We Should Be Cautious With This Kremlin-Trump Documents Leak

·3-min read
Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI - Getty Images
Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI - Getty Images

The big noise from Winnetka—and all points north, south, east, and west—on the Intertoobz this morning is this report in The Guardian that is based on documents that appear to show in detail how Vladimir Putin and the Russian Intelligence apparatus schemed to help El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago into the presidency because they knew he was an unstable fck-up who would cause chaos and ruin in the country he was elected to lead. Further, the documents broadly hint that the Russian government had kompromat enough on the former president* to make him perform as expected.

The key meeting took place on 22 January 2016, the papers suggest, with the Russian president, his spy chiefs and senior ministers all present. They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position. Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature. By this point Trump was the frontrunner in the Republican party’s nomination race. A report prepared by Putin’s expert department recommended Moscow use “all possible force” to ensure a Trump victory.

And thus is a wish father to a thousand thoughts, and a dream is a wish your heart makes, and all that. But I’m going to hang fire on this story for a bit. First of all, as the story itself admits, the Kremlin doesn’t leak, at least not without a purpose, and the purpose behind this leak is still pretty vague. Is there a source within the senior Russian leadership who is so concerned with the damage done to America by the ascendency of the previous president* that the source would hand over confirmation of the plot’s beginnings? It’s nice to believe that and, if it’s true, I certainly hope whoever leaked the documents stays on the low floors of whatever buildings they're in for a while. Or is the leak part of the same chaos-inducing strategy described by the documents themselves? How deeply down the rabbit hole do you want to go?

Or, most intriguingly, was the leak not from the Kremlin, but from another intelligence service outside Russia?

Western intelligence agencies are understood to have been aware of the documents for some months and to have carefully examined them. The papers, seen by the Guardian, seem to represent a serious and highly unusual leak from within the Kremlin.

If so, then again, why? Are experts within the Western intelligence agencies divided about the authenticity of the documents, and did someone who believes them to be the smoking gun leak them in order to force the action? I’d certainly want to know more about their provenance than I do now.

Frankly, my impulse is to believe what The Guardian reported. The revelations certainly seem believable given some of the otherwise inexplicable actions of the previous president* and his administration*, and they also conform to the methods of ratfcking Russia has used in other democracies in Europe. (What up, Estonia?) And they also track with what we’ve learned recently about the former president*’s rabid-badger attempts to stay in power after he’d clearly lost the election—and, for that matter, his continued attempts to undermine confidence in this country’s electoral system.

But my innate caution against leaping to conclusions based on leaks from intelligence services of any kind makes me cautious about this being a conclusive Eureka moment. Too many shadowy people have too many shadowy agendas for me to accept anything emerging from those shadows too readily. But there is one conclusion I will stand by, based on the Guardian story and its conformity to what a lot of us suspected was true about the previous president*: We simply have got to get rid of the Electoral College. Now.

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