On April 27, 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared at an event hosted by the Center for the National Interest, a Washington, D.C., think tank, to deliver a speech on foreign policy.
On May 20, 2016, as first reported by Foreign Policy, the Center for the National Interest fired one of its fellows, Alexander Kirss, after he criticized the organization’s decision to host Trump.
Before Kirss’ firing, and even before candidate Trump’s speech, in the morning of April 21, 2016, a staffer at the Center for the National Interest wandered into the office of Dimitri Simes, the group’s president. The staffer saw a pile of papers on Simes’ desk.
Once the staffer realized that the papers were, in fact, bullet-pointed paragraphs of a major foreign-policy address Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was set to deliver a week later, the leaker, using his cellphone, snapped pictures of the document. Subsequently, the photos were provided to the Daily Beast.
The photos’ metadata, according to the Daily Beast, confirms that they were taken in the morning of April 21. The photos reportedly indicate that the Center for the National Interest’s president, Dimitri Simes, had early access to candidate Trump’s speech, and possibly helped draft it.
This directly contradicts claims made by Simes himself in a Politico op-ed, published on the same day candidate Trump held what would later become one of his most infamous speeches.
In the piece, titled “Why I Hosted Trump’s Foreign-Policy Speech,” Simes writes about being contacted by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and elaborates on his decision to host the speech. But, Simes also wrote the following.
“The truth is that there really was little mystery to the event and, as it turned out, to Trump’s speech itself. I was curious as anyone to see what Trump would actually say.”
While, as the Daily Beast noted, it is not unusual for think tank heads to have access to previews of speeches their organization’s host, it remains unclear why Simes implies, in his Politico op-ed, that he had no access to the speech.
What makes Simes’ claims perhaps even more dubious is the fact that his think tank, the Center for the National Interest, is known to have ties to the Kremlin. Maria Butina, a writer for the National Interest, the Center for the National Interest’s bi-monthly foreign policy magazine, and Simes’ frequent email correspondent, was arrested on charges of conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign government in July, 2018.
The pictures provide new insight into the creation of Trump’s historic foreign policy speech. They also indicate that Simes was closer than previously known to the drafting of that speech https://t.co/oKFmTgrZhQ
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) September 6, 2018
Butina’s indictment, which is not part of Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference, as Vox noted, was in relation to Russia’s swaying of U.S. politics through the National Rifle Association (NRA).
According to Vox, Butina and Russian central bank official Alexander Torshin, “spent years cozying up to the NRA,” hosting NRA events in Moscow. But, the U.S. government alleged that Butina was, in fact, trying to influence U.S. politics on behalf of the Kremlin. According to the U.S. government, Butina dated a Republican consultant, and offered another person “sex in exchange for a position with a special interest organization.”
Candidate Donald Trump’s final speech — the speech he delivered before the Center for the National Interest’s audience on April 27, 2016, a transcript of which has been published by the Fiscal Times — significantly differs from the draft found, and photographed, on Simes’ desk.
For instance, the draft reportedly criticized American intervention in the Balkans.
“Look what happened in the 1990s. Even after the attacks on the USS Cole and our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, we continued to pursue nation-building in the Balkans. Then we got hit on 9/11, because our leaders were not sufficiently focused on the security of the American people.”
But, it is American intervention in the Balkans that helped stop the war in Bosnia in which, according to U.N. estimates, 100,000 Bosnians died after NATO bombed Serbian forces, and the U.S. brokered a peace agreement, as per BBC.
Similarly, During the Croatian war for independence, an estimated 20,000 people died, according to BBC.
In November, 2017, Serbian war commander Ratko Mladic was convicted of genocide, as Reuters reported.
Tensions in the Balkans, even 20 years after the war, continue to escalate. For instance, as Financial Times noted, the recently proposed land swap between Kosovo and Serbia could trigger unease in the area, prompting new conflict. Non-interventionism in the area has, traditionally, been interpreted as a pro-Serbia, anti-West stance in disguise, and therefore the default Russian position.
“Russia makes little secret of the fact that it will do what it takes to ensure the Orthodox Christian countries of former Yugoslavia do not join NATO but remain as a wedge between Greece and its NATO allies to the north,” the Guardian observed in April, in relation to the proposal to honor the late Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milošević with a statue in Belgrade.
The Balkans bit, however, was not included in Trump’s speech.
If only we had a serious foreign secretary ….. The west must not just abandon the Balkans to Russia’s embrace https://t.co/HuBJd2RmQd
— Alastair Campbell (@campbellclaret) April 8, 2018
Furthermore, the draft also included a line speaking out against prejudice.
“I reject bigotry of all kinds,” the draft from Simes’ desk reads. This line, too, was omitted. Trump did not reject bigotry in a speech delivered before the Center for the National Interest’s audience.
“I believe we need legal immigrants, who make a huge contribution to our economy. We can protect American workers and their way of life without being protectionist,” is another line in the draft from Simes’ desk that didn’t make it into the final version of the speech.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this remark about Russia did not appear in the final version of the speech.
“Russia is a declining but proud country with a nuclear arsenal that could obliterate our country.”
But, the following line did.
“I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia — from a position of strength — is possible. Common sense says this cycle of hostility must end.”
As the Daily Beast noted, Richard Burt, a member of the Center for the National Interest’s board, also helped candidate Trump write the speech. Burt advised Trump while lobbying on behalf of a natural-gas project controlled by the Kremlin.
House Intelligence Committee Democrats attempted to compel Simes to answer questions about the speech.
“The Committee is investigating matters related to the speech and communications that may have occurred at the event, and the Committee has reason to believe that Mr. Simes played a central role in drafting portions of the speech related to Russia.”
Committee Republicans decided against compelling Simes to answer questions.
According to the Center for the National Interest‘s official website, Dimitri Simes is President and CEO of the think tank, and publisher of its foreign policy magazine. Born in Moscow, and a graduate of Moscow State University, Simes emigrated to the U.S. in 1973. He was selected to lead the center by former President Richard Nixon. Simes regularly travels to Russia, and other former Soviet states.