A Hoax Vote?
Donald Trump is awfully fond of calling things a “hoax.” From labeling climate change a “hoax” concocted by the Chinese to telling reporters that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s wrenching testimony was a Democratic “hoax,” all sans evidence, nothing that happens is real unless el Presidente says so, capisce?
But if a hoax was perpetrated at all in the past few weeks, it was likely the performance of Trump’s fellow Republican Susan Collins, Senator from Maine. She wasted the whole country’s precious time pretending to seriously consider Dr. Ford’s testimony and weigh the merits of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. She did this seemingly to gin up accolades in the media about her supposed centrist bona fides. She was likely also accruing various forms of kickbacks from her colleagues, as she realized that her vote had become the linchpin to whether or not Kavanaugh was seated, and she exploited it for everything it was worth.
Collins is one of the more centrist Senators, in terms of how the Senate lines up with or against Trump’s policies. Collins votes with the president’s policy preference 80% of the time, which is one of the lowest numbers among Republican Senators. But her opposition consisted mostly of protecting the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights. She was also among those who opposed Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos. Otherwise, she talks a big game, but when the final tally is counted, she clicks her heels and salutes.
Looking back on the whole weeklong will-she?/won’t-she? drama, it seems absurd that there was actual suspense about how she was going to vote. George W. Bush, who cultivated both Collins’s and Kavanaugh’s careers, made several calls lobbying Collins on Kavanaugh’s behalf. Appeals to fealty to the Bush clan apparently worked. Collins was all too willing in the end to throw a sexual assault survivor under the bus, gaslighting her that she must have been confused about who had attacked her. Collins also explained her lockstep with the far right by acting dumb about what Kavanaugh is going to do on the Supreme Court, saying,
“My fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so we have far fewer 5-4 decisions and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored, …”
That is the opposite of what Kavanaugh will do on the Court and Collins knows that.
As I demonstrated last week in my analysis of Lindsey Graham’s motivations for becoming a rabid Kavanaugh defender and Trump mouthpiece, it seems that those Republicans with Russia connections were the most determined to make sure Kavanaugh gets on the court, likely in the hope that he will act as the judicial getaway driver once Robert Mueller’s report drops.
Related story: This is How the Russians Got to Lindsey Graham
Old Believers and New Believers?
Apart from loyalty to Bush, was there another reason that Collins was already locked in to supporting Kavanaugh? Is Collins linked into Russian influence? Her donor profile shows that she’s quite cozy with General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and financial firms. One of those includes Elliott Management, which has a Cayman Islands operation, which puts her downstream from the global money laundering apparatus. But there’s no blatant Russia link like Graham has.
Let’s look at her husband, Thomas Daffron.
Collins and Daffron married in 2012. The two first met in 1974, when she was an intern. Both worked for Senator William Cohen. Daffron has worked for several members of Congress over the years. He left Capitol Hill and moved down the street to become the Chief Operating Officer of Jefferson Consulting Group, LLC, a powerful lobbying group with a large and diverse portfolio. According to Bloomberg, “Mr. Daffron oversaw Jefferson Consulting Group’s administrative and financial functions as well as the day-to-day operations of the firm.”
Daffron was Senator Fred Thompson’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1998. Prior to becoming a Senator, Thompson had been a lobbyist with Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kah. According to a 2007 report by the Sunlight Foundation, Thompson was lobbying on behalf of Haiti in the early 1990s despite not having properly filed paperwork under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Americans lobbying on behalf of foreign governments without proper FARA registration has been a big part of the Trump-Russia criminal saga. Remember, Mike Flynn, who was patient zero of the FBI’s collusion probe, first got into hot water for failing to register as a lobbyist on behalf of the Turkish government.
What did Daffron learn from Thompson?
Shortly after Daffron took the helm of Jefferson Consulting, the lobbying group did lobbying work for the town of Kenai, Alaska. I looked through lobbying records and saw a lot of typical work for typical business clients. But this stood out. Daffron had previously done lobbying work for Native American tribes (likely in relation to casino and gaming issues) while he was the executive vice president at Chesapeake Enterprises from 2001 to 2004. But Kenai, Alaska was, as of 2009, the only instance of Daffron or the lobbying group he worked for, lobbying on behalf of an individual town.
When you look at Kenai’s lobbying portfolio, the town’s retaining Jefferson Consulting in 2009 is the only instance of it ever retaining a lobbyist. And the work was done pro bono. This is especially weird because Jefferson Consulting strictly handles federal lobbying. Why would a town of 7,000 people that isn’t a sovereign Native tribe, need to lobby the federal government, as opposed to the state government?
Why did a powerful lobbying group under the direction of Daffron work on behalf of a small town on a peninsula in a remote area of Alaska–for free?
On the surface, there isn’t much special about Kenai. The area is famous for salmon-fishing. Employers in the area currently hiring include UPS, Home Depot, a movie theater. Hardly the type of economy that retains powerful lobbyists.
However, there is one thing that is–unique–about Kenai. The first European settlement at the site was named Fort Nikolaevskaia. It was established by Russian fur traders in 1786. In 1895, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church was built, and it’s still there today, with its Russian-style onion dome. Today, the fort is gone, and the town of Kenai sits atop the site of where it once stood, surrounding the Russian Orthodox church.
But even more remote than the town, at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, is a small settlement called Nikolaevskaia, and it is populated almost entirely by a community of “Old Believers,” members of a sect of Russians who fled Russia in 1666 to escape religious persecution when the Russian state sought to reform the Russian Orthodox Church. The people who live in the settlement are devout puritans of pre-reformed Russian Orthodox.
Now, I don’t want to point fingers at this settlement of fewer than 400 mostly simple people who happen to be the descendants of Russian refugees. The community is very estranged from Russia. However, if you were going to send a discreet message or launder money internationally, you could do worse than a town in a super-remote area where the population speaks Russian, a Russian operative could easily blend in and communicate under the radar of US intelligence. A town where there’s a barely-patrolled port and where Russian-speaking Americans on fishing boats practically bump into Russian fishing boats in mutually fished waters would be an easy place to move someone or something internationally.
After all, there had to have been some sort of cost. A high-powered DC lobbying firm doesn’t actually do lobbying for free. So what was the payment? And why did Susan Collins marry the man she’d known most of her life in 2012, the year when Trump first attempted to run for president?
There are more questions here than answers. But one thing is certain. When you start digging into the personal network of a Republican power-broker, you invariably find a first-degree link to the global money-laundering apparatus. And Russian influence is usually somewhere in the background of the network.
Special thanks to Eric Garland for suggesting this line of inquiry.