SOMERSET, KY — In mid-January Buzzfeed and CNN published separate reports on the existence of a secret dossier focused on the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. The investigate findings, prepared by a former British intelligence officer for Republican opponents of the Trump campaign, included striking disclosures about Russian interference in the 2016 election. The document said Russia was intent on weakening the Clinton campaign, and helping to ensure Trump’s victory.
The dossier also noted regular meetings that amounted to collusion between Trump’s senior campaign advisors and Russian intelligence officials. The Russian program of hacking Democratic campaign emails and spraying American online reporting outlets with fake news, said the dossier, was authorized and overseen at the highest levels of Russia’s government.
U.S. newsrooms very quickly quashed the dossier’s details as unsubstantiated. President-elect Trump, who was a week away from his inauguration, flatly said it was all a lie perpetrated by the losing party. The dossier is available here online.
Well, in the seven weeks since the dossier was made public a sizable share of its most critical details have been confirmed by US intelligence agencies and in news reports. Russia did hack the election. The hacking and fake news was meant to aide Donald Trump’s campaign. Trump campaign aides and Russian intelligence officials met regularly during the campaign. Russia’s clear interest was to end the economic sanctions instituted by President Obama that are wrecking the Russian economy.
The question of collusion between Putin and Trump to swing the U.S. election has not been confirmed, but it seems likely to be very soon. The details that have emerged so far, like paving stones laid on a straight path, lead to that conclusion. Even more telling details are on the way.
Almost all of the various disclosures about Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election and connections between Trump aides and Russian officials stem from leaks of classified intelligence. The U.S. domestic and international surveillance capacity is powerful and deep, as we learned from Edward Snowden. There is little doubt, given the clear details that have become public — like two specific meetings with the Russian ambassador that Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied about during his confirmation hearing — that American intel on Trump, Putin, and senior aides on both sides is available and profoundly disturbing.
Intelligence agencies are cautious about how these revelations reach Americans. It is illegal to disclose classified information. My guess is that the various disclosures are coming through Congress, and perhaps through the FBI and the White House itself. The narrative they form is devastating to the president and the nation.
The U.S. appears to have within its vast data gathering and surveillance storage apparatus all of what it needs to make the case that Trump and Putin collaborated to influence the 2016 election. Several public points, drawn together, also help cement that conclusion. First, Trump expressed remarkably strong allegiance to Putin throughout the campaign. Second, Trump urged Russia, an adversary, to step up its hacking program when Wikileaks dumped the first big cache of Clinton campaign emails in July. Third, Trump asserted the 2016 election was rigged, a reckless fact that he couldn’t keep to himself and felt compelled to disclose at the time.
Like an ox-drawn plow cultivating wet spring fields, it will take several more weeks of disclosures for the political ground in Washington to be sufficiently prepared to initiate the next important act in this mammoth scandal — a thorough and independent investigation. The weekly disclosures are gradually melting Republican resistance to conduct that probe. Several Republican lawmakers are calling for Trump to release his tax returns. Several more have said an independent counsel investigation is needed. Very soon, recognizing they’ve been backed into a corner, Republican lawmakers will abandon their defense of the president and clear the way for a credible investigation.
My prediction: President Trump is gone by August.
— Keith Schneider