|BARBARA KRUGER / NEW YORK MAGAZINE (DOUBLE CLICK TO ENLARGE)|
When Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki on July 16 for their first summit meeting, the American president will have much to hide and the Russian autocrat much to gain. Because as is glaringly obvious, Putin has the goods on Trump, has been using him to Russia's advantage for many years and is now playing the U.S. for a global chump despite a president who likes to pound his chest in public but in reality is a fear-stricken coward beholden to Putin for whom eventual impeachment as a result of their unholy union is never far from his mind.
Beyond the headline hogging drumbeat of deep-state accusations against Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Trump's own Justice Department from his traitorous enablers, chiefly those Vichy House Republicans, the president has simply run out of excuses for the innumerable links between his business interests, his close associates and family, his presidential campaign and, of course, himself with Russia.
This is because each seemingly exculpatory explanation (we were disorganized, we were dumb, we were naïve, we were played) collapses in the face of the mountain of suspicious actions, lies and unexplained meetings with Putin's cyberwarriors during the campaign, as well as the three decades prior to the campaign when Trump tapped into an extensive network of 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.
All of this points to the conclusion that Trump has much to hide and even more to fear as he continues to deny the indisputable reality that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, handing him the presidency while undermining a bedrock of American democracy, and all the while he continues to rub Putin's tummy and coo sweet Russophile nothings in the Kremlin's direction.
Jonathan Chait is pitch perfect in "Will Trump Be Meeting His Counterpart -- Or His Handler?" a lengthy new must-read piece in New York magazine that is accompanied by the crazy quilt of Trump-Putin connections graphic atop this post.
Chait exhaustively and compellingly makes the case that Trump has been a Russian asset since 1987, albeit unwittingly at first:
The unfolding of the Russia scandal has been like walking into a dark cavern. Every step reveals that the cave runs deeper than we thought, and after each one, as we wonder how far it goes, our imaginations are circumscribed by the steps we have already taken. The cavern might go just a little farther, we presume, but probably not much farther. And since trying to discern the size and shape of the scandal is an exercise in uncertainty, we focus our attention on the most likely outcome, which is that the story goes a little deeper than what we have already discovered. . . .
But what if that's wrong? What if we're still standing closer to the mouth of the cave than the end?
That, of course, is exactly where we are, which is why Trump is so fear stricken and his enablers are so desperate to neuter Mueller that they keep coming up with one implausible accusation after another, hoping that something -- anything -- sticks before the midterm election.
Chait writes with the authority of a journalist-analyst in full command of what we do know and a pretty damned good idea of what we don't. And as bold and far-reaching as his conclusions are, nothing I have read in my own extensive research leads me away from his sobering observation that:
What is missing from our imagination is the unlikely but possible outcome on the other end: that this is all much worse than we suspect. After all, treating a small probability as if it were nonexistent is the very error much of the news media made in covering the presidential horse race. And while the body of publicly available information about the Russia scandal is already extensive, the way it has been delivered — scoop after scoop of discrete nuggets of information — has been disorienting and difficult to follow. What would it look like if it were reassembled into a single narrative, one that distinguished between fact and speculation but didn’t myopically focus on the most certain conclusions?What it would look like is that his particular ball got rolling long before the 2016 campaign.
Suppose we are currently making the same mistake we made at the outset of this drama — suppose the dark crevices of the Russia scandal run not just a little deeper but a lot deeper. If that’s true, we are in the midst of a scandal unprecedented in American history, a subversion of the integrity of the presidency. It would mean the Cold War that Americans had long considered won has dissolved into the bizarre spectacle of Reagan's party's abetting the hijacking of American government by a former KGB agent. It would mean that when Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the president and his inner circle, possibly beginning this summer, Trump may not merely rail on Twitter but provoke a constitutional crisis.
And it would mean the Russia scandal began far earlier than conventionally understood and ended later — indeed, is still happening. As Trump arranges to meet face-to-face and privately with Vladimir Putin later this month, the collusion between the two men metastasizing from a dark accusation into an open alliance, it would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.It should not be forgotten as Trump and Putin prepare for their coveted summit that the Russian leader never had a formal one-on-one meeting with Barack Obama in the course of his eight-year presidency. The Obama administration proposed sitdowns at the highest level several times and each time Putin turned the proposal down cold knowing he couldn't get over on Obama. Trump, of course, will be putty in his hands.
When Obama and Putin did meet, typically at conferences involving multiple world leaders, back home Trump would reliably skewer Obama, declare that Putin had no respect for Obama and then inevitably brag about the "incredible" relationship he had with an autocratic thug after whom he has modeled aspects of his own presidency in deeply disconcerting ways, most notably his utter disregard for human rights.
And it must not be forgotten that most Republicans would rather win an election with Putin’s help than lose one without it. That goes for the midterms, as well, whether it involves Russia hacking into voting machines or some other method we know Trump has made no effort to protect us against.
As Chait notes, why stop now?
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.