A Theory of the Case

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For a moment, please consider this straightforward theory of the case: Trump and Putin made a deal. In return for Putin’s active election interference plus some Russian business, Trump promised to end U.S. sanctions on Russia if elected President of the United States.

See? Easy. You don’t even need 280 characters to lay it out.

It’s worth keeping this theory in mind as Trump prepares for a contentious meeting with our supposed allies of NATO next week, then meets with our supposed rival Vladimir Putin shortly after. (The AP reports that no other Americans will be present at the Putin meeting.)

So if you’re reading this, please take a moment and consider this thought: that Trump and Putin exchanged a quid pro quo some years back, which resulted in the Trump presidency – a deal that will have untold effects our country’s future (and the world’s) for decades to come.

Let’s consider the theory, and its implications.

 

2

First, let me say clearly: if there was such a deal, I think it unlikely that it was cemented in a personal, one-on-one, face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin. Such a bargain would probably have been worked out with intermediaries and underlings, perhaps in coded language and mutual understandings.

So there’s likely to be very little documentation. Putin’s too crafty to leave much of a paper trail – and he’d have been especially careful with whatever he put in writing to Trump and his team. He’d surely have known or seen that they’re DEFINITELY stupid and incompetent enough to leave evidence behind.

So in James Comey’s words, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes” – and I hope Bob Mueller has them – but I can’t prove any of this, obviously. I can just conjecture from what has been reported, and what I observe.

And there’s a LOT we already know to be true.

 

3

For despite what Trump and his followers say, there’s zero doubt that

(a) Russia meddled in the 2016 election, and

(b) Putin meddled with the express goal of electing Donald Trump and defeating Hillary Clinton.

For the latest proof, there’s the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) – which was released this week on July 3.

(If you didn’t hear about this report, it may because it was released just as many Americans were traveling, celebrating, or checking out for the Independence Day holiday. Convenient timing!)

Consider this latest confirmation, of many reports that are out there. From The Hill:

The committee’s report is an analysis of the Intelligence Community’s assessment (ICA), dated January 2017, of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The ICA found that Russia meddled pervasively in the election and did so to the benefit of Donald Trump, and at the expense of Hillary Clinton. The committee’s report says it has added new corroborative findings to the IC’s assessment, but it offers no details, perhaps at a later date. The committee report essentially validates the ICA.

Okay, so Russia meddled.

And though Trump claims he didn’t know anything about it (“No collusion! No collusion!”) I’m going to ask you to consider for a moment that maybe, just maybe… he’s lying.

And consider that he and Putin made a deal: if elected, Trump would end sanctions on Russia, in return for Putin’s electoral assistance to defeat Hillary, plus some Russian business.

 

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So in this theory of the case, both Trump and Putin would have seen their quid pro quo deal as a win-win, no matter the outcome in 2016.

Trump saw that either

(a) he’d lose, start “Trump TV,” and for the rest of his life he could continue ranting to adoring rally crowds and television viewers that the election was rigged and he was cheated out of the Presidency – all of which would stoke his ego and bring untold riches to his brand, OR

(b) he’d win the Presidency and become the most powerful and famous man in America – which would *also* stoke his ego and bring vast riches to his companies.

 

For his part, Vladimir Putin also saw a win-win, but with even far more sweeping, more international gains. He knew Trump would either

(a) lose, but lose in a way that left Putin’s hated rival Hillary Clinton so bloodied – and the country so divided – that she’d find it hard to govern, thus destabilizing the U.S.; OR

(b) Trump would win the election and end economic sanctions on Russia…

…WHILE ALSO (as Putin knew, Trump being Trump and preaching racism, nationalism, and division), Trump would weaken the U.S.’s moral standing, damage the EU, destabilize NATO and other alliances, and partner with Russia, leaving Russia in a far stronger position both in terms of economics and global power.

Which is exactly what we’re starting to see happen now.

 

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Note that aside from the fact that discovery of this deal could result in charges to Trump of treason, conspiracy, election fraud, obstruction of justice, and on and on – consequences Trump likely didn’t think or care about – such a deal would be relatively “low risk, extremely high reward” for both men.

Putin faced no real consequences for election meddling, even if it had been discovered and called out at the time (which Barack Obama tried to do, but was stymied by Mitch McConnell – but never mind that right now.) The worst case scenario was that President Obama (or President Hillary Clinton, if it worked out that way) could hit Russia with increased sanctions. Putin might have calculated that that risk was well worth the gamble.

And indeed, Putin seems to have gotten his money’s worth – and then some. Just on the stuff we now know, Putin’s investments in active measures were fairly cheap: he…

  • provided trolls to help spread slander and sow division in the American electorate;
  • handed off documents to Wikileaks, with releases timed with the intention of hurting Clinton and her campaign;
  • laundered Russian money through Trump’s businesses;
  • sent representatives to try to peddle “dirt” on Hillary Clinton (though none was actually forthcoming);
  • funneled cash through organizations such as the NRA to Trump’s campaign;
  • greased the wheels for a Trump Tower Moscow, a deal that’s now off, in June of 2018 – but it was in the works well into the campaign, despite Trump’s lies and denials.

There might have been more sinister and invasive methods – specific changes in actual vote tallies in particular states are possible – but I’m just sticking to what we actually know for sure.

All of that cost Putin ridiculously little – and reaped great rewards for Russia, as we’re seeing every day now: the aforementioned destabilization of NATO and the world; Trump’s trade war, which is opening up avenues of trade between other countries and Russia.

Pretty good deal, if you’re Putin. And at a good price.

 

6

But if Putin gave away little in bargain in this scenario, Trump gave away even less: he merely offered:

  • a promise of future sanction relief IF elected (a big “if”)
  • employment to a remarkable number of Russian-connected associates (Flynn, Manafort, Sater, Eric Prince, Kushner, Michael Cohen, and others)
  • at least tacit approval of changes to the 2016 GOP party platform, with language supporting Russian interests in Ukraine.

The biggest bonus was this, though – an intangible, maybe, but a real bonus nonetheless:

  • Trump lavished over-the-top public praise on Putin in Tweets, speeches and rally appearances, which he continues to do to this day.

Altogether, though, it’s not much to offer really – and most important: Trump himself would have had to pay nothing out of pocket, personally. And he hates spending money, as Putin surely knows.

So Trump would have likely seen this quid-pro-quo arrangement as an unbelievably wonderful deal for himself. He stood to gain so much by giving up almost nothing of tangible value: just a promise to relieve Russian sanctions in the future, if things worked out.

And anyone who’s followed Trump knows that’s exactly his favorite kind of deal: ‘You give me everything, while I give you ZIP!’

He might have even thought he’d put one over on ol’ Vladimir Putin.

 

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As for consequences, Trump’s not a man to worry too much about that – mostly because he’s rarely had to face them. He probably figured that if he won, he could just use the levers of power to cover up his deal with the Russians. He reportedly thought a President is more like a king and can do as he likes, bending the law to his will.

Unfortunately, he may be right.

But in any event, if he thought he’d lose – he also would have guessed (probably correctly) that no one in power would bother to dig into the businesses, finances, or contacts of a failed candidate, and therefore no one would ever find out about his arrangement with Putin.

This is, as has been suggested before, a real-world version of Mel Brooks’s The Producers – one that’s playing out not as comedy, but rather as national and international tragedy.

If you’re not familiar with that film or musical, here’s a refresher: two shifty producers realize they can make more money from a flop than a hit, since investors don’t expect to be paid back for a show that closes opening night, nor do accountants care enough to look into the finances of a failed production. So they raise millions to stage the biggest theatrical flop possible (a musical about, uh…. Hitler), with a plan to pocket the money and run to Rio after the closing notices get posted.

But then, as luck would have it, their play is a smash hit… and in the sunlight that shines on their dealings, they’re exposed as crooks for all the world to see.

Like Bialystock and Bloom, Trump probably figured he’d lose and no one would see what he was up to.

But then he won.

And here we are.

 

8

In some tellings (Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, for one), Trump neither expected… nor *wanted to* win the 2016 election.

He thought, abstractly, that being President would be cool, and that everyone would kowtow to him. Proudly, profoundly ignorant, he thought the job would be a snap.

A deeply sick man, he was divided: part of him knew that he was a charlatan and was shook to the core by a deep-seated fear that he wasn’t up to the task.

But that fearful part of his psyche was at war with his other half: the part that said that he was, without a doubt, the greatest, the best, the biggest, the huge-est, the man for whom history was made! That he’d be a president like no other!

Nonetheless, perhaps deep down he knew his best, most profitable endgame… was to LOSE and claim victory.

Again, this is the outcome some reports suggest Trump was both expecting… and truly desiring.

If losing was what he expected and hoped for, this accounts for his shocked reaction, captured at the moment victory was announced:

 

One can read that photo as the moment the thought settles in that now he has to do this… crappy… JOB, with its attendant drudgery and bullshit.

Or perhaps one can read it as the moment he recognizes that he’s in big trouble. Among other things, he knows he has to somehow cover his tracks for the deal he made with Russia.

 

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This shock would also account for his extraordinary meeting with President Obama at the White House the next day. I’ve been watching Trump in disgust for 30-some years now, since he was a daily tabloid joke on local NYC TV news, and that was the only time in his long career I’ve ever seen him appear chastened, unsure – even meek, awestruck. Even slightly conciliatory.

And it would also explain many decisions in Year One of his presidency, especially in staffing. Though he installed a smattering of family members (Ivanka, Jared Kushner) and far-right, white supremacist zealots (Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller), most of his appointments were more traditional Republican bureaucrats – establishment figures from the right-wing of business, government, and the military: Sessions, Kelly, Tillerson, McMaster, Mattis, Priebus, Spicer… they were all chosen to prop up a Trump who was unsure of himself and foundering, lashing out.

At least, that’s what many commentators (and many citizens… and many conservatives) hoped they’d do.

But what we’ve seen as year one ground into year two is that Trump is cleaning house of those supposedly wiser, more steady handlers. He’s replacing them with figures even further right: Bolton, Pompeo, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Moreover: at the time of this writing, Trump is becoming more comfortable making decrees all on his own, often ignoring advice on important matters: imposing tariffs on allies against the advice of his economic advisers, say; or unilaterally announcing the cancellation of joint military training exercises with our ally South Korea…. without first notifying the South Koreans OR the U.S. military.

These stunning moves indicate that Trump now truly believes he’s the man for the job, and he’s acting more on his own without guidance or check on his power.

And that should scare all of us.

 

10

As far as this theory I posited at the top of this post – the quid pro quo: this is, of course, not a new revelation. Lots of people have suggested that’s exactly what happened.

Christopher Steele, for one, laid the plan out pretty baldly in his dossier: that Trump appeared to have traded Russian business and electoral help a promise to end sanctions.

This is the true explosive allegation in the dossier – more explosive, really, than the sources who reported that Putin had compromat on Trump (embarrassing material of a sexual nature), and that Trump was thus compromised by Russia.

No, most of the dossier was really about Trump’s shady business dealings, and how they were entangled with Russia. This dossier has been in the public eye since at David Corn wrote about it in October of 2016.

Many elements in the dossier have now been confirmed.

No significant information included therein has been DISproved.

We need to face the theory of the case, and try to wrap our heads around its implications.

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Once again, simply, clearly let me restate this hypothesis: Donald Trump promised to drop U.S. sanctions on Russia… in exchange for Putin’s help to win the 2016 election, plus some Russian business deals.

Positing it often and clearly is, I believe, important. Let’s at least consider that scenario as the next steps unfold at NATO, Helsinki, and the world beyond.

Our way forward may hinge on what happened at that time, and how we deal with that question going into the future.

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