“Kompromat: He’s never said a bad word about Putin. He’s exercised a degree of self-control with respect to Russia that he doesn’t with anything else.”
— Keith Darden, kompromat expert and professor at American University.
By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (7/26/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
Or as a reader suggested, ‘Dear Comrades’…
While highlighting this opening article from The New Yorker.: A Theory of Trump Kompromat. Is there anyone feeling good about knowing that Donald Trump — the kinda’, sorta’ president of the United States — is compromised by former KGB colonel — now Russian president — Vladimir Putin? Or watching Putin gleefully parading it in front of us? It turns out the person that could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” is Putin, not Trump.
The theory offered is that Trump is not an agent or asset of Russian intelligence. Instead he is scared of Putin, that Trump believes Putin has something on him. As the sub-head for the article comments, “why the President is so nice to Putin, even when Putin might not want him to be”. Darden states that kompromat is so pervasive in Russia that “he coined the term “blackmail state” to describe the way of governance”.
Darden doesn’t believe sexual kompromat is the leverage. We’ll come to this next, but the revelations around Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s taped discussion with Trump of the Karen McDougal “catch and release” non-story bears this out. Instead, Darden feels the kompromat is based on money laundering and other financial crimes. We’ve seen plenty of signs of this, including Trump’s own comment that investigating his finances was his own “red line” for special counsel Mueller. As so often, Trump tips his hand. So what about the Cohen recording? Michael Cohen Releases Tape of Trump Discussing Hush Money for Playboy Model.
Lordy, there are tapes!
“President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, escalated his dispute with the president on Tuesday by releasing a secret recording of a conversation in which Mr. Trump appears to have knowledge about hush money payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.”
There is much to be made about the discussion and the possible legal implications. The Washington Post offers a helpful annotated version here, but the main point – the skies didn’t open up in response. We don’t discount the importance or the public wrestling between Trump and Cohen, but to the point about kompromat, this supports the notion it likely is not sexual.
No one is surprised, the needle of public approval won’t move, this plays out as the typical outrageous Trump disclosure followed by his lawyer, Giuliani, lies and Trump’s redirect of anger and trademark smoke n’ mirror obfuscation. As an example, Trump’s, “what kind of lawyer would tape a client?” Followed by the media dutifully reporting on the comment. As usual, the media dutifully follows Trump while he turns the news on its head and makes it all about Cohen.
Flip, flop & flounder
So what does merit Trump discomfort; what are the quieter manipulations we’re not meant to see? White House Transcript Omits Critical Question From Trump-Putin Press Conference Video.
From another Commoner Call reader, we learn the White House has edited the question to Putin about his involvement in the U.S. election. The Russian version of the transcript has the full text, but not the White House official version.
“During the press conference, Reuters reporter Jeff Mason asked Putin the question: “Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”
“As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Tuesday, the White House video of the event omitted the first part of Mason’s question. Only the second part — about directing officials to help Trump — was included.
“The Russian leader responded, “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
““What the White House has disappeared from the official U.S. government record of that meeting … is President Putin answering in the affirmative when asked if he wanted Trump to win the election,” Maddow said.”
Here is one version of Trump flip-flopping, but keep in mind, this is from one week ago and he continues to flip and flop.
We’ll end this section with a question: Does this action by the White House violate federal law?
How Trump could turn midterm loses into national crisis
Trump not only lies about Putin’s involvement (only to be corrected by Putin while standing right next to him) he’s now invented his own parallel universe of ongoing Russian election interference when only days ago, he denied it was happening.
Trump looks to be manipulating the stage should the Republicans have a midterm debacle: MSNBC Analyst Explains How Trump May Be Priming Republicans To Blame Russia And Refuse To Concede Midterm Losses.
“On Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted to claim that Russia would interfere in the 2018 midterm elections to help Democrats.
“”Why would he make such a claim? Nicolle Wallace held a panel discussion of the subject on Tuesday.”
““This is also convenient, because the polling this week is terrible,” he said. “It’s not just his polling, it’s dragging down the Republican Party.””
Another Commoner Call reader opined that Trump’s propaganda was aimed at delegitimizing the midterm election results should they be bad for him. We saw this with the 2016 presidential election when he refused to offer assurances that he would accept the outcome if he lost.
In chaotic Trumpland Trump always sees chaos as good.
Meanwhile, Putin sails right along, managing the U.S. and embarrassing Trump just because … he can.
In the process, Russia smears an American general while Trump sits still: Russia Slams US General, Says He ‘discredited’ Trump.
Trump has yet to explain what verbal commitments he offered Putin in Helsinki, but Putin and Russia are ready to roll.
“The Russian Ministry of Defense slammed US Gen. Joseph Votel Tuesday, accusing America’s top military commander in the Middle East of discrediting President Donald Trump’s position after Votel expressed hesitancy about working with Russia in Syria.
“”With his statements, General Votel not only discredited the official position of his supreme commander-in-chief, but also exacerbated the illegality under international law and US law of the military presence of American servicemen in Syria,” the Russian Ministry said in a statement published on social media in response to an .”
As Trump sits demurely in Putin’s shadow, Russia orders the U.S. military to get their act together. And to add insult, we reported on Trump’s national intelligence director Dan Coats’ surprise at hearing Trump had invited Putin to the White House, but here’s another Putin twist: Kremlin Says Putin Isn’t Ready To Accept Trump’s Invite To Visit Washington Amid President’s Latest Shift On Russian Meddling.
Maybe the only Trump-Putin agreement that Trump has acknowledged and Putin decided to pee in Trump’s White House punch bowl.
“The Kremlin on Tuesday said Russian President Vladimir Putin does not think it’s the right time to accept President Donald Trump’s invitation to visit Washington, DC, this fall. It said the two sides need to “let the dust settle” from the recent Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, Finland,.”
THIS JUST IN: Putin’s visit has now been pushed to next year. Sad, given the optics (see next section), this was likely to fare poorly for Trump ahead of the mid-terms.
Let’s walk through an assessment of where our beleaguered nation is at this point in time:
Trump’s Helsinki tete a tete was a Hindenberg sized diplomatic and public relations disaster for the U.S. and for Trump personally. In fact, it was so bad even normally obsequious, pants-wet Republicans were critical. Here’s a round-up of related headlines to give a flavor of the bitter after taste of Helsinki:
One unique review has Putin as the clear winner: In Battle For Nonverbal Dominance At U.S.-Russia Summit, Putin Was The Clear Winner, Experts Say.
It’s a fascinating review but start with your own assessment, consider Trump in his glory at any campaign rally, or his aggressiveness at any debate, or his famous handshake wrestling with other world leaders compared to his meek, head-nodding, subservient behavior next to Putin. Putin won Round 1 by letting the Americans cool heir heels until he got around to sauntering in an hour late for the summit.
Increasingly there is pointed criticism of Trump and his relationship with the single thing he seems to desire more than anything else – his relationship with Putin: Trump’s Russia Problem Is Getting Worse & Worse.
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin starts her assessment by citing some of the results from a recent Quinnipiac poll:
“American voters believe 51 – 35 percent “that the Russian government has compromising information about President Trump.”
“The Helsinki summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin was a failure for the U.S., voters say 52 – 27 percent.
“The summit was a success for Russia, voters say 73 – 8 percent.
“Trump was not acting in the best interest of the U.S., voters say 54 – 41 percent.
“A total of 68 percent of American voters are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about President Trump’s relationship with Russia, while 32 percent are “not so concerned” or “not concerned at all.””
Even Republicans were critical of Trump’s Helsinki tete a tete, at least in comparison to their overall slavish support of Trump.
Poll results tip in favor of Mueller, the legitimacy of the investigation, concern over Russian involvement in the 2018 election and law enforcement. Voters believe “Trump did not collude” 48-39, but see “Trump campaign collusion” as likely, 46-44.
The real take-away – Republicans remain solid in their support of Trump regardless of concerns over Helsinki, Putin (Americans do not trust Putin) or Russian interference in the 2018 elections. On almost every point there is a Republican view, a Democratic view and an “in the middle” Independent view.
Trump’s legal woes worsen. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s trial was delayed one week. The public wrangling between Trump and Cohen grows more tangled and acidic. But there is also this: Federal Judge Allows Emoluments Case Against Trump To Proceed.
“The ruling, from U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in Greenbelt, Md., will allow the plaintiffs in the case — the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia — to proceed with their case, which says Trump has violated the Constitution’s little-used emoluments clause.”
This is on top of a defamation suit brought against Trump by former The Apprentice contestant Jennifer Schecter that is also allowed to proceed.
But Trump appears to be reshuffling the deck in his favor: Brett Kavanaugh Is Devoted to the Presidency.
The sub-head says it all: “Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court has been deeply shaped by the needs and mores of the executive branch”.
In spite of Republican distrust of Putin and disappointment with Trump’s behavior in Helsinki, they remain overwhelmingly favorable to Trump. There’s the frequent refrain of support Trump or else, as Franklin Graham does by warning Trump criticisms “will be judged by truth & righteousness—by God Himself”.
Across the land there is a growing critical voice, though likely met with a Russpublican tut-tut or even womp womp.
Writing for The Washington Post Max Boot offers a strong, detailed case for Putin’s success in helping Trump: Without The Russians, Trump Wouldn’t Have Won.
It’s a good read to understand all the levers worked by the Russians and to understand that not much has changed – Trump and Russpublicans ignore the ongoing risks because to do otherwise makes Trump feel ‘illegitimate’. But it’s not just elections: Russia Has Developed A Cyberweapon That Can Disrupt Power Grids.
The Washington Post adds new information to a story about Russian cyber attacks against U.S. power plants raised by The New York Times previously.
“Hackers allied with the Russian government have devised a cyberweapon that has the potential to be the most disruptive yet against electric systems that Americans depend on for daily life, according to U.S. researchers.”
But the person that should have our back, does not. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen seems motivated to avoid Trump’s anger, speaking at the same Aspen Security Forum as Dan Coats (referenced above) offered:
“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party,” Nielsen said, adding that the “overall purpose” of Russia’s actions was to “get us all to fight against each other.”
If you’re the Department of Homeland Security Secretary shouldn’t Homeland Security be your priority instead?
While there is no reliable view on where we all end up through this attack on all U.S. norms, there is a bit of justice to be found along the way: BBC Interviewer To Sean Spicer: “You have corrupted discourse for the entire world by going along with these lies”.