Raising eyebrows: Insights into Trump, Russia and more (with five videos)

‘Raised eyebrows’ was a term U.S. Congressman Jim Himes (D, CT-4th) used to describe President Donald Trump’s Russian connections — and even more dramatic insights came later during a question-and-answer session at a recent meeting with constituents.

Himes, who represents New Canaan, and Connecticut’s Deputy Secretary of the State Scott Bates spoke at a forum called Russia, the U.S., and Trump, on June 10 at the Ridgefield Library with more than 200 people attending.

The question that got the biggest crowd response was when Ridgefield resident, Anne Ellsworth, asked, “Is there ever going to be any mental health testing” of Trump?  Another question prompted Himes to describe Trump’s performance at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization / NATO conference as “a disaster.”

Disaster at NATO

Himes, who attended the NATO conference in May, was asked by a forum attendee what he thought about Trump’s performance on the world stage. “It was a disaster,” said Himes.

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Hack our election

Russia “tried to poke around in the actual mechanics of our election,” Bates said. “But our elections are locally administered by local registrars” and “our system is so decentralized.” There is “no way you can hack our election in Connecticut” and the voting mechanics are “not online,” he said. “Everyone should have confidence their vote has been counted,” he said.

Himes said he would like to see NATO respond to the Russian reported cyber attacks on the U.S. electoral system. “NATO obviously hangs in the balance,” he said, because “we don’t know exactly what our president thinks about NATO.” But, Himes would like to see NATO “act as one,” since members of the organization have suffered cyber attacks. NATO should join forces to “extract a cost in the cyber realm,” he said.

Trump raises eyebrows

“There were lots and lots of contacts with Russia” by Trump associates, said Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, “which may make you raise your eyebrows a little bit.”

“What makes you raise your brow a little further” is that “there has been a lack of transparency,” said the congressman.

Himes noted that Trump is “not shy about criticising anybody,” and “despite the fact that the Putin regime is literally murderous, despite the fact that they are countering our interests all over the world, the president is oddly silent on this one.”

He continued, “Again that is not illegal, but it does make the eyebrows go up.”

He reminded the audience that “in 1973 it wasn’t actually the ‘break in’ that got the president in lots of trouble, it was the subsequent effort to cover up,” referring to President Richard Nixon and Watergate.

President’s mental health

Attendee Ellsworth said, “Everyday when tweets come out I am more and more shocked.” The room erupted in raucous laughter. Her follow-up to Himes, which was hard to hear over the crowd, prompted him to respond about presidents’ fitness for office.

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The 25th amendment states that “either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress,” could issue the declaration.

Hyper-polarization, fake news

Michael Andrews of Ridgefield asked Himes if the government could “tone down the hyper-polarization.” Himes responded: “I’m a little bit of a first amendment absolutist,” who does not want government to “evaluate anybody.” Quite “frankly I think it is up to us as citizens,” he said. Unfortunately, “You are celebrated for bombastic language,” and for being “outrageous,” he said.

“I’ve gotten on TV lately,” but “ordinarily they are not that interested in me because I don’t say crazy things,” said Himes. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, who have said outrageous things recently were immediately rewarded with millions of dollars in contributions, he said.

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Himes said that at another event he was asked if he could tamp down fake news. “I almost had a heart attack. No! As American citizens you don’t want your government sorting fake news from real news — that is what dictatorships do,” he said. Americans citizens need  “critical thinking ability to know when we are being fed a line,” he said.

A pessimistic Russia

The forum had started like a history lesson, as Bates took the podium and contrasted Russia’s insecurity with the United States’ sense of security. Russian history includes “invasion, humiliation, conquest and collapse,” he said. In contrast, “America, until recently I think, has been a pretty optimistic country.”

The Russians are pessimistic because they are ”open to invasion and they have no real allies,” Bates said. As a result of Russian insecurity “they want a divided Western world” and want to “destabilize all those around them,” he said. Russia wants to “undermine America’s claim for global influence,” he said.

In Bates view, the U.S. should “walk confidently on the world stage, not arrogantly.” He believes the best defense for the U.S. is to be part of NATO — “United we stand,” he said.

The Russians are playing a “very weak hand,” added Himes later. For one, he said, “Their economy is half the size of California.”

The forum was sponsored by the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee and moderated by Chairman Susan Coco.