By Michael Bryan
We know that Russia is a notoriously good blackmailer: their kompromat systems are finely tuned and effective. To successfully blackmail people two things are needed; a reason to blackmail someone (something you want them to do) and information with which to blackmail them (usually a financial or sexual impropriety).
Consider the case of Russia vis-a-vis Donald Trump — as President, Trump has many things Russia would want: control of the American foreign policy and national security apparatus chief among them. Russia is rumored to have information of a sexually compromising nature about Trump (see the Steele Dossier re the so-called “pee pee tape”), but much more damaging, I think, they are in a position to have a great deal of compromising financial information on Trump. The Trumps have admitted that they have gotten a great deal of funding for their projects from Russia over the past decade. Trump is notoriously lax about due diligence in his foreign deals and the Russians and others have likely used the Trump organization to launder money on a massive scale. They also are very likely to have access to financial statements and tax records that could be embarrassing to Trump by virtue of their influence over Trump partners in the former Soviet bloc.
So, Russia clearly has motive and means to blackmail Trump. Is there evidence in Trump’s behavior that he is actively being compromised by blackmail?
Exhibit 1: Trump’s history with the Russian sanctions for their meddling in the 2016 elections. We now know that many clandestine, and oft-denied, meetings between the Trump campaign and administration with leading Russian officials took place before and during the transition regarding these sanctions. The substance of those meetings were the Russians seeking assurance that the Obama sanctions would be eliminated and the Trumpeters providing that assurance.
What has happened since Trump’s election regarding those sanctions? Despite the near-unanimity of Congress in passing new sanctions, Trump still has not implemented those sanctions and refuses to explain why. He is going as far to as to defy Congress and flaunt his oath of office to faithfully execute the laws to spare Russia sanctions due to their meddling in his favor in our elections. That certainly seems suggestive that Trump has a motive to serve Russia’s interests that has not been adequately explained. Blackmail by the Russians of Trump himself and/or his family could certainly be such a motive.
Exhibit 2: Trump’s constant contacts with the Russian state and intelligence officials that are not disclosed to the American press. There have been more than a half-a-dozen times that Trump, or his chief advisors and intelligence officials, have met with Putin or top diplomatic and intelligence officials without advising our press. The American press had to learn of these high-level contacts through Russian press accounts and government releases. Meetings with Russian officials in the oval office, during overseas trips, and telephonically have been frequently concealed from the American press. In one those meetings, Trump disclosed highly classified intel to the Russian ambassador and reportedly claimed that his firing of FBI director Comey would take a great deal of pressure off him regarding the Russian affair.
Most recently, all three of Russia’s top intelligence officials came to the U.S. to meet with their American counterparts for discussions without any notice to the American press. Once again, we learned of the meeting from Russian press accounts. Most extraordinarily, the head of the Russian foreign intelligence agency (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, is a sanctioned individual under a 2014 law and is barred from entry to the U.S. He was granted entry anyhow. Who authorized the waiver is unknown, but the White House would have had to be involved in granting any such waiver.
Attempts to conceal ongoing communications with one’s blackmailer are certainly characteristic of the victims of blackmail. An on-going campaign of blackmail is certainly consistent with Trump’s behavior regarding his contacts with Russian state representatives, as are the subsequent disclosures of those contacts by Russia. Russia can forcefully demonstrate their willingness to burn Trump with such small betrayals, keeping the leash tight on the target of their blackmail.
Exhibit 3: The destruction of the U.S. State Department under Rex Tillerson. Tillerson is the only American member of the Russian Order of Friendship, long-time partner to Putin’s regime, and a man whom Trump had never met before appointing him to head the State Department. How unusual, and inexplicable, that he should be appointed Secretary of State. The United States does not profit from Tillerson’s desired program of cuts and down-sizing at State, while Russia certainly does profit from the loss of influence and institutional knowledge that Tillerson has unleashed on his department.
As a result of this evidence, I believe there is at least a prima facie case that our President is the victim of blackmail by the Russian state and is, willingly or unwillingly, serving Russian interests. Nothing else adequately explains his Administration’s furtiveness regarding contacts with Russian state representatives (but not those of any other nation), his willingness to protect Russian interests in defiance of U.S. law, and his appointment of Tillerson and countenance of Tillerson’s assault on the State Department. No one could faithfully execute the duties of the President while being blackmailed by a foreign adversary. Until and unless Congress investigates this matter with a bi-partisan commission, one branch of our Republic appears to be firmly in Russian hands.
Update 2/17: I’m certainly not the only one considering this line of reasoning. Johnathan Chiat at New York Magazine has published a similar speculation — not sure when it was published.