Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Eight Weeks Of Infamy: Parsing The Pivotal Months For Trump-Russia Collusion

It took a few months, but we've gone from having scant evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign -- and likely Donald Trump himself -- to an overwhelming amount of evidence.  And yet despite this happy circumstance, which certainly must have Special Counsel Robert Mueller secretly smiling, Trump meanwhile continues to destroy America and degrade our lives a little more each day while showing no sign of going away. 
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden calls the Russian plot to help elect Trump by interfering in the 2016 presidential election through sabotaging Hillary Clinton's campaign "the most successful covert influence campaign in history.  It took a mature Western democracy.  It turned it on its head."   
Indeed.  And it may well not have succeeded without the ample assistance of campaign and candidate.  
As my comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal reveals, much of the most damning evidence of collusion stems from a flurry of events over an eight-week period in June and July of 2016. 
By June 1, Trump had become the presumptive Republican nominee after beating the odds -- or at least the conventional wisdom -- by savaging a large field of GOP establishment candidates in the most rancorous primary campaign in modern history.  Clinton led him in all head-to-head polls and by formidable double-digit margins in several of them.   
While Trump's campaign's collusion with Moscow was being merely hinted at, Vladimir Putin's cyberplot to disrupt the election had been well established by the U.S. intelligence community, which had become aware of Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) beginning in July 2015.  The initial wave of Kremlin-orchestrated fake news was beginning to reach voters whose support for Clinton was determined to be soft, while WikiLeaks, which soon would be revealed as an eager mouthpiece for Putin's hackers, was preparing to release the first batch of hacked DNC emails. 
Paul Manafort was soon to become the campaign's manager while Michael Flynn was its leading national security expert and Carter Page its leading Russia expert.  The campaign brain trust was rounded out by Trump's eldest son, Donald Jr. and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was to take over the campaign's digital operations in June. 
Kushner's digital team subsequently was suspected to have worked with Russians in their voter targeting efforts with the help of Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm bankrolled by major Trump donor Robert Mercer, who was a leading investor in Breitbart News, which along with Fox News would become the major alt-right and conservative mouthpieces in Trump's seemingly improbable bid to become president. 
On June 2, Clinton gave her first major speech on national security and questioned Trump's longstanding affection for Putin and "bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America." 
On June 3, Rob Goldstone, a publicist representing Trump acquaintance Emin Agaralov, a Russian pop star, emailed Donald Jr. that he had met with "his father Aras this morning and . . . [he] offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary . . . and would be very useful to your father."   
Donald Jr. replied, "If it's what you say I love it." 
On June 6, Trump reportedly spoke by phone with Emin Agalarov. 
On June 7Trump not coincidentally promised "big news" on Clinton's "crimes" in a forthcoming "major 
On June 9, as a result of the email exchange, Donald Jr. convened a meeting at Trump Tower with Goldstone, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, who both had Russian intelligence agency ties.  Manafort and Kushner also attended. 
Donald Jr. and Veselnitskaya were to insist that the meeting was to discuss lifting a ban on Americans adopting Russian children should Trump be elected, but it was later revealed that Veselnitskaya was not acting as a private lawyer, as she claimed, but had a close working relationship with Yuri Y. Chaika, Russia's prosecutor general, who had given her documents asserting that an investment company owned by two Clinton donors had evaded paying tens of millions of dollars of Russian taxes. 
On June 12, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange promised a "very big year ahead" because of the imminent release of emails "related to Hillary Clinton."  
On June 13, Trump failed to give the "promised" major speech, ostensibly because of the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub.  It is more likely the speech was never rescheduled because the campaign brain trust found the "dirt" delivered by Veselnitskaya to be disappointing. 
On June 15, a hacking group with the online persona Guccifer 2.0. claimed credit for the DNC hack.  U.S. intelligence later determined that the group was affiliated with the FSB and the GRU, Russian intelligence agencies.    
On June 22, Trump excoriated Clinton and warned that emails she deleted from her private server while secretary of state could make her vulnerable to "blackmail" from unspecified countries hostile to the U.S. 
It was about this time that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political operatives were discussing how to influence the campaign through Manafort and Flynn. 
On July 6, another batch of hacked DNC emails appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 site, while Page began a three-day visit to Moscow, where he gave a pro-Russian speech at a university graduation.   
Page had long been in the sights of U.S. intelligence agencies because of his many Russian contacts and efforts in 2013 by three Russian spies to recruit him. 
He insisted he was traveling as a private person, but reportedly met twice with former spy and close Putin aide Igor Sechin and with Igor Diveykin, a senior Putin administration official.  Sechin reportedly told Page that if a future Trump administration dropped Obama-imposed economic sanctions on Russia, there could be an associated move to offer lucrative contracts to U.S. energy firms. 
On July 7, Manafort emailed aluminum magnate and Putin friend Oleg Deripaska offering to provide private campaign briefings to him. 
On July 14, another batch of hacked DNC emails appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 website. 
On July 15, meeting in Cleveland and working behind the scenes, Manafort and other campaign operatives dramatically watered down the Republican National Convention platform on Ukraine in an obvious nod to Putin.   
The original platform draft stated that Russian sanctions should be toughened because of its takeover of Crimea and aid should be increased to the "embattled" Ukrainian army, but both provisions were deleted and replaced with a vague assurance of "appropriate assistance" from the U.S. 
Meanwhile, during the convention, Page and two other campaign advisers met with Russian U.S. ambassador Sergey Kislyak, while Manafort aquaintance Konstantine Kilimnik, a Ukrainian businessman with strong ties to Russian intelligence and Deripaska, boasted to friends in Kiev that he was involved in the successful effort to water down the Ukraine campaign platform. 
On July 19, Trump was formally nominated. 
On July 22, WikiLeaks began releasing hacked DNC emails. 
On July 27, Trump called on Russia to hack 30,000 so-called "missing" Clinton emails, and by month's end, the FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court warrant allowing it to monitor Page.  The warrant was later renewed. 
During those eight weeks of infamy, the Trump campaign never made contact with the governments or representatives of any other countries -- not Britain, France, Germany or other allies -- while initiating and never spurning multiple contacts with Russians with close ties to Putin.  No campaign adviser spoke out or quit in protest over these contacts; in fact, they all eventually would be revealed as unscrupulous bottom feeders.  And while Trump repeatedly vilified Clinton and others, he had only praise for Putin while secretly working to neuter his own party's tough stand on America's greatest foe. 
The events of June and July 2016 collectively -- and dramatically -- illustrate why the evidence of collusion has become overwhelming.  It is a big reason -- if not the deciding factor -- as to why Donald Trump became president.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

From Marley To Mayans: Twenty Five Recommended Books For Holiday Gift Giving

I read some great books in 2017, but the big thrill of the year did not make itself apparent until I read a book whose author thoughtfully tipped me to a second book, whose author tipped me to a third. 
The first book was The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, the title of which well summarizes the subject.  The second was Proust and the Squid, which explores how the brain transforms itself into a reading organ, while the big payoff was the third, Breaking the Maya Code.  This is the story of the last ancient script to be deciphered, finally unlocking what the glyphs on the monuments, ceramics and extremely rare codices found in the Mayan city-states of Mexico and Central America actually meant. As well as baring the secrets of one of only four codices ever found -- the Dresden Codex, the oldest surviving book from the Americas at 800 or so years old. 
The following 25 books make great holiday gifts.  Most are available in paperback, or if your local lending library is a member of the Interlibrary Loan network, you can borrow a copy for the price of a little bit of shoe leather.  
AMERICAN DUNKIRK: The Waterborne Evacuation Of Manhattan on 9/11 (James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf, 2016) A little appreciated aspect of the response to the collapse of the Twin Towers was the unofficial maritime response — ranging from ferry and tugboat operators to pleasure boat owners — that resulted in the successful evacuation of 500,000 people from Lower Manhattan.  This uplifting account succeeds by moving well beyond the academic-social scientific template in which it is organized through crisp, lucid writing and a willingness to tackle and answer tough philosophical questions.  
BILL GRAHAM PRESENTS: My Life Inside Rock and Out (Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield, 2004) Concert impresario Graham was known for three things: Foul language, picking up trash wherever he encountered it, and a deep and abiding love of music -- if not necessarily musicians -- that he parlayed into the most extraordinary run of concerts in rock 'n' roll history.  The oral history format of this book works superbly as he tells the story of escaping Hitler's armies as a child, growing up on the streets of New York and in the dining rooms of Catskills hotels before heading for San Francisco where he founded the Fillmore and launched the careers of innumerable rock icons.  
THE BOOK NOBODY READ: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus (Owen Gingerich, 2004) Four and a half centuries after the 1543 publication of De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), astrophysicist Gingerich embarked on an epic quest to see in person all the 600 or so copies of the first and second editions of the landmark book in which Copernicus first suggested that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the universe.  Three decades and hundreds of thousands of miles of globetrotting later, he was able to offer stunning insights in the form of his remarkable little book.  
BREAKING THE MAYA CODE (Michael D. Coe, 1992, updated 2012) The decipherment Mayan script was, according to Coe, "one of the most exciting intellectual adventures of our age, on a par with the exploration of space and the discovery of the genetic code."  He makes that case eloquently and in such detail that this book is not for the casual reader.  But no matter your interest level, this is a rewarding read as Coe reviews three centuries of breakthroughs as anthropolists and archaelogists grappled their way toward realizing that Mayan was a sophisticated mix of logograms and syllabic signs and not the simplistic representations of a primitive people.  
BRIGHTON: A Novel (Michael Harvey, 2016) This is a beautifully written thriller about Kevin Pearce, a baseball star, honor student and the pride of Boston’s Brighton neighborhood, who is 15 when he leaves town in the back of his uncle’s cab after helping commit a murder.  Some 26 years later, Pearce is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for the Boston Globe with a secret past tangled up in lies and broken promises that threaten to destroy his future as he realizes he can never really leave the old neighborhood as he is forced to return there in search of a serial killer who is striking uncomfortably close to home.  
BRUNELLESCHI’S DOME (Ross King, 2000) How to build an immense (143 feet in diameter) dome literally over thin air?  Improbably, a committee supervising construction of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s immense cathedral, turned not to an engineer, but to a goldsmith and clockmaker named Filippo Brunelleschi, a demented genius who spent 28 years in the mid-15th century solving the problems of the construction of the dome — then and now the largest in the world — by discarding commonly used flying buttresses and enlisting the forces of nature, in the process reinventing the field of architecture.  
THE CASTLE CROSS THE MAGNET CARTER: A Novel (Kia Corthron, 2016) The narrative voice of this debut historical novel by playwright Corthron was a bit too unemotional in places for such a deeply emotional story, but the tale she tells is beautifully rendered: The trials and travails of two sets of brothers — one black and one white — that moves back and forth between the early days of World War II and the new millennium, touching on the barbarity of Deep South racism, the civil rights movement, love and death, and the deaf culture.  The culmination of The Castle is powerful, and both extraordinarily devastating and uplifting.   
THE HISTORY AND UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF HANDWRITING (Ann Trubeck, 2016) This delightful and delightfully brief (192 page) book traces the history of handwriting from Sumerian cuniforms 4,000 years ago to the digital age, and from the elegant John Hancockian cursive to today’s barely readable scrawl.  Trubeck eloquently argues — correctly, I believe — that the decline of handwriting in daily life is not a signpost of a decline in civilization as much as the next stage in the evolution of communication, and that the fixation with writing by hand is driven more by emotion than evidence.  
IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME (Marcel Proust, 1909~1922) Inexcusably perhaps, it wasn’t until recently that I got around to reading what many critics believe to be the greatest novel in any language (previously and better known as Remembrance of Things Past), and after slow-marching through Volume 1 (a spare 1,070 pages), I can see what all the buzz is about.  Proust’s recounting of growing up, participating in society and falling in love is gorgeously rendered, but the snail’s pace at which the story advances eventually wore me down — and then out — and the remaining six volumes will have to wait.  
JONATHAN SWIFT: The Reluctant Rebel (John Stubbs, 2016) As the subtitle of this marvelous biography suggests, the author of Gulliver’s Travels did not set out to be a satirist and humorist of legenday stature, let alone a formidable defender of the downtrodden in general and Irish in particular against the abuses of the English crown.  Stubbs artfully captures Swift’s many contradictions, not the least of which was being a devout priest who both upheld and defied the dogma of the Anglican church.  His treatment of Swift’s peculiar if chaste attachments to his “Stella” and other unmarried women is especially exemplary.  
THE LAND AT THE END OF THE WORLD: A Novel (António Lobo Antunes, 1979) Forgive me the comparisons with Faulkner and Márquez, but Antunes is very much their equal.  This little masterpiece by the prolific Portuguese novelist lays bare the atrocities visited upon colonial Angola as told through the eyes and voice of Costa, a Portuguese medic.  His haunting account of his memories makes it one of the great 20th century war novels.  Antunes’ imagery is so hallucinatory and unceasing that it reads like one long fever dream, and I sometimes found myself wishing he could dial back on the prose — at least a little bit.  
THE LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ (John Steinbeck, 1941) In 1940, a year after he published Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck and best friend Ed Ricketts, a biologist, set out from Monterey, California on the chartered sardine boat Western Flyer with an eclectic crew for a 4,000-mile journey of exploration and littoral exploring around the Baja Peninsula and deep into the Sea of Cortez.  The resulting book is fascinating from a scientific point of view, but Steinbeck’s insights into man and his world make it special and his biographical sketch of Ricketts ("Doc" in Cannery Row) is superbly sweet.  
MAD ENCHANTMENT: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies (Ross King, 2016) Who has not gazed upon the French Impressionist's paintings of the water lilies in his garden at Giverny with amazement and adoration?  King reveals that behind these lovely depictions of a peaceful and harmonious world was the intense frustration Monet experienced at the challenges of capturing the fleeting effects of light, water and color, as well as his personal torments.  A most readable and beautifully illustrated book, but if anything a bit too detailed unless you really want to know what Monet ate for breakfast every day.  
MISSING MAN: The American Spy Who Vanished In Iran (Barry Meier, 2016) Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent turned private investigator who disappeared in Iran in 2007 on a mission for the CIA, has never been heard from again despite the halting efforts of the U.S. to learn his fate and try to negotiate his release.  Meier does a commendable job in piecing together a story with no ending, but my deeply negative views of the post-9/11 FBI and CIA color my thinking. What they did and did not do in Levinson's case was criminal, but that seems minor to the damage they have inflicted on the U.S. because of their over-weaning self importance.  
NO SIMPLE HIGHWAY: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead (Peter Richardson, 2015)  While most of their peers blazed brilliantly and burned out quickly, the Grateful Dead became the counterculture's most durable musical institution, playing over 2,100 shows and selling 40 million albums.  No Simple Highway claims to be the first book to ask why the Dead survived, and while the answer is pretty obvious to anyone who has reveled in their music, this is an informative and enjoyable read, especially in exploring how the band continually defied predictions of their demise and became the model for the modern-day concert experience.  
NOTHING EVER DIES: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Viet Nguyen Than, 2016) Wars are fought twice over -- once on the battlefield and once in our memory -- and that is the subject of this scholarly, profound and challenging but hugely readable book by the author of The Sympathizer.  Nguyen cites the works of philosophers, historians, journalists, filmmakers and artists who have plumbed the murky depths of the psychological impact of war on combatants and civilians.  Nothing Ever Dies is the paradigm exploration of the subject as it applies to war in general, but especially Vietnam.  (Click HERE for a full review.)  
ORDERS TO KILL: The Putin Regime and Political Murder (Amy Knight, 2017) The timeliness of this book cannot be understated with new Russia scandal revelations emerging by the day.  Vladimir Putin's use of murder — whether in Russia or aboard, including the U.S. — has been hiding in plain sight for years.  Emiment KGB scholar Knight traces Putin's rise to absolute power and the many bodies that he left along the way, including Alexander Litvinenko, the former FSB officer poisoned while living in London, while revealing that terror attacks in Russia, as well as the Boston Marathon bombing, are part of the same campaign.    
PAY ANY PRICE: Greed, Power and Endless War (James Risen, 2014) The hidden costs of the so-called War on Terror have been immense, ranging from billions of dollars in stolen money to abuses of power to the sanctioned use of torture.   Although Pay Any Price is now three years old, the abuses laid bare by veteran New York Times investigative reporter Risen have, if anything, grew worse in the closing years of the Obama administration, which dared not say that the war was over and a return to normalcy was called for.  Because the war will never be over and a return to normalcy is no longer possible.  
PROUST AND THE SQUID: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Maryanne Wolfe, 2007) This is a fine if occasionally dense book about a remarkable journey: How human beings, who were never born to read, learn to do just that as the brain transforms itself into a reading organism.  (Or in the case of dyslexia, struggles.)  Wolf traces the history of reading from the clay tablets of the Sumarians to the digital age and its instant-information implications, some of them dire because of the possibility that future generations will never be able to read with a comprehension and lucidity we take for granted.    
RAILROAD TRAIN TO HEAVEN (Dan Leo, 2017) This delightful pean to a simpler time when both culture and soda were pop focuses on a self-effacing poet by the name of Arnold Schnabel who communes with a chain-smoking Jesus.  It is a coming-of-age novel, although Arnold is 42 years old, and has the elements the best pulp of L. Sprague de Camp, descriptive richness of Marcel Proust, open tap consciousness of Jack Kerouac, whimsy of Terry Pratchett and a dollop of Philip K. Dick.  Yet is truly original and  its seemingly simple, laugh-out-loud narrative belies deeper meanings. (Click HERE for a full review.)  
THE SLEEP WALKERS: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (Arthur Koestler, 1959) Gingrich's The Book Nobody Read (above) is a book about a book, De revolutionibus by Nicolaus Copernicus, while this is a book nominally about the strange man who first suggested that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the universe, his place in the history of cosmology and how the tragically stupid split between science and religion set back the scientific revolution for centuries.  Dense at times, but written with a trenchant wit by the well-known author of Darkness at Noon, who turned to writing about the history of science later in life.  
SO MUCH THINGS TO SAY: The Oral History of Bob Marley (Roger Steffens, 2017) For an average white boy from the suburbs, reggae grabbed me hard and has never let go.  Beyond Marley's stupendous abilities as a songwriter, he had a unique capacity to take the suffering of Jamaicans and other people and turn them into poetry, and he was and arguably remains the only global superstar.  Oral histories can be messy, but that is why they can be far more illuminating than straight nonfiction prose.  In Steffens' deft hands, this format renders a humanness to a man who has been endlessly mythologized.  (Click HERE for a full review.)  
THE THIRST: A Harry Hole Novel (Jo Nesbø, 2017) All the weird elements we have come to expect from master Norwegian craftsman Nesbø are here in spades, but the dean of Scandinavian crime writers outdoes himself in creating an especially lurid cast of psycho killers and weaving especially labyrinthine plot twists in this 11th book in the Harry Hole series.  Harry is retired from the Oslo Crime Squad and happily married, but is drawn to a series of murders because of the haunting memory of the one man he let get away over his storied career.  It is, he says, like hearing "the voice of a man he was trying not to remember."   
WHEN HEAVEN AND EARTH CHANGED PLACES (Le Ly Hyslip with Jay Wurts, 1989) This extraordinary memoir captures the horrors of the Vietnam War unlike any other.  Le Ly is 12 when U.S. helicopters arrive in her Central Coast village, and by the time she turns 16 she has been a Viet Cong spy and saboteur and endured imprisonment, torture, rape and the deaths of several members of her close-knit Buddhist family.  Two decade after Le Ly escapes the agonies of war for America, her love of family and faith in humanity draws her back to her devastated homeland and scenes of joy and sadness related with a profound poignance.  
ZHOU ENLAI: The Last Perfect Revolutionary (Gao Wenquian, 2007) Zhou was premier of the People's Republic of China from 1949 until his death in 1976 and was the invisible but all-important hand in the modernization of China.  This absorbing if sometime too inside baseball bio hammers home the reality that the signature accomplishment of the man Richard Nixon called "the greatest statesman of our era" was not surviving the Long March or Cultural Revolution, but the brutish and incredibly cruel Mao, to whom he always deferred.  And that Zhou ended up being more powerful in life than death.    
Meanwhile, here are my holiday gift giving lists for 2016, 20152014 and 2013.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Russia Scandal Prequel: How Donald Trump Became Ensnared In Putin's Web

The reasons for Donald Trump's fawning embrace of Vladimir Putin and willingness to be played by a succession of Russian government officials, oligarchs and mobsters are by now well known and copiously documented.  Less understood is what motivated Putin to ensnare Trump, when that happened and under what circumstances, and why it turned out to be such an easy a task for the Russian leader. 
The answers to those intriguingly important questions require some context: While Trump was as willfully naïve as Putin was wily in the course of the Kremlin's eventually successful efforts to recruit he and his associates in its successful cybersabotage of Hillary Clinton's campaign, the Russian leader also got lucky.   
The former Soviet Union had been looking for American patsies to co-opt.   
As Putin rose from KGB spy to director of the FSB, its successor agency, to the leader of a reborn Russia determined to return the motherland to its status as a global superpower at the expense of America's standing, the perfect patsy in the form of a New York developer, celebrity reality show star and billionaire -- at least on paper -- made himself available.
Conveniently for the Kremlin, Trump unknowingly became snared in the KGB's web and then was further drawn in by sleazy investors whose ties to Soviet and then Russian government agencies he overlooked because he was desperate for their money.   His ensnarement grew ever deeper, culminating in 2016 as the electoral adversary of Clinton, whom Putin openly loathed and feared would build on Obama era economic sanctions and further freeze out Russia.   
It all revolved around Trump's insatiable need for cash and his narcissistic craving for recognition and power. 
The latter trait has dominated Trump's disastrous White House tenure, which may eventually be undone by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he closes in on Trump's associates, family and perhaps the man himself -- if it can be proven that he became a kind of Manchurian Candidate for America's greatest foe in his against-the-odds quest to become president. 
The prequel to the scandal begins in 1982, nine years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, when future Communist Party general secretary and then KGB Chairman and spy chief Yuri Andropov instructed his intelligence officers to use so-called active measures to discredit adversaries and influence public opinion in a covert effort to prevent the reelection of Ronald Reagan.  The effort failed spectacularly, and two years later Reagan won in a landslide.  
In 1984, General Vladimir Alexandrovich Kryuchov, an Andropov acolyte, was head of the KGB's First Chief Directorate, the KGB branch responsible for gathering foreign intelligence.  Putin, who had joined the KGB in 1975, was in his last year in the Second Chief Directorate, the branch responsible for counter-intelligence.  He would be transferred to the First Chief Directorate the following year and begin his steady rise to power.   
Putin's first documented contact with Trump would not come until 2013, but in the meantime -- with the hawkish Reagan still in power and Mikhail Gorbachev soon to take the reins of power -- Kryuchov had a big problem.   
Gorbachev, who would be the last Soviet president, advocated a policy of detente with the West, which meant that the First Chief Directorate's overseas intelligence work would be more important than ever.  But the KGB had precious few American intelligence assets and many of its agents were phoning it in by pretending to be obtaining intelligence from secret sources who in reality were "paper agents" and not providing real intelligence.
As British journalist Luke Harding relates events in his recent book, Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, this parlous situation prompted Kryuchov to issue a memo on February 1, 1984 ordering KGB station chiefs to be on the lookout for Americans who might be sympathetic to the Soviet cause and perhaps be cultivated as intelligence assets through the liberal use of money and flattery.
The most revealing section of the memo, according to Harding, concerned kompromat -- "Compromising information about subject, including illegal acts in financial and commercial affairs, intrigues, speculation, bribes, graft . . . and exploitation of his position to enrich himself" that could be exploited by the KGB by threatening "disclosure." 
When did the KGB open a file on Trump? 
Eastern Bloc security service records suggest it may have been as early as 1977 when Trump married Ivana Zelnickova, a 28-year-old Czech model who spoke Russian and as a citizen of a Communist country was of interest to the StB, the Czech intelligence service, as well as the FBI and CIA, says Harding. 
StB spies kept a close eye on the couple in Manhattan, according to Harding.  They opened letters Ivana sent home to her father and surveilled Trump and wife when they visited Czechoslovakia.  And they shared their information with the KGB.   
As Trump tells it in The Art of the Deal, his 1987 bestseller, the idea for his first trip to Moscow came after he was seated next to Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin at a luncheon in the fall of 1986 hosted by Leonard Lauder, the businessman son of Estée Lauder, and they discussed building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government. 
Not surprisingly, Harding says Trump's version of events is incomplete. 
The actual story is that the Soviet government sought out Trump as a potential KGB recruit under the guise of the hotel deal after Dubinin arrived in the U.S. in March 1986.  As Dubinin's daughter Natalia relates it, her father -- "fluent in English and a brilliant master of negotiations" -- charmed Trump at their first meeting at Trump Tower. 
"Trump melted at once," she says in trenchantly profiling the future American president.  "He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive.  He needs recognition.  And, of course, when he gets it he likes it.  My father's visit worked on him like honey to a bee." 
In The Art of the Deal, Trump says that Dubinin invited him to the Soviet Union in a January 1987 letter, saying that "the leading state agency for international tourism, Goscomintourist, had expressed interest in pursuing a joint venture to construct and manage a hotel in Moscow."  Goscomintourust -- or Intourist for short -- functioned as a subsidiary KGB branch. 
On July 4, 1987, Trump and Ivana, accompanied by Lisa Calandra, Mrs. Trump's assistant, flew to Moscow, where they toured potential hotel sites and later visited Leningrad, where the couple posed on a grand staircase at the Winter Palace, he in a suit and she in a red polka dot dress with a string of pearls for a photograph distributed by Tass, the Soviet state news agency.  They were treated lavishly everywhere, and while in Moscow stayed in Lenin's suite at the National Hotel, which was connected to the Intourist complex next door. 
"The hotel rooms . . . were under 24-hour control with security cameras and so on," former spy Victor Suvarov told Harding.  "The interest is only one.  To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future."    
The best thing to ever happen to Trump the entrepreneur was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 
Although the 1987 hotel deal did not work out, as did several subsequent attempts through 2015 to build a Trump-branded project in the Russian capital, Trump has sworn innumerable times since the scandal reared its hydra head that he has no connection to Russia although he is, in fact, one big Russia connection. 
As early as 1984, Trump began tapping into what would become an extensive network of contacts with corrupt businessmen, mobsters and money launderers from the former Soviet Union, Russia and their satellite states to make deals ranging from real-estate sales to beauty pageants sponsorships to bailing out his frequently ailing enterprises.  It is tempting to say that Trump built that network himself as his business empire grew, but in reality members of the network more often used him as a convenient patsy.  This has been especially true of money launderers.  
In 1984, he personally helped émigré David Bogatin, a former Soviet Army pilot, cut red tape when he plunked down $6 million in cash for five luxury condos in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  Bogatin was not wealthy and was a front for Russian mobsters. In 1987, he pleaded guilty in federal court to taking part in a massive gasoline bootlegging scheme with those mobsters, and the government seized the five condos.
An inordinate number of Russians have bought the priciest units in Trump's condos over the years, while the entire 51st floor of Trump Tower was being used by a global sports betting ring overseen by Russian mob boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, who had been indicted for conspiring to fix the ice-skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, when federal agents broke the ring in April 2013. 
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, President Boris Yeltsin had ordered a dramatic shift from a centralized economy of state ownership to a market economy, enabling cash-rich mobsters and corrupt government officials to privatize and loot state-held assets.  After Putin succeeded Yeltsin, the FSB and Russia's other feared intelligence agencies joined forces with mobsters and oligarchs, and the fiercely authoritarian Putin gave them free hand so long as they added to his billions in personal fortune and strengthened his grip on the country.   
Then in 1998, Russia defaulted on $40 billion in debt, which accelerated the exodus of money.  By one estimate, some $1.3 trillion in illicit capital has poured out of Russia in the last 25 years, including many tens of millions of dollars that flowed into Trump Tower, Trump World Tower, Trump SoHo, his other luxury developments and Atlantic City casinos, all of which were used as convenient pass-throughs for laundering illicit riches.
It is not an exaggeration to say that dirty Russian money saved Trump, if only barely.    
By the late 1990s, he owed $4 billion to more than 70 banks, with $800 million of it personally guaranteed.   "But fortunately for Trump, his own economic crisis coincided with one in Russia," writes Craig Unger in "Trump's Russian Laundromat," in the New Republic.  
Only traces of Trump's network can be found in his financial disclosure statements, and since his businesses are all privately held and he has refused to release his federal tax returns, his business relationships with Russians are not readily apparent.  
Now, as president and commander in chief, Trump makes policy decisions that have the potential to positively affect his 565 Trump Organization holdings in the U.S. and abroad.  
All of this begs a very big question.  
Trump's layering of lies upon lies in refusing to acknowledge his Russia ties and continued insistence that the Russia scandal is a "hoax"  is a reflection of the frightening fantasy world in which he dwells.  But it also may be a consequence of members of the network being able to leverage Trump's literal and figurative debts to them -- if not blackmail him outright. 
Former MI6 spy turned investigator Christopher Steele writes in his by now infamous dossier that the Russians have been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for years and have personal and financial kompromat on him.  (Steele also writes that Clinton was bugged and her phone calls intercepted when she visited Russia, but unlike Trump Putin's agents found "no embarrassing conduct.") 
"Without the Russian mafia," says Unger, "it is fair to say Donald Trump would not be president of the United States."  
Indeed.  And the list of people who have the goods on Trump surely includes the ruthless Putin.  This is because of his biggest Russia connection of all -- the cyber plot to sabotage Clinton and make him president.  
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.