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.
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.