Matt Taibbi on Trump's Position on NATO, Russia & his Campaign Head's $13 Million Scandal in Ukraine

August 16, 2016


Matt Taibbi

award-winning journalist with Rolling Stone magazine. He’s been closely following the Trump campaign. His most recent piece is headlined "The Summer of the Shill." Taibbi is the author of several best-selling books, most recently, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.

Phyllis Bennis

fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She’s written several books, including, most recently, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror.

During Donald Trump’s speech in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reversed his earlier threats to defy NATO treaties, and instead said he would work closely with the alliance to defeat ISIS. For more, we speak with award-winning journalist Matt Taibbi and author Phyllis Bennis.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump invoked the Cold War as he pledged to wage war against what he described as the "ideology of radical Islam." During his speech in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump also reversed his position on NATO, saying he would work closely with the alliance to defeat ISIS.

DONALD TRUMP: We will also work very closely with NATO on this new mission. I had previously said that NATO was obsolete, because it failed to deal adequately with terrorism. Since my comments, they have changed their policy and now have a new division focused on terror threats. Very good. Very, very good. I also believe that we could find common ground with Russia in the fight against ISIS.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Donald Trump in Youngstown. Phyllis Bennis, why don’t you take a shot at this?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, you know, I think that, first of all, his early critique of NATO was not about its lack of focus on terrorism, it was about the fact that, in his view, NATO countries don’t pay enough money to NATO, and therefore the U.S. is carrying too much of the burden. So, he’s now trying to claim credit for the fact that NATO took up an antiterrorism section after the attacks in France and Brussels. That’s what the response was. It wasn’t because Donald Trump made a comment. So, that’s one side of it.

The other side, though, you know, certainly, I think it’s always better to be talking about diplomacy, to be talking about negotiations with all other countries, certainly including Russia, rather than basing the relationship with Russia on threats, on new sanctions, etc. I do think, though, that the problem here is that we did not hear any actual plan for diplomacy. There was no reference to the existing diplomacy that has supposed to be underway between the United States and Russia regarding the war in Syria. That diplomacy has been very, very limited to "what can we bomb together?" There has not been a serious diplomatic move. If Donald Trump had been serious about rebuilding a different kind of relationship with Russia, he would have spoken about a new kind of diplomacy, based on finding diplomatic rather than military solutions, when we know that these military solutions have failed. He has no acknowledgment that the military solutions that he is talking about—simply escalating—that they have failed, and they will continue to fail.

So this notion of a new position on NATO "because I spoke about it" is simply not based on either the history of what he actually said in the past or the potential of what there’s going to have to be, if there’s going to be an easing of the tensions between Russia and the West, whether over Ukraine, whether the stationing of new NATO forces surrounding Russia, which is what’s going on right now. All of those realities have to be taken up in a diplomatic way, but he’s not talking about serious diplomacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking Monday at a campaign event in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Vice President Joe Biden, who was together with Hillary Clinton, said Donald Trump would make America less safe.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This guy’s shame has no limits. He’s even gone so far as to ask Putin and Russia to conduct cyber-attacks against the United States of America. No, no, even if he is joking, which he’s not, even if he’s joking, what an outrageous thing to say. Look, folks, these are not isolated examples. He’s even showered praise on Saddam Hussein, one of the vilest dictators of the 20th century, a man who repeatedly backed terror attacks against Israel because he was supposedly—the reason he admires him—he was a killer of terrorists. That’s why he likes Saddam. He would have loved Stalin. He would have loved Stalin.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Vice President Joe Biden speaking in Scranton, Pennsylvania, together with Hillary Clinton. Now, Matt Taibbi, you’re with Rolling Stone now. You lived in Moscow for 10 years; five of those years, you were editor of a newspaper called The Exile. Talk about Russia here—Hillary Clinton’s views on Russia, Donald Trump. Even take it to Paul Manafort, who The New York Times has been running pieces exposing ties to the Russian-friendly former head of Ukraine.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, so, a story came out yesterday in The New York Times that had a couple of scoops in it. One sort of linked Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to pro-Kremlin forces which supported the Yanukovych regime in Ukraine. There was also—there were some details about some dealings that Manafort had with a figure named Oleg Deripaska, who’s sort of one of the earliest Russian oligarchs, who was a much-feared figure during the '90s and throughout the 2000s. These stories were interesting. It was interesting that Trump chose to keep his remarks about working with Russia in his speech yesterday, after this pseudo-bombshell report in The New York Times. I think a different campaign might have edited those remarks out so as to take the spotlight away from Russia for a day or two. But he's been right out in the open in talking about how he wants to continue working with Russia.

Incidentally, the idea of now let’s work with NATO and let’s work with Russia at the same time, you know, he neglects to point out that there’s some contradiction there. Obviously, the Russians have a tremendous—it’s a tremendous domestic issue in Russia, the expansion of NATO. And so, that would somehow have to be smoothed over diplomatically in order for us all to work together collectively against ISIS. That issue would have to be dealt with before we can effectively work with Vladimir Putin.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, The New York Times exposé yesterday that handwritten ledgers unearthed by Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau showed nearly $13 million of cash payments that were slated to go to Paul Manafort, the campaign manager for Donald Trump.


AMY GOODMAN: Not know whether he actually received them, but he spent years—what, from 2010 to 2014—with Yanukovych—

MATT TAIBBI: Oh, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —has an office in Kiev.

MATT TAIBBI: Yes, he’s worked with all sorts of unsavory characters, from Mobutu Sese Seko to Ferdinand Marcos, and Yanukovych was another one. And, yes, he’s made a lot of money. He’s never—he’s never denied that. They did find this ledger after 2014, after Yanukovych stepped down, and—but he’s denied that he ever received this money. So, as of now, all they have is the ledger showing that this payment was made. We don’t know yet where that’s going to lead.

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