This blog is probably going to come across as disjointed because it has a number of moving parts that, taken separately, may not seem closely related. That said, hang in there as you read, and at the end, an effort will be made to tie things together, even if inconclusively.
2014: Trump and Russia
In March of 2014, Trump, who had not yet formally announced as a presidential candidate, phoned in an interview with “Fox and Friends”, a political talk show that is still a stable part of the Fox News Channel’s afternoon fare. Speaking of Russia, the real estate mogul described that country as “America’s biggest problem”. He called for even tougher sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea, and thought Russian Premier Putin to be untrustworthy and a liar.
Trump and Russia: 2016
Once into his candidacy, it didn’t take Trump long to stop the badmouthing of Russia altogether. That was replaced by first, faint praise for Putin that, over time, became more full throated; e.g. He’s “smart…a strong leader (1)…doing great things”. At the time, little significance was attached to this flip-flop; it was just Trump being his unpredictable self.
The run-up to the election
Two key events occurred just prior to ball0t-casting on November 9th: First, our Intelligence community had began moving towards the conclusion that Russia had hacked into the computers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC). That was followed by Wikileaks’ release of e-mails that had been obtained by that means. While this correspondence did not contain damning information about anyone, it did came across as unseemly, potentially capable of putting HRC in an unfavorable light, and thus having a negative impact on voters who were leaning towards her.
The last 2.5 months
Late in the evening of Nov. 9th, it became clear that Trump was going to be our next president. That matter is settled and should no longer be in dispute. But subsequent events have tainted his presidency even before it has begun. Most importantly, our Intelligence Community concluded with a high degree of certainty that the aforementioned hacking was indeed Russian in origin, and that it was undertaken to both cast doubt on our electoral process and benefit Trump who was seen as the Russians’ candidate of choice; i.e. the person they wanted to win.
As all this very recent history was unfolding, the previously cited bromance between Trump and Putin took on a new and greater significance, prompting conspiracy theorists to wonder if there hadn’t been some collusion between the two. That suspicion was heightened when it was learned that there had been some electronic contact between the Trump campaign and people inside the Russian government. We do not know what transpired in those back-and-forths. But, they did happen. Add to this, Trump’s new and far more sanguine view of Putin’s annexation of Crimea, Trump’s dissing of NATO, and his refusal to state unequivocally that he would oppose further Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine and/or neighboring Baltic nation-states that were once part of the USSR and that Putin covets. All this made people wonder “Whose side is Trump on?”
That brings us to last week (1-8 to 1-14) when Buzzfeed (2) released what the news media have referred to as a “dossier” that contained suggestions that Russia was holding secretly obtained material that would incriminate Trump with prostitutes during his 2013 visit to that country. When CNN picked up and aired this story, it gave it an air of credibility it did not deserve. That is because the contents of the dossier can accurately be described as raw and unverified intelligence (3). That said contents were collected by a seasoned British intelligence professional does not change the fact that any characterizations of it as “fake news” (4) or conversely as credible, are decidedly premature.
In the latest development in this ongoing story, Putin has jumped in with a public defense of Trump, claiming that the dossier is a sham; evidence that there are those who are intent on undercutting the election’s legitimacy. Not surprisingly, this statement was immediately seized upon as evidence of the bromance and collusion referred to above.
There are too many dots that connect in all this to dismiss resulting conspiracy theories as just so much bunk. That said, there aren’t enough connected dots to conclude that Trump is a de facto Russian agent. What is likely is that this matter will not die a quiet death of attrition. Indeed, the bet here is that because of the number of dots that are connected, our Intelligence Community will stay on top of this matter, looking to determine if the connections are of real significance or just chance occurrences. Simply put, this developing story is not going to go away. So……stay tuned.
- Trump’s reference to Putin as a “strong leader” didn’t seem to take into account the fact that the Russian is a brutal dictator who hasn’t hesitated to murder his opponents.
- Buzzfeed is an Internet media company that is well-known to political junkies.
- Knowing that the contents of the dossier were raw, unverified intelligence, it was reckless of Buzzfeed to publish it. CNN’s toned-down version of the same story was only slightly better.
- The “fake news” label, used first by Trump, has now been picked up by members of the conservative media and right-wing bloggers and critics.