The Intelligence Community Has Long Suspected Trump of Being Under Russian Influence
There’s a decent chance, when all the dust has settled from the doomed presidency of Donald Trump and the historians are picking over the ashes, that tonight’s Lawfare piece
by Benjamin Wittes will be seen as an important document that emerged at a crucial turning point. Certainly, the New York Times article on which it is based will be a key reference point.
I find this frustrating.
It’s frustrating because Wittes’s piece is essentially a giant mea culpa– on behalf of himself and on behalf of the media in general. It’s at once a recognition and an apology for having gone about the analysis of the Russia investigation the wrong way from the beginning. Its basic insight is that the Russia investigation has never really been bifurcated into collusion and obstruction of justice components, but has all along been primarily a counterintelligence investigation with criminal components. To go just a bit deeper, Wittes seems to be realizing for the first time that Trump’s efforts to obstruct the investigation may be little more than an element of the underlying problem, which is that Trump has been working on the behalf of Russian interests all along. For this reason, his obstruction is just as much about protecting Russia as it is about protecting himself. Or, in other words, the Obstruction Was the Collusion.
To be sure, there is some genuine news in the New York Times piece. We learn about specific events at specific points in time. We learn how investigatory decisions were made and what prompted them. But the central revelation, as shocking as it may be, really should not come as a surprise. The American intelligence community suspects that Donald Trump is compromised by the Russians.
In reality, they began to suspect this at the same time that everyone else began openly asking the question, which was as far back as September 2015. As I’ve discussed repeatedly, in the context of the Moscow Trump Tower aspect of this investigation, people really began to wonder about Trump’s motives for defending Vladimir Putin in the late summer of 2015, at the precise point in time that Michael Cohen and Felix Sater were feverishly (and secretly) trying to make a deal to build the tallest skyscraper in Europe in the Russian capital. It was also in that period that the right-wing Washington Free Beacon contracted with Fusion GPS to investigate Trump’s foreign business ventures. That’s the investigation that eventually produced the Steele Dossier.