare everyone else off the investigative trail that Magnitsky was on. This has been about chemical weapons all along. This isn’t surprising; after all, Putin is the kind of guy who loves having people poisoned. What we find notable is that this revelation is coming out right now, just a couple days after the DNI report highlighted Putin’s failed effort to tamper in the 2020 U.S. election.
This also adds new context to Putin’s decision to send Natalia Veselnitskaya to the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort during the 2016 election. Veselnitskaya was specifically seeking assurances that if Donald Trump won the election, he’d eliminate the Magnitsky Act. In other words, Putin was leaning on the Trump campaign to help him cover up the funding source for his chemical weapons program. Now comes the important question of whether the Trump campaign was aware of this at the time of the meeting.
Here’s what really stands out: these kinds of deeply buried internal financial records don’t just randomly fly off someone’s desk in a gust of wind and happen to land in a reporter’s hands. Someone decided that now was the time to leak these records, perhaps sensing that Putin is truly vulnerable, and looking to weaken him further.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report