Friday, July 13, 2018

Kremlin's 30-year investment in Trump pays off

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the APEC leaders' summit on November 11, 2017.
Getty Images

...for Trump and his circle, losing would have been the best outcome: Trump would become the de facto leader of the GOP, his advisers would have a direct line to the majority in Congress, and they could operate as a shadow government, dogging Hillary Clinton around the country while making scads of money in everything from consulting to merchandising. People like Manafort and Michael Flynn could parlay their time in the campaign into access and credibility among Republicans.

Winning screwed all that up. Suddenly, all those Russian contacts were a problem. This was a nightmare for Team Trump, but an accidental windfall for Team Putin. The junk stock it invested in back in the 1980s was now a blue chip.

Victory therefore required a lot of quick mobilization to limit any possible damage, and to protect the new administration from revelations no one thought would matter after November 2016. 

If Jonathan Chait’s narrative at times seems to lean on people acting strangely, bear in mind that these might have been the actions of people who never expected to be in the White House...

People who once wanted to imprison Hillary Clinton for a uranium deal approved by the U.S. government are now waving away 30 years of Moscow’s personal and financial investments in Trump as though it’s nothing more than a condo purchase on an overdrawn checking account.

I do not know how much pressure the president is under from the Russians. Neither does Chait. Neither do Trump’s defenders. We may never get the full story, unless it is revealed to us by Robert Mueller or found in a future tranche of declassified documents. 

But there is no way to read Chait’s story—or to do any judicious review of Trump’s dealings with the Russians over years—and reach any other conclusion but that the Kremlin has damaging and deeply compromising knowledge about the president. Whether it is using such materials and how, is a matter of legitimate argument. That such things exist, however, and that they seem to be preoccupying the president, should be obvious.

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