Franklin Graham speaking at President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Photo: Screenshot
Religious right leaders have been some of Vladimir Putin’s biggest fans for many years now. Franklin Graham in particular has made it clear that he prefers Putin’s authoritarian regime to Obama’s democratic leadership, if for no other reason than because of the unbridled homophobia behind it.
So how long can it be before the religious right becomes embroiled in the unfolding scandal over Russia’s determination to undermine U.S. democracy? As it turns out, not long at all.
At the heart of biggest questions about Russia’s influence in the 2016 election is the extent to which the Trump campaign colluded with Putin’s stand-ins in hopes of getting some kind of advantage. And it’s no surprise that one key event has its start with a conservative Christian supporter of Trump.
The Russians offered a “backdoor overture and dinner invite” to the Trump campaign in May 2016, just as Trump was clinching the Republican nomination. The offer went all the way up the campaign chain before presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner rejected it. (Kushner has his own problems with Russian connections in any event.)
What’s interesting is not the attempt. It’s the channel through which it was made: Rick Clay, a conservative Christian activist from West Virginia. Clay says that a friend of his who is working with Christian organizations in Russia, passed the request on to him. Clay in turn called one of Trump’s top aides to extend the invitation.
The invitation was hardly an innocent one. Behind it was Alexander Torshin, deputy of the Russian central bank and man believed to have ties to Russian intelligence. Since Putin formerly ran the KGB, it’s a short leap to the top.
This isn’t to say that Clay was a witting tool of a Russian disinformation campaign. But it is a sign that Russia knows how to play upon the admiration of the religious right to advance more nefarous goals.
Russia knows a good thing when it sees it, and it has been ardulously courting the religious right for years. The growing ultra-Orthodox movement in Russia is an obvious ally for the U.S. religious right. But in an authoritarian country like Russia, there is no separation between the sanctioned activities of its religious leaders and the politial goals ot the government. If it can turn up a couple of useful tools in the U.S. to help further Putin’s aims, so much the better.
Clay is hardly the only example of Russophilia, Sam Clovis withdrew his nomination to head the USDA because of his connection to the Russia scandal. Clovis was an early supporter of Trump’s and a key ambassador to Iowa’s evangelical voters. He was also a cheerleader for Russia.
Given the uncritical love that religious right leaders have lavished on Russia, there was bound to be a link to the Russia scandal. The question is whether there is even more out there. In the old days, this willingness to play footsie with a hostile power would have been looked upon as treasonous.
Now it’s just the Trump way.