With less than a month before the November 8th election, the tone of the presidential race is so acrimonious that many voters are turned off. Nonetheless, everyone who is serious about US democracy should pay attention because there are daily revelations, mostly about Donald Trump.
On October 1st, the New York Times revealed that it had received the first few pages of Trump's 1995 tax returns. They revealed that Trump had taken a $916 million write off -- which likely allowed him to not pay taxes for twenty years. Then, on October 7th, the Washington Post revealed the existence of a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape where Trump made lewd comments about women.
Meanwhile, also on October 7th, Wikileaks revealed thousands of emails hacked from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta.
Many observers believe that between now and election day there will be dueling revelations: details of Donald Trump's behavior with women -- Trump has the profile of a sexual predator -- and emails from Podesta and other Clinton campaign insiders. Nonetheless, the ultimate "October Surprise" is likely to be the details of Trump's relationship with Russia.
In August, I wrote a column predicting that before the election Trump's tax returns would be hacked: "They'll likely show zero taxes paid, no charitable contributions, and scary ties to Russian oligarchs." Today we know that Trump paid no taxes and has next to zero charitable contributions. But we still don't understand his ties to Russian oligarchs. That shoe is about to fall.
During the October 9th debate, Hillary Clinton twice made an unusually strong condemnation of Russia: "Our intelligence community just... said that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election. And WikiLeaks is part of that... we don't even know if it's accurate information, and then they put it out. We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election... They're doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump."
Trump responded: "Anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are -- [Hillary] doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they're trying to tarnish me with Russia... I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don't deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia."
In a debate where Trump told 33 lies, few commented on Trump's remark, "Maybe there is no hacking." But, on October 10th, NBC News reported that Trump "was personally briefed on Russia's role in the hacks by U.S. officials."
We've gotten so used to Trump's lies that it's easy to dismiss this particular lie as, "Trump continuously lies because he can." But in a new book, "The Plot to Hack America," intelligence expert Malcolm Nance suggests that Trump is a pawn in Vladimir Putin's own version of "Game of Thrones;" Putin wants to humiliate President Obama and Secretary Clinton and is using Trump, together with Russian spy agencies, to accomplish his objectives.
Nance speculates that Putin has enlisted Trump by appealing to Trump's vanity and greed. In return, Trump has taken the most pro-Russia stance of any political candidate in recent memory. In the second debate, Trump suggested that the US should abandon Aleppo because "it has fallen." He "explained": "Syria is Russia" and "Russia is killing Isis." (It appeared that Trump was saying that all of the occupants of Aleppo belong to Isis -- something that is far from true). Trump has called Vladimir Putin a more capable leader than President Obama. He's called for normalizing relations with Russia, "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia?"
Trump claims he has no financial ties to Russia: "I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don't deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia." Here's what the Washington Post says: "There is all kinds of evidence, including statements from his advisers and family members that Trump has done business with Russia. Donald Trump Jr. said in 2008 that 'Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.' Alan Garten, general counsel of the Trump Organization, told our colleagues in May: 'I have no doubt, as a company, I know we've looked at deals in Russia. And many of the former Russian republics.' "
Time Magazine reported: "As major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows. What's more, several of Trump's senior advisors have business ties to Russia or its satellite politicians."
Trump could prove he has no financial ties to Russia by releasing his tax returns, but he refuses to do this. Conservative columnist George Will observed, "Perhaps one more reason why we're not seeing [Trump's] tax returns is because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs and others."
The hacking and publication of Trump's complete tax returns will be the ultimate October surprise. Given that Obama/Clinton are very irritated with Putin, coupled with the capabilities of American cyber-security services, it's very likely that Trump's tax returns will be released before November 8th.