A piece in New York magazine has drawn attention for a graphic element that purports to sketch the multiple connections between President Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin and suggest their plot to place Trump in the White House began in 1987.
On the Trump side of the graphic are names such as Felix Sater, Michael Cohen, Erik Prince, Rex Tillerson, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. On the Putin side are Natalia Veselaitskaya, the Russian lawyer who set up the Trump Tower meeting with an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Julian Assange and the Alfa Bank.
But the material in the story itself is perhaps more illuminating. It says Trump began commenting on world affairs in 1987, the same year he published “Art of the Deal,” his bestselling book. He also visited Moscow that year and came away questioning why the U.S. was paying to defend countries in Western Europe that could afford to defend themselves.
“How do you even think about the small but real chance – 10 percent? 20 percent? – that the president of the United States has been covertly influenced or personally compromised by a foreign power for decades?” writes Jonathan Chait.
“The unfolding of the Russia scandal has been like walking into a dark cavern,” Chait wrote earlier in the piece. “Every step reveals that the cave runs deeper than we thought, and after each one, as we wonder how far it goes, our imaginations are circumscribed by the steps we have already taken.”
The cavern might “go just a little farther … but not much farther,” Chait writes. It could amount to nothing more than Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort meeting with the Russian lawyer “after they were promised dirt on Hillary Clinton; and that Trump and Kushner have some shady Russian investments; and that some of Trump’s advisers made some promises about lifting sanctions.
“But what if that’s wrong? What if we’re still standing closer to the mouth of the cave than the end?”
There would be nothing wrong with Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort meeting with the Russians, and any investment Trump has in Russia will be considered shady by Chait and his ilk.
Chait then accuses the media of treating “the notion that Russia has personally compromised the president of the United States as something close to a kook theory.” In fact, a Google search of “Trump compromised by Russians” turns up 12.3 million hits with James Comey, the San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, the Hill, the New York Times, New York Magazine and Vanity Fair all making the claim in the last four months.
This is because the information has not been presented in the proper form, Chait wrote. “The way it has been delivered – scoop after scoop of discrete nuggets of information – has been disorienting and difficult to follow,” he wrote. “What would it look like if it were reassembled into a single narrative, one that distinguished between fact and speculation but didn’t myopically focus on the most certain conclusions?”
So, concoct a conspiracy theory out of one’s virulently anti-Trump view of the facts? Not at all. “A case like this presents an easy temptation for conspiracy theorists, but we can responsibly speculate as to what lies at the end of this scandal without falling prey to their fallacies.”
After all, John Brennan vouches for it. Chait reports Brennan, CIA director under President Obama, said Trump is afraid of the Russians because they “may have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.”
If Brennan said it, Chait believes it. “Perhaps we should give more credence to the possibility that Brennan is making these extraordinary charges of treason and blackmail at the highest levels of government because he knows something we don’t.”
Perhaps we also should consider Brennan is accused of lying under oath about what he knew and when of the Trump dossier is reportedly the subject of an ongoing probe by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif.