Op-ed: Red flags over Trump Towers

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, December 17, 2016 5:36pm
  • Opinion

There is a really good reason to support Senate confirmation of Rex Tillerson to be President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state: Tony Perkins opposes him. Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council, otherwise known as the Bedroom Busybodies. He blasted out a statement condemning ExxonMobil CEO Tillerson as a person who “not only led the charge to open the Boy Scouts to gay troop leaders but whose company directly gives to Planned Parenthood.”

Tillerson was, in fact, active in the Boy Scouts and did lead the effort to open Scouting up to gays. His corporation did make contributions to Planned Parenthood, which has become a target of hard-right conservatives everywhere, certainly the church ladies like Perkins. But those are pluses, and as a general rule, anything or anyone Tony Perkins opposes is usually worth embracing.

But then there’s that other guy in Tillerson’s life who, for good reason, has inspired intense opposition — Vladimir Putin. Depending on who’s talking, the two are best buddies or just business associates who were able to negotiate multibillion-dollar oil deals. We do know that Tillerson was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship medal a few years back, a high honor, especially in Moscow. He’d certainly be the first secretary of state to have received one. But before he gets the new job, he can expect to face fierce Senate opposition because of the impressions of his coziness with Putin. As huge as that issue is, it’s really just part of a much bigger picture.

There’s the lingering image of Donald and Vladimir as a bromantic item. It goes way further than the two exchanging gushy compliments. If leaks dribbling from those within the U.S. intelligence apparatus are to be believed, Vlad’s Russian espionage engineered Trump’s victory. Our computer spies say that theirs hacked Democratic emails and saw to it the damaging and embarrassing stuff was made public. It was part of a successful effort to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Trump. Hillary is saying that Putin was out to get her. The real range of reasons could stretch from Putin despising Hillary to Donald being Putin’s dupe or even Donald being a plant. Donny and his supporters predictably dismiss such speculation, using words like “ridiculous” and “hysterical,” but those are just words. So do the Russians. Tellingly, the president-elect is avoiding his daily intel briefings. When discussions touch on Moscow’s hacking, the distinct impression is that he drowns it out, maybe by putting his hands over his ears and shouting “lalalala” at the top of his lungs.

So we have the cyber intrusions, Tillerson’s relationship with Putin and a variety of other, how shall I say it, red flags. There also Mike Flynn’s dealings with RT, the Russian propaganda outlet. After retiring under pressure as an American general, Flynn had his own financial arrangements with Russia and was photographed sitting next to Putin at an RT dinner. Flynn will be Trump’s national-security advisor.

Even some Republicans say there needs to be a comprehensive investigation by Congress. However, when you look closely, they seem to be trying to have it both ways, suggesting that it be conducted by intelligence committees, which means that any results would be shrouded in secrecy. Two exceptions are Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, but both can be dismissed as never seeing a saber they didn’t want to rattle.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama says he’s going to punish Russia, and he’s told Putin in a call that he plans to do it. It would hardly be a surprise if Putin wasn’t too worried, considering how likely it is the sanctions will be reversed once his guy takes over the White House in about a month.

There certainly are a lot of strange bedfellows here, which might explain why Tony Perkins is so agitated. He goes bonkers over anything that happens in bed.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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