Thursday, January 12, 2017

What we know, don't know, and cannot know about Trump, Russia and blackmail potential

Before I get into the details here, let's take a moment to appreciate this.  I am about to write a serious post about whether or not the incoming President is going to be blackmailed to do the bidding of Russia.  This post is not a John Birch Society post (look 'em up, kids).  This post is prompted by the heads of the US intelligence agencies briefing both the current and incoming Presidents on the possibility of the Russians having dirt on the incoming President that they might use to blackmail him.  And we know that briefing occurred.  Yeah, how dare CNN report on that...

So, here's what we cannot know:  what, if anything, Russia has on Trump.  If they do have dirt on him, it doesn't do them any good if we get the specifics.  The whole point of blackmail is that it doesn't work anymore once the dirt gets out.  So, there is a level at which the speculation here is just silly.

What do we know?

1)  Putin wanted Trump to win.

2)  Putin intervened to try to help Trump win.

3)  Trump has expressed admiration for Putin.

4)  Trump has expressed hesitation about defending NATO allies from Putin.

5)  Trump has at least indirect ties to Putin, through Manafort and now Tillerson.

Now, what else can we say?

Is there more dirt on Trump?  Of course.  Salacious possibilities aside, the easiest dirt out there on him would be his tax returns.  We know Trump REALLY REALLY REALLY doesn't want anyone to see those.  Ever.  What is so bad in those returns?  The obvious answer is always that he isn't as rich as he claims, but who knows what else is hiding in the numbers?  Regardless, Trump REALLY doesn't want anyone to see his tax returns, and all Russia would need to have something to hold over him is to get a copy of one of his tax returns.

Next, would Russia try to get dirt on him?  Of course.  Every country will look for dirt on the leader of every other country.



Having blackmail-able leaders is... bad.  Ideally, then, we don't want leaders with blackmail-able stuff in their past.

Next, speculatively, is what Russia could get from Trump.  Remember that last summer, Trump said that he wouldn't necessarily defend our NATO allies if Putin invaded them.  Why not?  Is that indifference to our allies and treaty obligations?  If so, then there is no need to blackmail him.  Remember, also, that Trump seriously hero-worships Putin.  Part of the reason that Putin wanted Trump as President was that Trump would be naturally inclined to act in ways that Putin wanted.

It is easy to think of Putin as a Bond villain, ordering people around malevolently, but villainy works best when you have people in place who do what you want because it is what they want to do.  Blackmail turns people into enemies.  It is a short-term thing, and as soon as you use it, the other person starts looking for a way to retaliate.  Putin is smarter than that.

Yet, if it is there, it is there.  In any dealing, Trump might give just a tiny bit more to Putin than he otherwise would, which is, admittedly, a lot.

Look, we don't want Putin to have dirt on the President, and we don't know if he does.  Really, though, Trump is already predisposed to act in ways that Putin wants.  That's why Putin was so keen on seeing Trump in office, and why he intervened in the US election to try to make that happen.

Wow.  We really are discussing this.  Wow.

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