The Sunday CBS “60 Minutes” program aired a dramatic story about murder and corruption in Russia and the criminals who run the regime in Moscow. But it did not mention the failure of the Obama administration to challenge the Putin regime over its blatant human rights abuses and official corruption.
Obama has officially been in favor of a “strong Russia” since a speech he made in Moscow in 2009. “America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia,” he said.
Businessman Bill Browder, who ran an investment fund in Russia called Hermitage Capital Management, told “60 Minutes” that “The Russian regime is a criminal regime. We’re dealing with a nuclear country run by a bunch of Mafia crooks. And we have to know that.”
It appears that Obama does not want to recognize this fact.
The story was narrated by correspondent Scott Pelley, who is also the anchor and managing editor of the “CBS Evening News.” He began the story by saying, “Russia has been showing the world glistening scenes of the Winter Olympics. It’s a rare opportunity to brighten a national image that often skates on the thin ice of corruption. One authority estimates that 20 percent of the Russian economy is skimmed by graft, and a lot of that by government officials.”
It may be worse than that. As AIM recently noted, Russian activists estimate that $30 billion of the $50 billion cost of the Olympics has been stolen by corrupt officials linked to Putin.
Exposing corruption in Russia is a valid journalistic project. But what about the “national image” of the Obama administration and its failure to challenge and expose what’s happening in Russia? This was a glaring omission in the CBS report.
Most of the “60 Minutes” story was a Pelley interview with Browder about the death of his Russian attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, in 2009 in Russia. Magnitsky was imprisoned and then killed by Russian authorities after he uncovered official corruption involving the theft of $230 million.
Browder has become an “Enemy of the State” in Russia, and has been threatened with death.
Pulling no punches when it came to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the story made it clear that he is part of the corruption and cover-up. He has explained away Magnitsky’s murder by Russian authorities as an accidental death and nothing to be concerned about.
Putin said, “Do you think no one dies in American jails. Of course they do. So what?”
Russian officials claimed that Magnitsky, who was beaten and tortured to death, had died from a heart attack. He was prosecuted after his death, along with Browder, for tax evasion.
However, Congress passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act at the end of 2012 over the objections of the Obama Administration. It placed visa and financial asset bans on Russian officials either involved in Magnitsky’s case or accused of human rights abuses.
It was in July 2009 that Obama told the New Economic School in Moscow that the U.S.-Russian relationship required a new tone recognizing a strong Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a gift-wrapped red button that was supposed to signify a “reset” in relations.
With the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even various conservative groups, Obama also pushed Congress to grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status to Russia, giving them access to American capital.
After PNTR was granted, Putin showed his gratitude by giving asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, in a case writer Edward Lucas calls “the West’s greatest intelligence disaster,” benefiting America’s enemies.
While Obama threw a temper tantrum over an anti-gay propaganda law in Russia, his administration has failed to implement and enforce the Magnitsky Act. In fact, as noted by David Kramer of Freedom House during a recent press conference, the Obama administration has not updated the list, as required, and has been challenged on this by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Robert Corker (R-TN).
The senators said, “On December 20, 2013, we received the Department of State’s first annual report. Disappointingly and contrary to repeated assurances and expectations, this report indicates that no persons have been added to the Magnitsky list since April 2013, and it does not provide adequate details on the administration’s efforts to encourage other governments to impose similar targeted sanctions.”
In addition to the prestige of hosting the Sochi Olympics, Russia holds the presidency of the G8 group of nations, and is also hosting the G8 summit in June in Sochi.
The “60 Minutes” show featured this exchange with Browder:
Scott Pelley: What’s happened to these people [Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s death and cover-up] now that you’ve exposed them?
Bill Browder: A number of them received state honors. They’re still valued people no matter what anyone says about them abroad.
Scott Pelley: What does that tell you?
Bill Browder: That tells me that this goes right up to the president of Russia.
Scott Pelley: Why do you say so?
Bill Browder: Because the president of Russia has basically gone on record and he’s denied that there was any crime that was committed by any official. He’s on the record saying Sergei Magnitsky was a crook and he’s gone on the record saying that I’m a crook. He’s clearly involved in the cover-up.
The website exposes one group, the Klyuev Organized Crime Group, which has “the full cooperation and protection of high ranking Russian government officials in law enforcement, the Tax Ministry, and the FSB, the successor to the KGB.” It adds, “Because the Klyuev Organized Crime Group contains members of the Russian government and because the highest authorities in Russia are protecting it, it is no longer possible to consider the group independent of the Russian government. Its crimes are state sanctioned.”
At the end of his “60 Minutes” report, Pelley noted that the U.S. Department of Justice had filed suit against 11 companies “alleging that they used Manhattan real estate transactions to launder some of the money stolen from the Russian treasury” in the case.
But he didn’t utter a word about the administration refusing to fulfill its legal responsibilities under the Magnitsky act. And there was no indication that a comment was sought from Hillary Clinton about whether she believes her “reset” in relations with Russia has been successful.
This commentary originally appeared at AIM.org and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo Credit: erjkprunczyk Creative Commons