Step out of Bizarro world for a minute and imagine what a “normal” President would do in response to a Federal indictment just brought by one of the most respected Special Counsel in the country, that alleged the Russians committed the following acts:
Conducted political intelligence-gathering activities in the United States;
Hid their activities by setting up virtual networks in America that masked their extra-American communications;
Influenced the American election by using false personas to organize rallies for Trump, criticizing Muslims and spreading allegations of voter fraud by candidate Clinton;
Stole American identities to create controlled accounts; and
Destroyed evidence of their activities.
As Paul Rosenzweig, writing for The Atlantic, puts it:
If any significant fraction of what is alleged in the latest indictment is true… then this tale is a stunning condemnation of Russian activity. A Russian organization with hundreds of employees and a budget of millions of dollars is said to have systematically engaged in an effort (code named “Project Lakhta”) to undermine the integrity of the election and, perhaps more importantly, to have attempted to influence the election to benefit then-candidate Donald Trump.
At a minimum we would see a complete freeze in diplomatic communications, a recall of most if not all U.S. government personnel currently stationed in the Russian Federation, and quite likely the freezing of certain Russian assets in this country and in any country where the U.S. could exert control. There would be a massive and public effort to connect these indicted Russians to the Putin mafia state so that the American people could be informed of the truth. There would probably be some type of military action, something more than a gesture. There would be sanctions being discussed right now, and there would be expulsions. The President would be on the air to reassure the American people of the integrity of our elections.
In fact there are many, many options a normal Administration would take to isolate and punish the Russian state.
None of that is happening. In fact, the exact opposite:
None of Trump’s tweets expressed anger or alarm about the Russian intervention, which Mueller’s charges said involved entry into the U.S. by Russians collecting intelligence for the plan.
A White House spokesperson went even further Saturday, suggesting that Democrats and the mainstream media deserve more blame than Russia for political division in the U.S.
Jonathan Chait, writing for New York Magazine, is pretty sure he knows the reason why:
All in all, the odds are disconcertingly high that Russia, or somebody, has blackmail leverage over the president of the United States.
Chait arrives at this conclusion indirectly, as none of us except for Trump and possibly a few others in the Kremlin could possibly confirm it, but Trump’s behavior pattern towards Russia has been remarkably telling. There is no good reason for Trump’s grotesquely fawning relationship to the Russian state unless it derives from a benefit to Trump himself. That’s simply the kind of man he is. Whether that benefit is related to his finances, of which he is astonishingly secretive, or of his personal sexual habits, which have recently been revealed as equally clandestine, Trump has shown himself to be obligated for some reason to the Russian state. And the news in recent weeks has confirmed that Trump is possessed of the type of character that is ripe for blackmail.
As Chait points out, there were two objections thrown at the existence of the infamous “pee tape” described in Christopher Steele’s dossier. One was that Trump didn’t need to pay for sex. We learned this week that he has no compunction about paying for sex at all. He considers sex a transaction. He’s offered at least two and probably many, many more women money for sex. So the idea that he would pay two Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed that he was told Obama slept in is proving itself not to be farfetched at all.
He also operates within a network, like Harvey Weinstein, where he accesses people to hide his behavior from public scrutiny. We learned this week about David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer, who would “buy” stories from women who Trump slept with to keep those stories from seeing the light of day. We also learned that Trump’s lawyer paid off a porn star to keep quiet about Trump’s sexual relationship with her.
So, we know Trump habitually pays for sex, and we also know he is willing to pay to keep embarrassing secrets from going public. That is to say, these secrets could be leveraged against him.
What else do we know? We know Russia has a decades-old system for gathering compromising sexual secrets on prominent foreign visitors. We also know Trump harbored a burning resentment of President Obama in the wake of Obama’s mocking him at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. And many reports of Trump’s decision-making suggest that the strongest consideration in any decision is the chance to defile or destroy something associated with Obama.
Trump’s reaction to Mueller’s indictment and hard evidence of a Russian attack on our society thus far has been limited to crowing about the fact that he himself has not yet been implicated in “collusion.” In fact Trump has fixated on the word “collusion” to an unusual extent, repeating it over and over in his Tweets, almost as if he’s trying to distract from something else.
But Trump’s possible collusion with Russia was never the point of Mueller’s indictment here. As Rosenzweig points out, the indictment is conspicuous for its lack of any mention of American and Russian collusion at all. While the evidence strongly indicates that there was some type of direct collusion between members of the Trump campaign (though not Trump himself as of yet) even if there was “collusion” there would simply be an expectation of a quid pro quo, such as Trump lifting sanctions on Russia in exchange for the electoral assist.
But Trump reneges on deals all the time. That is the essence of declaring Bankruptcy, which he has done many times. He has no problem reneging on a deal. So even if there was collusion that in and of itself wouldn’t explain Trump’s continued inexplicable behavior towards the Russian state (unless the nature of the collusion—the quid of the quid pro quo-- itself was the object of extortion by Putin—certainly a possibility). There really is no explanation for his behavior towards Russia, behavior so bizarre he is at odds with the entire U.S. Intelligence apparatus.
Unless he’s being blackmailed.
Far from being bizarre, imagining Trump paying prostitutes to pee on a bed Obama used as a primitive revenge ritual, and Russians taping the episode, is perfectly consistent with what we know about both parties. That exact scenario may not have happened. Indeed, sex is not the only kind of secret Trump harbors. He endured months of criticism first from Republican candidates, then Democrats, and all along from the media, for refusing to disclose his tax returns. Trump clearly feels protective of his financial information. Some of that information is in the hands of his business partners, many of whom are associated with Russia or are unsavory in some other way.
Rosenzweig describes Mueller’s indictment as a message directed not to Trump, but to Americans as a stark warning that the American Republic is under attack. In fact, thus far the profound implications of this devastating indictment have been met with deaf ears from the very person who should be reacting with resolve to reassure the American people of the integrity of their Democracy. That is what a normal President would do.
Unless he could not afford to.
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