There are boundaries in America’s political discourse—or at least there were until Donald Trump’s presidency. There were still taboos: One simply didn’t say that the president of the United States is a Russian asset. And yet according to Bob Woodward’s Rage, no less than former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Republican, had “deep suspicions” that Putin “had something” on Trump, seeing “no other explanation for his Behavior.” And Coats wasn’t the first highly placed intelligence officer to make such assertions.
In a New York Times op-ed published three months before Trump’s 2016 election, former CIA director Michael Morell wrote, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
In January 2017, just before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, called Trump “a clear and present danger” to America and “a useful idiot,” a term often attributed to Vladimir Lenin that refers to naïve Westerners who could be manipulated for propaganda and other purposes.
In December 2017, the former director of national intelligence James Clapper asserted that Trump was, in effect, an intelligence “asset” serving Russian president Vladimir Putin. And in 2019, former CIA director John Brennan declared that Trump “is wholly in the pocket of Putin,” and went further on “Meet the Press,” adding that he had called Trump’s behavior “treasonous, which is to betray one’s trust and aid and abet the enemy, and I stand very much by that claim.”
Yet somehow, these extraordinary allegations—that the president of the United States is an operative for a hostile foreign power—have not become part of the national conversation. It’s as if the entire country is in denial, even now, after Russian cyber warriors were discovered amplifying claims by Trump and his allies that the election was being “stolen” from them.
So let me try to answer the question: Is Donald Trump a Russian asset?
I believe the answer is yes, and that what happened between Trump and the Russian state is best understood as a series of sequential, and sometimes unrelated, operations that played into each other over more than four decades. [Continue reading…]