Enter Kremlingate

A few thoughts on where we are now with Kremlingate. I think we’re officially in -gate territory now, as opposed to all the stories earlier, because this has come up during his presidency and it has now taken down a National Security Advisor. As plans for a more thorough Senate investigation mount, we will be entering territory where consequences to more revelations rise.

  • We should all be careful not to get carried away with bits of anonymous leaks that fuel confirmation bias. In normal circumstances, with typical politicians, we should give the benefit of the doubt even if there is an active investigation. Let the facts speak for themselves, let juries decide guilt. But this is not a normal case, and Trump is not a normal politician. Almost any other politician would be moving quickly to clear their name of outrageous accusations by being as transparent and truthful as possible during the crisis.
  • Trump intends for us never to see his taxes, making it impossible to verify his claims of having no business or financial relationships with Russia. Trump has repeatedly lied about every facet of this case: whether he has met Putin, whether he knew Flynn had lied to Pence. He began his first press conference since the election attacking CNN for ‘fake news,’ for reporting a fact that was later confirmed (that Obama and Trump had been briefed about the dossier). Trump does not deserve the benefit of the doubt; he is generically guilty of some form of collaboration with Kremlin until he tries to prove otherwise.
  • We might have just seen the motherload leak – the basic outlines of what the multi-agency investigation has found. What they found was a lot of smoke, but no fire. Or at least no fire big enough to give rise to an arrest. That’s where they are after more than half a year. They have calls between people in Trump’s orbit and the Kremlin, but they didn’t say anything incriminating. This isn’t to say we won’t get more leaks, and perhaps more details, but this was the bombshell.
  • The investigation is going cold. They either can’t or won’t, arrest people under investigation because the evidence is insufficient to prosecute or the evidence burden is 10x higher than for any other case. If they swing, they better not miss. Were the FBI to raid Trump Tower or the White House and arrested a sitting president, this would be the biggest scandal in US history. Period. Imagine if they lost that case. The leaks have been timed to push other people into action. To instigate a Flynn firing or resignation. This motherload leak was designed to push things over the edge in Congress to prompt a real investigation. This is out of their hands now.
  • There are a lot of factions right now, most of which are murky. There seems to be an FBI vs. intelligence battle going on, as evidenced by the incorrect FBI leaks to the NYT saying the investigations had found nothing on Trump. At least some of the FBI is “Trumpland.” I don’t know where Comey sits in all this. Another faction seems aimed squarely at Flynn because of his history with them and his plans for an overhaul. Another camp is panicking over what they’ve seen and is sounding alarms. No one knows who is who, but journalists who are talking with leakers should try to establish motives.
  • All of us on the ‘Resistance’ should look at these leaks with a healthy skepticism – of motives, of veracity, and of the public good. Having a ‘Deep State’ at war with an elected President and his staff is not something we should tolerate under any other circumstances than what we’re dealing with now: the genuine threat that our President has been compromised by, or has been collaborating with, a hostile foreign government. Imagine, though, this kind of leak campaign waged on Clinton because of her emails on Earth 2.
  • I am still confused about the role of Flynn in all of this. He was either acting with terrible judgment or acting for Trump, implicitly or explicitly. I don’t buy the idea that he was a ‘free agent’ independently trying to negotiate with them either out of fondness for Russia or because he had been compromised. Though Flynn has a history of terrible judgment, the fact that sanctions have been questioned by Trump and others around him indicate that he was acting on implicit or explicit orders.
  • My personal assessment is that there is something deeply unusual going on between Trump and Putin, and I am far from alone in thinking that. The most salacious accusation in the Steele Dossier wasn’t that the Russians had compromising videos of Trump. It was that they didn’t need them. There seems to be a deeper truth in that regardless of whether or not the videos exist. Trump, I believe, would have warmly welcomed Russian collaboration in his campaign. What the exact nature of this collaboration was, and what Trump’s motives would be, seems to be a mystery for even the investigators.
  • One element that I think is being underplayed is Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov’s comment immediately after the election that they were in contact with Trump’s team during the campaign. This was immediately denied by Trump’s people. Why would anyone in the Russian government admit to anything about what should have been a covert, criminal operation? Why undermine the very people they just helped install?
  • I have previously said of the Steele dossier that it is either mostly true or Steele was the victim of a very organized disinformation campaign from the Kremlin. The general theory about Russian interference in the election for most of the summer was that they just wanted to create chaos. Right now, I’m not ruling this out.
  • Like a malicious Mr. Bean with the ‘nuclear football’, I’m reminded of Trump’s Razor – the theory that the dumbest explanation that an observed Trump phenomena is likely the correct answer. Maybe the dossier allegations were a part of a coordinated Russian smear job meant to discredit Trump were he elected, perhaps based on slivers of less sensational truths and reasonable suspicions. Maybe the Trump team was just dumb and careless enough to look guiltier than they actually are. That they either blindly walked into this mess or maybe fell for obvious traps that are difficult to explain without sounding almost as bad as the suspicions. Maybe through some combination of both the Russians are capitalizing on this now, leaving many of us to think the President of the United States committed crimes bordering on treason. As I stated at the beginning, though, the onus is on Trump to explain what the hell is going on.

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