Chait’s piece, however, deserves a fairer reading than it’s getting. Whatever else it may be, it is fundamentally a damning tally of the degree to which the Russian state has woven itself into the life of the current commander in chief. It helps instead to consider Trump not as a “recruit,” but as an investment. It is ridiculous to believe the Russians had a crystal ball, or a psychic who shook hands with Trump, like Johnny in The Dead Zone, and saw a future president. Rather, they took an interest in a wealthy American businessman with contacts throughout New York’s financial and political worlds. Indeed, as Chait notes, if the Russians hadn’t zeroed in on Trump—a man whose venality, vanity and vulgarity are like a menu of recruitable weaknesses—they’d have been guilty of intelligence malpractice. That’s why Chait’s article is worth a careful reading: He has laid out the mind-numbing history and facts of Trump’s dealings with Russia in one place.
From Trump’s first meetings with the Soviets (which apparently convinced him that he should become a voice on international security and nuclear affairs) to his numerous dealings with the world of Russian finance, to his jaw-dropping hire of Paul Manafort, a man whose résumé includes work aimed at keeping a Putin crony in power in Ukraine, the litany of direct and indirect contacts with the Kremlin exceeds all possible exculpatory explanations. Trump’s defenders over the past few years have gotten a lot of mileage by isolating each of these facts and treating them as insignificant. Chait, however, has gathered them together, and the picture they present is alarming, much in the way a lot of small debts don’t look like financial ruin until you write them down and tally them up. These facts, from the depth of Trump’s financial dealings to the personal connections of some of his top advisers and campaign staff to the Putin regime, are (or should be) undeniable. It is impossible to see the total picture and reach the conclusion that there is an innocent explanation behind it all. There’s simply too much to explain away. In plowing through this history, three things should be kept in mind. First, the amount of contact Chait illustrates between Trump world and the Russians is simply staggering. Even by the standards of international business, this is an astonishing amount of interaction that involves not just Trump’s financial interests, but vertically deep ties that extend down into his family.
Second, too many Americans do not understand that Russia’s oligarchs, millionaires, business leaders, state officials and intelligence operatives are all part of the same ecosystem. It is not possible to shake hands with just one arm of this octopus without being enveloped by the others. If Trump was in deep with the Russian criminal and financial worlds, the Russian intelligence services knew it, and so did Russia’s top spook, Putin. Trump must know this as well. Third, Chait’s readers should not be looking for silver bullets that either doom or exonerate Trump. Rather, they should follow the argument about a pattern of interaction that would raise the suspicions of even the most amateur intelligence analyst. Chait does not assert that Trump is a foreign agent, instead calling him an “asset.” I am not sure I agree, at least not as an “asset” in the sense of someone who is knowingly trying to help the Russians, with their explicit guidance, against the United States. Instead, what Chait presents, without having to get too far out on a ledge about agents or assets, is a plausible case that a U.S. president is compromised by a foreign power that has damaging information about him.
But how would such compromising work in practice? Chait’s critics might be watching too much television. This is not an episode of The Americans. No one issues orders, and anyone looking for such evidence is likely to be disappointed. Rather, over time, as relationships grow, favors are asked. Friendships are pressed into service. The key is to induce the target to do what you want without telling him to do it—to be a friend, helping out friends. Later, there’s no need to receive instruction from a “handler” in the Kremlin. If the president is worried about what the Russians have on him, he may proactively be doing things he believes will keep him in good stead with Putin. A general sense of anxiety could well produce more cooperation than any direct order. This would explain why Trump always seems fearful and defensive whenever the subject of Putin is raised, and why he seems constantly eager to impress the Russian president at every turn. After starting a trade war with U.S. allies and questioning, as he has many times, the value of NATO, Trump has told Putin that his own staff is “stupid” for trying to keep him from getting too cozy with the Kremlin boss, and that he expects his summit with Putin to be the “easiest” of his many recent meetings.
Finally, whatever one thinks of Chait’s piece, the attacks from Trump defenders are no more than a reflex that reveals the exhausting double-standard that pro-Trump Republicans must now carry like a cinder block around their necks. 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.
Michael Cohen’s new attorney says his client has made a “declaration of independence” from Donald Trump and no longer would take a bullet for the president in any investigation. Attorney Lanny Davis told The Hill’s new morning show Rising with Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton that Cohen’s statements to ABC News’ George Stephanopolous in a July 2 interview were not a plea to get Trump to pay his legal bills but rather an act of separation. “There’s a reason that he said at the very end of the interview with Mr. Stephanopoulos that he took these contrary positions to Mr. Trump, who he previously said he would take a bullet for, a comment that I believe he would not say today,” Davis said in an interview that aired Wednesday on Hill.TV. “The reason he said is, ‘I will not be a punching bag as part of somebody else’s defense strategy,'” Davis added. “This was a declaration of independence two days before July 4.” Davis, who worked as President Clinton’s special counsel in the late 1990s, was hired by Cohen last week.
Cohen, who previously worked for Trump, told Stephanopoulos last week that his “first loyalty” lies with his family, not the president. “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen said. “I put family and country first.” Cohen is currently under investigation in New York for a number of alleged financial crimes and he was recently raided for documents by FBI agents working for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Speculation has swirled around the possibility that Cohen could flip and cooperate with Mueller’s probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump Has Our Friends & Enemies Backwards
Trump is like that bully on the playground trying to prove he’s tougher than anyone else. That played out in the NATO Summit. NATO is the most important alliance created (established after WWII) for the shared security of free democratic nations, & it’s vital to be preserved going forward. It’s not just their security, but our own security hinges on a free Europe: opinion/what-america-gets-out-
Those European allies have bumped up their spending on defense lately, with all on target based on a prior commitment to hit the 2% of GDP figure by 2024. While we do need NATO to up their commitments, Trump haphazardly threw out the 4% number. Then he pronounced NATO members did agree to increase spending when they really didn’t (trump-nato-members-spending-
If he were such a great negotiator, rather than angering friends & turning much of the free world against us, he would ensure the alliance for our mutual defense remains solid. Plus he could organize everyone’s cooperation to show a brave front against bad actors like Russia & China. For instance, with the backing of NATO & the WTO, together we could mount a forceful response to China over unfair trade practices & theft of intellectual property, insisting they abide by established international norms, but how can that be accomplished when we alienate the very organizations that can most help us? And all in NATO must together confront Russia over election interference (will Trump?). Those vital NATO relationships can probably be repaired, but not with Trump as our president. And he really has ticked off many millions of European citizens: trumps-barbed-comments-upset-
Trump is a despicable person, but it’s not like all his intentions are also despicable. If he were to accomplish his main goals, some good can be accomplished. He is already shaking up a stodgy DC, & maybe before the end he can also strike better trade deals, have NATO pay their fair share for defense, & most problematic of all is curtailing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is currently focused on North Korea & Iran. We did have hopes a real breakthrough with Jong Un might have come out of the Singapore talks, but recent events look as though progress has been stalled, so the signs aren’t good: mike-pompeo-admits-his-
Corrupts All Around Him
That’s what I’ve said repeatedly, Trump does corrupt everyone around him. We’ve seen it time & again. That is again revealed in excerpts from trump-pruitt-shine:
And this is the really striking thing about the current state of Republican Party politics — not the handful of crooks and spouse abusers who’ve been forced out of their jobs, but the petulant and foot-dragging manner in which they’ve been cashiered, the continued tolerance for so many apparent malefactors, and the evident lack of desire to even attempt anything resembling a proper house-cleaning. The situation is an embarrassment to dignified political and policy professionals who happen to believe in low taxes and restricting the legal availability of abortion. And it’s obviously a drag on the Republican Party’s approval ratings, which remain dismal for a party presiding over peace and prosperity. But nothing can realistically be done about it because there’s no way to hold your team to any kind of normal standard of conduct when Donald Trump is captain of the ship. According to his accusers, Trump is personally guilty of all these misdeeds and more. He simply can’t do anything about it even if he wanted to.
Trumpworld is a huge mess of scandal. The sheer volume of negative stories about Pruitt eventually made his position untenable, since he was clearly facing what amounted to a revolt from his own staff. But it’s clear that Trump is very far from taking a “zero tolerance” approach to Cabinet corruption. Indeed, though the sheer quantity of Pruitt stories was unparalleled, the most egregious case of corruption probably lies with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose family is deeply invested in companies with a direct stake in Ross’s decision about tariff exemptions. Ross even found a way to profit financially from journalistic exposure of one of his conflicts of interest. Not coincidentally, Ross, unlike most of the Cabinet, is a personal friend of Trump’s and had a preexisting relationship with the president.
On a more petty scale, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tried to take an expensive military jet on his honeymoon, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke billed taxpayers for a series of expensive trips, including one to deliver a pep talk to a donor’s hockey team. Meanwhile, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is embroiled in controversies regarding both overspending on office furniture and, more consequentially, the use of the HUD office to promote his family’s business interests. Beyond the Cabinet, Trump’s bodyman was fired and is facing some kind of Secret Service investigation for “serious financial crimes” related to his proclivity for high-stakes gambling; he immediately landed with a cushy job at Trump’s reelection campaign. Corey Lewandowski, once upon a time Trump’s campaign manager, got fired over his violent behavior toward women but is now cashing-in as a lobbyist and is still very much in Trump’s good graces, and even travels with the president to campaign events.
This fish rots from the head. Corruption is not exactly new to American politics. But never before in American history has the president of the United States been a person whose entire career has been single-handedly devoted to enriching himself. Donald Trump is first and foremost a greedy person, and despite his campaign season promises to set avarice aside and “be greedy for the United States,” he has, in practice, relentlessly monetized the presidency. He has refused to divest from his business, refused to engage in any meaningful financial disclosure, and clearly encourages businesspeople and others with interest in the policy process to cut him in on a piece of the action by holding events at his clubs and hotels. BuzzFeed News’s Tarini Parti even reported on Monday that members of his exclusive Florida beach club (annual membership fee: $200,000) have been getting choice tours of Air Force One.
Trump faces credible accusations of sexual assault from Summer Zervos and others, as well as a whole range of other creepy behaviors like peeping on teen beauty pageant contestants while they were changing backstage. Trump says racist stuff all the time, including in conversations with US senators, and spent years as a major proponent of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. This not only sends a signal to subordinates that bad behavior will be tolerated, it makes it essentially impossible for anyone in the broader conservative movement to attempt to insist on holding members of the Trump administration to a high standard of conduct. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate at the moment and could easily confirm replacements for any officials who got fired in a house-cleaning. But nobody can articulate a plausible red line — on corruption, on sexual misconduct, on racism, on conspiracy theories, on honesty, or virtually anything else — that wouldn’t implicate the president and his family. The result is a filthy White House that’s not going to be cleaned up any time soon.