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Trying to explain why Trump would allow himself to be a Russian asset

REUTERS/Leah Millis
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listening as President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

I was once a tiny part of the Intelligence Community, a first lieutenant with the magnificent title Chief of the Intelligence Branch, 5th Army Headquarters.  I had a top-secret clearance and learned that your job in intelligence was to speak truth up the line.  And POTUS was the top of the line. So kid Intel officers like me could imagine their analysis reaching the top. It never did, of course, but . . . All intelligence was organized to eventually inform the president.

On Monday, President Trump took the combined wisdom of his intelligence community and spit on it. He told the world that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin rather than his own people. That’s a blow to the intelligence community’s ego, sure. But it’s much more than that, because anyone with intelligence and counter-intelligence training would have watched Trump’s abject, sycophantic performance and thought, “Oh my God.  He’s a Russian asset.” 

What’s an asset? Someone who joins an opposing country’s team.  Why do people become assets for other countries?  Fear, greed, or altruism.  

We, of course, don’t know why Trump did what he did in Helsinki.  But here are the best speculations I’ve seen, divided by the fear/greed/altruism schema.

Fear.  Three possibilities: 1) Trump is worried that Putin will release the alleged-to-exist “Pee-Pee Tape” showing Trump in very unflattering situations; alternatively it’s theoretically possible evidence of other extremely embarrassing activity in Russia exists. 2) Trump knows that Putin possesses and will release evidence of Trump’s personally colluding with Russia over their messing with our 2016 election; such collusion, if proven, is felonious and normally would result in prison time. 3) Russia under Putin has an extensive history of killing people who displease; the murders are often disguised and can extend to family members.

Greed. Trump wants to join the Russian oligarchs who make lots of money in the country. Apparently, according to Russia experts, profiting in Russia is dependent on Putin’s blessing.

Altruism.  If, as many feel, Trump wishes to undo American foreign policy as we know it — to cement a new populist, white hegemony — then supporting Putin makes good sense.  It serves to weaken Russia’s enemy, the European Union. It could put Russia back in the G7.

I tend to discount the various Fear reasons. As to the Pee-Pee Tape or its alternative example, it seems like it would be awful hard to embarrass Donald Trump.  Embarrassment requires a slight gap in one’s ego wall, a space where the person says to himself, “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”  We’ve seen no evidence so far that the president is actually able to fathom something like that.

As to going to jail for collusion, it sure feels like Trump thinks no one will ever serve time because of Russian interference in our election. He’s made it clear through his action and words that he intends to pardon anyone who’s indicted or convicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And he’s appointed to the Supreme Court one of the rare judges who’s written that presidents shouldn’t be harassed with obeying the law.

Wy Spano

Wy Spano

As to physically harming the President or his family: It’s just difficult to imagine carrying it out without the entire world believing Putin did it. So Trump being a Russian asset because of fear doesn’t work for me.

Greed’s is a more believable motive. Trump’s interest in Russia is long term and well documented. The presidency has allegedly already improved the Trump net worth considerably. He would obviously have no qualms over bagging a few hundred million extra out of a Russian Trump Tower, or some other Russian venture.

Altruism is believable too. Understand in this context altruism doesn’t mean “doing the right thing,” it means doing something big picture. Trump seems to want a world dominated by strong man ruled countries, autocracies. In that context, his actions make sense.

It’s hard to choose a reason for President Trump’s July 15 performance in Helsinki. Watching our president be obsequious to the point of boot licking was startling.  In one sense it’s hard to imagine anything he’d want that much out of Putin. But apparently he does.

P.S.  On Tuesday, the President, for the first time, admitted he made an actual mistake, in this case about what he said concerning the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian meddling. Though the walk-back made news, it still doesn’t explain the toadying behavior toward Putin on Monday. Which makes speculation about “what’s Putin got on Trump?” a continuing and legitimate subject.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 07/19/2018 - 11:37 am.

    I think

    I sort of assume that Trump has some or many unsavory financial arrangements in Russia. I think his tax returns, unless they are not accurate, would point toward some of these. I think they would have to be awfully illegal before Trump would let them bother him. Maybe if Putin had solid evidence, like a tape, that Trump took drug money or something like that, would Trump care enough to sell out America. I think the pee pee tape or something similar makes more sense. I think the supreme embarrassment of something like that would destroy his connection to his base and to congress. I don’t see greed as a motivation to undermine NATO. Since he insults and stands up to everyone in the world but this one guy suggests that this is personal. He acts like a guy hiding something very personally embarrassing, not just a greedy crook. Just a guess of course.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/19/2018 - 12:19 pm.

    Other Possible Motives

    There are other plausible motives for Trump cozying up to Putin. I will leave it to others to decide if these motives are more or less reassuring.

    Admiration. Trump genuinely thinks Putin is cool. As Mr. Spano notes, the President of the United States has already shown an unhealthy affinity or admiration for strong-man autocrats. Putin is the top of that particular heap, so Trump’s attitude is hero-worship.

    Flattery. The Goniff in Chief is not just dishonest, he is as vain as they come. An old KGB hand like Putin would know the value of flattery in turning a mark. Some times, the easy way is the best way.

    Obama didn’t. Undoing policies because they date from the Obama Administration is the closest thing to a coherent policy this administration has. Obama didn’t fall all over himself to be BFF with Putin, so Trump must do it.

    None of them show Trump in a particularly good light. Then again, what would?

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/19/2018 - 03:44 pm.

    The elephant in this room of course, is the distinct possibility that Donald Trump is simply not too smart and, adding to that his laziness and refusal to inform himself on any issue, you have ignorance. Plus narcissism (total self-centeredness) and some need to “be on the winning side” even if that mean being on Putin’s side.

    So he has fallen into being an asset of Putin, who is a supremely adept manipulator. Putin had to put his tongue in his cheek to keep from laughing on Monday during the press conference (a body language expert did an analysis for the NYTimes and included that detail) and the Russians were dancing with glee afterward: “More than Super!”

    We need to have the translator testify before Congress about what she or he heard and wrote down during the secret one-on-one meeting. It may be that Trump gave away the national store! It already seems as if Trump agreed there to hand over to Russia the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia that Putin hates, “for interrogation.” The consensus of opinion is that such a move would amount to Trump’s sentencing that former Ambassador to death in Russia. If Trump agreed to do that, where there is no precedent whatsoever and the President is supposed to protect American citizens, well, what would our beloved Republican Congress do?

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 07/20/2018 - 09:09 am.

      Bingo!!!

      I am voting for:

      “The elephant in this room of course, is the distinct possibility that Donald Trump is simply not too smart and, adding to that his laziness and refusal to inform himself on any issue, you have ignorance. Plus narcissism (total self-centeredness) and some need to “be on the winning side” even if that mean being on Putin’s side.”

      And the best solution is simply to indict Putin on Magnetski Act violations and election hacking acts which he has very likely committed and let Trump know he is free to invite Putin here; but, he will be arrested at the airport.

      And…

      Putin is President for life, the richest man in the world and simply kills those who disagree with him. And some wonder what Trump admires in the man! He is his ultimate role model and R legislators simply look the other way because they get a tax cut, agreeable judges and the half hearted support of Trump’s basket of deplorables. And some here will point to any recall of the “deplorables” as just more Trump Derangement divisiveness; but, what better describes citizens who think Presidential lying at a 70% rate, a trillon dollar annual deficit, the isolation of our historic allies who also are our most important trading partners and kissing up to a murderous, KGB thug is perfectly OK, well, deplorable is the right word.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 07/20/2018 - 09:38 am.

      Stupidity PLUS Narcisim is the Ticket

      We should NEVER assume that Trump is planning anything,…

      or seeking to serve any larger purpose.

      He wants to LOOK like what he (and his base) regards to be “winner,”…

      which seems to be reduced to giving the appearance of being,…

      and cozying up to ,…

      the strongest, most authoritarian leaders he can find.

      He does not now (if he ever did),…

      comprehend that anyone else could ever (or would ever dare),…

      to play him for a fool,…

      which, of course, makes him the easiest kind of mark for skilled manipulators such as Putin.

      Putin has already set the hook in Trump,…

      I’m just waiting to see what we get (what Trump agrees to and gives away) when Putin reels him in.

  4. Submitted by John Evans on 07/19/2018 - 10:17 pm.

    Financial fear and greed.

    Trump’s affinity for white, racist, misogynist gangsters is part of his character, but it doesn’t really account for his lickspittle submission to Putin. The revelation of a pee tape would be embarrassing, and could force Trump from office, but it wouldn’t cost him his empire, and I don’t see what Putin would gain by releasing such a tape and giving up his prize asset.

    It seems much more likely that Trump and his family are in the firm financial grip of Russian oligarchs and the Russian government under some sort of carrot and stick arrangement: To the extent that he fails them or defies them, they can take down his various business interests one by one. But if he performs well for them, they reward him handsomely and make him the billionaire he has always wanted to be.

    So I think we have a solid combination of greed and fear. This could all have been avoided by requiring financial transparency, or at least his tax returns. Our failure to do so may have historic consequences.

  5. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 07/20/2018 - 08:42 am.

    Like Donald, the answer is not complex

    Putin controls the purse strings. As has been mentioned above there were condo deals with Russian oligarchs and after western banks refused to lend his businesses money due to his many bankruptcies there were deals with Russian banks or banks connected to Russia. Putin looms large in the background of all these deals, none of which could happen without his blessing. What has been granted could just as easily be taken away. Simply put without Putin’s support Donald’s financial house of cards would crumble and for Donald that would be a fate worse than death. I can’t take credit for this but Its like the old Jack Benny joke (Benny’s bit was that he was really really cheap) He’s accosted by an armed robber, the robber says “your money or your life” are a few seconds of no response the guy repeats it “your money or your life” Benny says: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” That’s Donald.

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