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  1. Remembering a Crime That You Didn’t Commit
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There are only a couple of examples of him commenting on world politics before then. What changed that year? One possible explanation is that Trump published The Art of the Deal, which sped up his transformation from an aggressive, publicity-seeking New York developer to a national symbol of capitalism. But the timing for this account does not line up perfectly — the book came out on November 1, and Trump had begun opining loudly on trade and international politics two months earlier.

The other important event from that year is that Trump visited Moscow. During the Soviet era, Russian intelligence cast a wide net to gain leverage over influential figures abroad.

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The practice continues to this day. The Russians would lure or entrap not only prominent politicians and cultural leaders, but also people whom they saw as having the potential for gaining prominence in the future. In , Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin met Trump in New York, flattered him with praise for his building exploits, and invited him to discuss a building in Moscow.

Trump visited Moscow in July He stayed at the National Hotel, in the Lenin Suite, which certainly would have been bugged. It never happened. Trump returned from Moscow fired up with political ambition.

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He began the first of a long series of presidential flirtations, which included a flashy trip to New Hampshire. The primary answer, of course, was the Soviet Union.

A central goal of Soviet, and later Russian, foreign policy was to split the U. Indeed, it seems slightly insane to contemplate the possibility that a secret relationship between Trump and Russia dates back this far. Russian intelligence gains influence in foreign countries by operating subtly and patiently. It exerts different gradations of leverage over different kinds of people, and uses a basic tool kit of blackmail that involves the exploitation of greed, stupidity, ego, and sexual appetite.

Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler?

All of which are traits Trump has in abundance. Throughout his career, Trump has always felt comfortable operating at or beyond the ethical boundaries that constrain typical businesses.

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Trump habitually refused to pay his counterparties, and if the people he burned or any journalists got in his way, he bullied them with threats. Trump also reportedly circulated at parties for wealthy men featuring cocaine and underage girls. One might think this notoriety immunizes Trump from blackmail.

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He maintains a fanatical secrecy about his finances and has paid out numerous settlements to silence women. The combination of a penchant for compromising behavior, a willingness to work closely with criminals, and a desire to protect aspects of his privacy makes him the ideal blackmail target. It is not difficult to imagine that Russia quickly had something on Trump, from either exploits during his visit or any subsequent embarrassing behavior KGB assets might have uncovered.

But the other leverage Russia enjoyed over Trump for at least 15 years is indisputable — in fact, his family has admitted to it multiple times. After a series of financial reversals and his brazen abuse of bankruptcy laws, Trump found it impossible to borrow from American banks and grew heavily reliant on unconventional sources of capital. Russian cash proved his salvation. In , the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. Since Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, rose to power in , money has become a key source of Russian political leverage.

The Russian state and hence Putin controls the most lucrative sectors of its economy, and Russian investment is not designed solely to maximize return.

Shady business transactions offer the perfect cover for covert payments, since just about the entire Russian economy is shady. During the Obama administration, Russia grew more estranged from the United States as its aggressive behavior toward its neighbors triggered hostile responses from NATO. Putin grew increasingly enamored of reactionary social theories portraying traditional, conservative, Christian Europe as pitted in a civilizational struggle against both decadent liberalism and radical Islam.

In July , Trump visited Moscow again. If the Russians did not have a back-channel relationship or compromising file on Trump 30 years ago, they very likely obtained one then. Former FBI director James Comey recounts in his book that Trump was obsessed with reports that he had been recorded in a hotel room watching prostitutes urinate on a bed that Barack Obama had once slept in.

This was not the only allegation Trump forcefully and implausibly denied in his early meetings with Comey. He also denied that he had offered a pornographic-film star money to come to his room, grabbed a woman sitting next to him on an airplane, and mocked a disabled reporter at a rally.

The other denials have gained no credence in the media. Indeed, the last incident was broadcast on national television. There is growing reason to think the pee tape might indeed exist. Russian intelligence has a documented and long-standing practice of gathering compromising intelligence on visiting dignitaries. For instance, Mr. Even the accusations in the dossier that have purportedly been refuted have gained support from law enforcement.

Mueller has reportedly obtained evidence that Cohen actually did visit Prague during the campaign, contrary to his denials. Then there is Trump himself. These questions have been answered in the affirmative. Isikoff and Corn do not establish what kind of performance was on display the night Trump visited. It may or may not have involved bodily fluids. But the notion that a display of exotic sex acts lies totally outside the range of behavior Trump would enjoy is quaint and unfounded. At first, Putin likely considered him simply a way to goad his American foes.

Then Trump captured the nomination and his value increased exponentially. After all, Russians covertly support allied politicians abroad all the time.

Putin naturally sees intelligence work as central to foreign policy, and his foreign policy is fundamentally threatened by democratic, socially progressive Western Europe. During his tenure, Russia has formed overt or covert ties to right-wing parties in France, Germany , Austria , Hungary, Greece, and Bulgaria. More often, Russians intermingle financial dealings with political subterfuge in a complex web that appears superficially legitimate.

The closest model for how Russia covertly operates may be the Brexit campaign in the U. Driving Britain out of the European Union advanced the decades-long Russian goal of splitting Western nations apart, and Russia found willing allies on the British far right.

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Not only did Russia use social media to covertly promote Brexit, but Russian officials also met secretly several times with Arron Banks, the millionaire British businessman who supported the Brexit campaign, with the largest political donation in British history. Leaked documents reveal that the Russians discussed letting Banks in on a gold-mining deal that could have produced several billion dollars in easy profit.

It might seem preposterous that a national vote that changed the course of British history was determined by a secret Russian operation. Another useful model can be found in Ukraine, where a Russian oligarch backed the political campaign of the pro-Russian apparatchik Viktor Yanukovych. His campaign exploited ethnic divisions and portrayed his opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, as corrupt and the election as rigged.

Yanukovych called for closer ties with Russia while obscuring the depth of his own furtive Russian connections. He is an utterly amoral consultant and spent at least a decade directly advancing Russian foreign-policy interests while engaging in systemic corruption. The story begins in , when Manafort proposed to work for billionaire Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska.

This requirement is not lost on Deripaska. He has hidden many of his proceeds and indeed now faces charges of money laundering. Manafort had used the same shell company to buy an apartment in Trump Tower, for cash, in Spending lavishly and deep in debt, Manafort went underground in This much was clear in March The person who managed the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate in Ukraine was now also managing the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate in the United States.

And in addition to deploying social-media bots and trolls, Russia apparently spent directly to help elect Trump. The FBI is investigating Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker who built ties to Republicans and allegedly funneled campaign funds to the National Rifle Association, which spent three times as much to help Trump as it had on behalf of Romney four years earlier.