Is Trump Compromised?
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and there’s a lot of smoke
Elaine Kamarck, a Senior Fellow at the prestigious Brookings Institution, recently raised the question, “Does Trump owe Russia?” Writing on the Brookings website on July 10, 2020, Kamarck outlined a long series of questionable moves Trump has made during his time in office that, in aggregate, suggest an attitude of unseemly deference toward Vladimir Putin and Russia. In terms of kowtowing to the enemy, nothing remotely similar has been demonstrated by any other president in U.S. history.
Trump’s infractions, as described by Kamarck and others, include:
— on July 11, 2016, during the Republican platform meeting, Trump aides moved to delete language from the platform that would call for “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Russian adversary Ukraine and replace it with softer language calling for “appropriate assistance”
— during a news conference on July 27, 2016, Trump explicitly encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” a move later characterized as against the law. On that day or the day after, Russia began attacking Clinton’s server
— on May 9, 2017, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in apparent retaliation for Comey’s investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election
— although the Republican-led Senate issued a report proving that Russia interfered in the election, Trump called the story a hoax
— Trump publicly stated that he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials of election interference over the findings of U.S. intelligence
— Trump threw American reporters out of an Oval Office meeting with the Russian Ambassador and took notes away from the American interpreter who served during a 2018 Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki, meaning there is no American record of what was said there
— Trump has consistently badmouthed NATO, the strongest Western bulwark against Russia, and has repeatedly suggested he might withdraw the U.S. from the alliance
— in October 2019, Trump ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from northern Syria, a move that leaves the region under the sway of Syrian ally Russia and also opened the door to a possible resurgence of the Islamic State
— Trump held up crucial aid to Russia’s adversary Ukraine, ostensibly as leverage to get Ukrainian dirt on presidential rival Joe Biden
— in June 2020, Trump announced plans to withdraw 9,500 of the 35,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany, significantly weakening the deterrent effect against potential Russian aggression, a move that drew strong objection from both Republicans and Democrats
— when a SEAL team raid of a Taliban outpost uncovered $500,000 in cash that was later determined to be Russian bounty money paid for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Trump dismissed the entire story as a hoax
— finally, just days ago we learned that earlier this year a foreign actor successfully hacked SolarWinds software that is used by as many as 18,000 U.S. companies and government agencies, including at least 425 of the Fortune 500. The damage done by this intrusion will take months to assess but is bound to be enormous. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on December 18 that “we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians.” But Trump deflected this suggestion, saying instead, with no discernible evidence, that “it may be China” who is responsible.
Thus we see that Trump’s pattern of stunning deference to Russia and Putin has been consistent throughout his presidency, up to the present moment. The glaring, unanswered question is: Why?
Why does a U.S. president act as if his personal allegiance lies with an aggressive foreign adversary rather than with the nation he leads? Such behavior, in the aggregate, approaches the appearance of outright, premeditated treason, a crime punishable by death. What makes Trump do it?
In her Brookings essay, Elaine Kamarck approached that question by raising another: Does Trump owe Russia? Put another way, does Putin have something on Trump so egregious that it could motivate Trump to turn traitor?
Make no mistake, the very suggestion hints at a national scandal of unprecedented, horrific scope, dwarfing any previous scandal in U.S. history. Yet, the evidence robustly begs the question: Is Trump compromised?
Having walked us to the edge of that cliff, Kamarck herself hesitates to jump. “It is unlikely that it is a case of ‘kompromat,’ which is usually associated with sexual or personal misconduct of one sort or another,” she says. Trump has already admitted to multiple sexual misadventures, she reminds us; hence he is probably immune to that sort of coercion.
But, in this writer’s understanding, ‘kompromat’ isn’t necessarily limited to sex-related offenses. Kamarck acknowledges that Trump might also want to hide his “long history of doing business with shady Russian characters with ties to Russian intelligence.” Yes, that sounds relevant.
Let us recall the Helsinki meeting between Trump and Putin for which, by Trump’s decision, we have no written record. What did they discuss? Further, how many other times might Trump have conversed with Putin completely off the record? We simply don’t know.
The scope and nature of Trump’s extensive business ventures in Russia are shrouded in mystery. We can surmise that his tax filings might shed some useful light; but then, Trump has fought tooth and nail to keep his taxes entirely out of public view. Why? What could they tell us? Would they, for example, confirm what is widely speculated already — that Trump has deep ties to Russian organized crime? Could it be that part of the price he has paid to keep those ties hidden is gifts of useful information to Russian intelligence? This would fall squarely within Putin’s KGB-inspired playbook, and within the core definition of kompromat.
Putin, as canny an adversary as ever ruled Russia, knows that Trump by comparison is a psychologically wounded child, driven by only two core appetites: adulation and wealth, enough to fill his bottomless need for fatherly approval he could never earn. Putin can and undoubtedly does dangle such shiny objects in Trump’s face. He knows that, at the end of the day, Trump feels no allegiance to democracy, to the presidency, to America; but only to his own desperate desires. In the vernacular, Putin has played him like a fiddle.
It gives this writer no pleasure to suggest that the U.S. president is an agent, willing or unwilling, of Russian intelligence and, hence, an enemy of the state. But that is how the puzzle pieces seem to fall. Where there’s smoke….
Donald Trump is headed for a world of hurt, and he clearly knows it. Even assuming possible treason is not on the menu, his impending date with the New York Southern District must give him nightmares. No wonder he is currently engaged in a literally crazy campaign aimed at staying in office by whatever means possible, since the presidency affords him at least some shielding from the full weight of hell bearing down upon him.
In recent days Trump has surrounded himself with delusional sycophants such as General Michael Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell, who have reportedly encouraged him to declare martial law under the Insurrection Act, among other bizarre options, with the aim of negating the recent election altogether. Wacky ultra-right news outlets such as Newsmax seem happy to fan the flames, while white supremacists and other right-wing extremists listen intently for invitations to incite violence. No wonder so many saner heads in the president’s orbit have jumped ship. Those still on board must be feeling exhausted.
Without doubt, Trump’s wild, frantic flailing will ultimately end in failure. But January 20, 2021 is still four weeks away. There’s no telling how much more madness we may yet have in store.