In his first press conference since being elected president, Donald Trump thanked the media. He praised news outfits that didn’t publish a story about a document that describes alleged Russian efforts to compromise him, even though many of those news organizations had the story for months and held on to it. The two press outfits that did publish the story, CNN and BuzzFeed, got whipped by the president-elect. Trump called them “fake news” and refused to take questions from reporters representing their organizations.
You almost have to wonder, though, if he shouldn’t be going easy on them, especially BuzzFeed, which posted the original document in its entirety “so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.” The report is so bizarre and incoherent that it has the effect of undermining the accusations that Trump has unsavory ties with Russia.
For instance, the document starts with a “summary” section paragraph laying out the very premise of the report: that Trump is a Russian stooge. Here’s how the summary opens:
Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions within the Western alliance.
“For at least five years“—in other words, starting no later than 2011, Vladimir Putin believed that the host of “The Apprentice” was the linchpin holding together NATO. You see, Putin has special insight not only into Trump but also the American electorate. Unlike most every other expert who handicapped the 2016 elections, and gave Trump zero chance of victory, Putin knew Trump would win—and he knew it five years ago.
The Russians have denied the Trump story. No wonder they have! It makes the Moscow government look buffoonish. For instance, the document reports that the head of the Russian presidential administration, Sergei Ivanov, was eager to target American audiences for influence operations—in particular “educated American youth.” This makes current-day Kremlin operatives sound exactly like TV movie versions of 1960s Kremlin operatives. Time-tested way to influence ‘educated American youth,’ Comrade Ivanov, is through Beach Boys and Hoola-Hoop…
Who does the report really damage? British intelligence. The author of the document is reportedly a former MI6 officer who now draws a paycheck from the private sector. The report claims that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen went to Prague to talk to Putin operatives—but it now appears that it was a different Michael Cohen who visited Prague. The U.S. intelligence community, CNN reported, has found the U.K. source to be credible in the past—credible except, it seems, when it comes to niggling details like identities.
What about the real dirty stuff, the compromising material the Russians are supposed to be hanging over Trump’s head? A really corrupt business deal with the Russians, tied to Putin himself or one of his many circles might spell trouble for the next commander-in-chief, but the report confirms Trump’s contention that he has no business deals in Russia.
Well, it does say he hired some prostitutes from the FSB stable to urinate on a hotel bed where Barack Obama once slept. Trump says no way. “I’m also very much of a germophobe,” the president-elect said today at the press conference. “Believe me.”
But do the Russians actually have some nasty stuff on Trump? Probably. Is it worse than what the New York Post has been digging up for more than three decades on a Manhattan celebrity billionaire once referred to as The Donald? Probably not. Is it worse than what, say, Israeli or Turkish intelligence or a handful of other clandestine services almost surely has on half of the Kremlin, likely including Putin himself? Doubtful.
That’s one of the things intelligence services are supposed to do—dig up dirt on foreign big-wigs to deter their governments from publishing dirt their intelligence services have on your grandees. Is it also the job of intelligence services to leak material regarding their own officials in order to compromise the integrity of its own political process? Only if you’re a third-world backwater or a hard security regime like Putin’s Russia, which uses torture and political assassination as a matter of policy. It’s not supposed to happen in liberal democracies.
No one can say with confidence where the dossier BuzzFeed published originated, and through which hands it has passed before it shamefully saw the light of day. Trump suspects the American intelligence community. Let’s hope he’s wrong about that.