Twelve Russian intelligence officials have been indicted for hacking the Democratic Party during the last presidential campaign. The hacking began on July 27, 2016, the day candidate Donald Trump encouraged Russian hackers to see what dirt they could find on Hillary Clinton.

Naïve idealists called on President Trump to cancel his summit with Vladimir Putin to protest Russian meddling in American elections. They suffer from the delusion that Mr. Trump puts the well-being of our country above personal ambitions. His opinion that ferreting out the perpetrators and colluders in the attack on American democracy was detrimental to U.S./Russian relations shows where his loyalties lie. The president also says the U.S. has been “foolish and stupid” for opposing Soviet/Russian oppression, subjugations and mass murder over the past 100 years. None of that matters against the chance to build a hotel in Moscow. The summit was never going to be much more than a meeting of the Putin Admiration Society. Russia’s occupation of Ukraine – the trigger for Western sanctions – was never going to be discussed. Watch out Estonia!

Some have wondered at Trump’s fascination with Putin – “a crook and a murderer,” according to Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse. Consider this. The Russian leader has become perhaps the richest man in the world, net worth estimates run from $70 to $200 billion. The cost of doing business in Russia is paying off Putin.

This meeting allowed the president to thank Putin face-to-face for his help in setting up a Trump oligarchy. And, where better for an apprentice oligarch to get tips on profiting from one’s governmental position than from his idol?

In a June 29 report for CNBC, John Harwood notes: “In their recent financial disclosure forms, Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump” (she with the Chinese sweatshops) “and Jared Kushner reported more than $500 million in income…. “That income came from their hotels, golf courses, clubs and merchandise sales. It came from long-established businesses and newly formed ones. No modern president has profited this way during his time in office. Predecessors like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush put their assets in blind trusts to avoid conflicts between their financial interests and the public interest. Trump did not.”

He announced in January 2017 that he would step away from his businesses by putting his sons Donald Jr. and Eric in charge of them. But he stepped away only from their management, not their profits. “As president, Trump has promoted those businesses with his presence relentlessly. During his first 514 days in office, he visited Trump properties on 159 of them.” And, of course, when Trump visits his properties, he brings a government-paid entourage with him to his high-priced digs. One news source observed: “Trump turns UK trip into taxpayer-subsidized ‘infomercial’ for Scottish property.”

Harwood continues: “At least two American embassies abroad have promoted Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club, on their websites. A national park in Virginia has offered Trump wine for sale. “Trump aide Kellyanne Conway publicly urged Americans to buy Ivanka Trump’s products in a television appearance on Fox News. Explaining the popularity of Trump’s Washington hotel, Conway told Politico that customers ‘look at it as a piece of the president.’  As demand rose, the Trump organization raised prices. Mar-a-Lago, which Trump calls the “Winter White House,” doubled its membership fee to $200,000. Trump International Hotel, whose managers market it as a destination for diplomats, raised room rates almost 60 percent.”

What Harwood did not report was a possible reason for the dearth of public appearances by First Lady Melania Trump – whom the Associated Press has documented as working illegally on a tourist visa on her first trip to the U.S. in 1996. Turns out that she has a licensing deal with Getty Images to supply pictures to news organizations to be used for “positive” purposes.

Fewer public appearances mean fewer chances for public photos and the greater demand for the licensed pictures. Granted, the $100,000 to $1 million she earned last year is chickenfeed compared to what other family members are grifting on governmental connections, but it is consistent with Trump Family Values. So, when she heads off to visit internment camps for children wearing a jacket that proclaims: “I don’t really care. Do U?” we can believe her.

My theory for the origin of the Trump presidential campaign was that it was a stunt to generate free publicity for his businesses. That’s before he realized that appealing to latent and blatant racism could be even more profitable.

The president is making a fortune from his official position. How are the rest of you faring?

(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)

Apprentice oligarch meets with old pro

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