Several events frame the plot connecting Trump with Putin and the Russian oligarchs. Trump/Russia: A Definitive History by Seth Hettena is certainly one of the most well-documented histories of this connection. For a broader perspective on what lies behind the current political drama, one should read Bill Browder’s Red Notice, a first-hand account of what lay behind the Magnitsky Act and Putin’s project to override the sanctions on the offshore fortunes of the oligarchs who had privatized the oil and gas industries after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.
It seems as if Trump played a part in laundering the monies that needed to disappear, largely though selling apartments in Trump Towers and properties in Florida. As well, the oligarchs seem to have bailed him out after his Atlantic City debacles. In sum, Trump and Russia have a long history of business connections, the left hand knowing quite clearly what the right hand was doing. In 2008, when Trump was attempting a comeback after his three Atlantic City bankrupstcies, Donald Trump, Jr. was quoted as saying at a New York real estate conference, “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” Eric Trump was reported to have said to James Dodson during a golf game, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” Add to this background Trump’s fixation on planting a Trump hotel in the middle of Moscow, a project that seems to have remained live until November 2016.
These are only some of the claims behind my defense of Trump. Collusion yes, but conspiracy, no. I don’t think Trump and his associates have been colluding in a political sense. I doubt that Trump is in anyway concerned about the political consequences of his deals with Russia. With Trump, it’s all business, about making money. Trump belongs to that group of people who need multiple mansions, yachts, $7000.00 suits (e.g., Manafort), and golf courses to demonstrate how important they are. Like Putin, these people have no concern for the welfare of others. They are unleashed capitalists. Laws apply only to suckers. Those who can read imagine themselves as John Galt.
Five will get you ten that this analysis describes Trump’s interpretation of events. He was only trying, somewhat ineptly, to make deals. Becoming president was a way of getting the Trump hotel and perhaps continuing the ongoing business relationships with the oligarchs who have financed most of his deals. Behind the scenes, Putin, clearly preferring Trump over Clinton, actively intervened with the Wikileaks dump and the Twitter bots to engineer their preferred winner of the election.
Russia quite possibly has troves of information that would compromise Trump, but I doubt that they have used them. For the first two years, it’s merely been quid pro quo. With Crimea/Ukraine, the NATO disruption, the wedge driven between the United States and its historical allies, Putin has gotten more than his money’s worth. He has, in addition, seen the fractionalization of the United States, demonstrating the failure of unguided democracy. What the world needs, Putin is clearly claiming, are firmly guided democracies, nationalist states that say our country first, others later, an extension of the leaders’ personal visions and eager pockets. Putin’s mistake may have lay in underestimating the strength of our democracy, our ability to correct four years of misdirection—and of what an inept politician Trump has turned out to be. Putin may be ready to dump Trump.