A Dangling Conversation
In spookspeak, a Dangle is an effort by an intelligence agency to offer something or someone sufficiently enticing to draw in the opposition and encourage them to make a fatal mistake.
That’s exactly what the Russians did with their offer of more damaging information about the Clinton Presidential campaign last year. This was classic Russian tradecraft and straight out of their well worn playbook: Identify the weakest link in the enemy’s armor, offer something enticing and see what happens.
In this case, the target was Donald Trump Jr., a man so stupid that he has the nickname in the White House of Doofus Don. But the other nickname that so infuriates the President is Fredo after the ineffectual middle brother from the Godfather movies. But whatever the nickname, there is agreement among all that Don Jr. is even more ignorant than is father and with even fewer street smarts.
Thus, he was the perfect target for a dangle. The CIA has learned that the FSB (Russia’s foreign intelligence service) has created a very, very detailed dossier on the Trump family that was begun in the mid-1990s. According to Agency sources in the Kremlin, the dossier describes TFC (That Fucking Child=Trump) as “ignorant”, “weak”, “arrogant”, “insecure”, “a womanizer” and “dishonest”. The FSB began collecting blackmail material on TFC a long time ago and now have enough information (video, text and photographs) to turn him into a compliant puppet should they so wish.
The information on Eric, Don Jr. and Ivanka is more biographical and psychological and less salacious. From the outset of last year’s election campaign, the CIA is convinced that the family have been played brilliantly in what has turned out to be the greatest intelligence coup of recent times. The strategic details are now well known: the email hacks leaked to Wikileaks, the 1,000 trolls paid to plant fake news, the collusion with various Trump employees, associates and friends.
The Russian attacks have been a devastating indictment not just of the First Family but also of my country’s flawed democratic process that can give victory to a man so obviously unqualified and then keep him in power because the Republican Congress is simply too craven to stand for anything including Truth, Justice and the American Way.
But the latest drama with Doofus Don has been a real doozy and illustrates yet again why the Russians have everything going for them in the fight for strategic advantage against America.
First, the fact of Don’s meeting with a Russian lawyer is scooped by The New York Times. Then, in a ridiculous effort to be transparent, Doofus releases transcripts of emails (at exactly the same time as the NYT was scheduled to publish its story) that set up the meeting which makes quite clear that the meeting was all part of the Russian effort to influence the election by handing documents over that could be damaging to the Clinton campaign.
Present at the meeting were two Russians, which both the CIA and the FBI accept are Kremlin stooges, with access to the Russian campaign to undermine last year’s election. Of course, Don fails to reveal their presence and lies about who was in the meeting, what was discussed and what actually happened.
Such lies may be routine for the Trump family, but they illustrate an arrogant naivety that is going to land a number of people in jail. Currently, the investigation by Bob Mueller, the special counsel investigating collusion by the Trump campaign with the Russians has developed compelling criminal cases against TFC, Eric, Don Jr., Ivanka, Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Mike Flynn for some or all of the following: collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice and money laundering.
These array of potential criminal convictions will likely be enough to destroy the Trump businesses, send several people to jail and scar the American political landscape for decades.
Yet, Team Trump still seems to have no real idea of the trouble they are in. A great illustration came last week when TFC met with his nemesis Vladimir Putin on the margins of the G20 summit in Germany. According to our President, he pressed Putin really hard twice on the question of whether Russia had interfered in the Presidential election. Leaving aside that his own intelligence community is unanimous that Russia did indeed interfere and that Trump should have been telling Putin what punishment was in store, the actual event when down quite differently.
According to friends of mine who have seen transcripts of the conversation, it went like this:
Trump: “Did you interfere in last year’s US election?”
That was it. No pressure, no extended confrontation, no effort to hold Putin or Russia accountable. And this from the President. I cannot begin to tell you the outrage this exchange provoked among the intelligence professionals and others in the State Department and the Pentagon. It was the most bare-faced betrayal of American interests and American democracy that anyone can remember.
This comes as no surprise to those of us who have been around Trump for the past few months. The Russia investigation, the collapsing poll numbers, the failure to deliver on any policy promises and the terrible press are all manifestations of the Deep State’s determination to destroy him and his agenda. Leaving aside the fact that the deep state doesn’t actually exist, one of the principal enemies in what has become a long list, is the intelligence community. TFC no longer refers to any intelligence agency by name but simply describes them as “Those Fuckers.” With such a distorted worldview, it is perhaps understandable that TFC chooses to see Putin as more of a friend than citizens of his own country. Sad.
After the G20 meeting, I read one of those Ambassador-to-Ambassador reports that diplomats write to each other with their impressions of what happened. These tend to be informal, gossipy and give much better insight than the more formal diplomatic traffic. This one read in part:
“Insecure, vain, foul mouthed and foul tempered, he reminds me of some of the worst despots I’ve met over the years. He would have been much more comfortable if this had been a summit of Mobutu, Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin than a group of sophisticated 21st century leaders. He is that frightening combination: a man who knows nothing and who thinks he knows everything. The jokes that were made about him behind his back were sad to hear. As a friend of America, I’ve never witnessed such dislike and disdain for any American President or even for any American cabinet member.”
Ironically, it may be Don Jr. who has put one of the key bricks in place for charges against his father. When Don Jr. was first approached by the Russian lawyer with the promise of damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the first person he told was his father. That’s why TFC said just hours later that “I am going to give a major speech and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
To review: Don Jr. is promised a wealth of damaging information from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton. He tells his dad and his dad promises a few hours later to make a speech on the same subject. As the meeting produced nothing of value, so Trump canceled his speech. Collusion anyone?
That’s also why both Jared and Paul Manafort made sure they were at the meeting (and remember, this was at the height of the campaign when the pressure was enormous, everyone’s calendars were full to overflowing and finding time for a meeting others have described as a ‘nothingburger’ seems highly unlikely).
Each week, I struggle to try and explain the complete chaos in the White House as it lurches from one self-inflicted wound to another. This week has been one of the worst where even the most craven of staffers, such as Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, refused to either lie or even deny the collusion with Russia by Don Jr. despite pressure from Kushner to do so.
More importantly, lawyer angst has spread everywhere. We all fear being sucked into the Mueller investigation and the canteen conversation is all about lawyers, who to hire and at what cost. It’s a terrifying prospect for many of us as a lawyer will swiftly take all our savings and create debt for many years to come, and for what? Defending a President and his behavior which very few of us believe in any longer.
Even those who have lawyers, including TFC himself, are finding that legal help is not enough. Partly this is a reflection of poor choice (the drunken and profane tirade launched by Marc Kasowtiz, TFC’s lawyer, against an innocent emailer was epic). But it’s more that neither Trump nor his family are willing to listen to anybody who tells them something they don’t want to hear. More lawyers are coming to the White House to try and bring some discipline, but until the President himself agrees to stop tweeting, they will make no difference.
If Trump was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company instead of being President of the world’s largest democracy and most important economy, he would have been fired months ago. After all, he has overseen a collapse of the brand both at home and overseas, shareholder value has imploded, confidence in the underlying industry is at its lowest in history, his mental capacity has been questioned by friends and family, and a massive investigation embracing friends and family is likely to result in a range of criminal charges.
In a normal world, Trump would be gone and his family be a fading memory or in jail or both. But this is Trumpworld where nothing is normal, and all the checks and balances that have served this great country for so long are in disarray. We may look back on this period as the dying spasm of a failing democracy. Or it may be a time for renewal. But first, we need to destroy the enemy within so that my country can be great once more.