What does Putin have on Trump?

There was a lot of news about Donald Trump and Russia last week, none of it that “vindicates ‘Trump,’” despite the president’s tweeted insistence that this is the case.  Much of the news, in fact, only makes it more important than ever to find the answer of the most troubling question raised by the president’s conduct vis-à-vis Russia and its dictator:

What does Vladimir Putin have on Donald Trump?

True, most of the week’s attention was given to that less than meets the eye memo by the Trump toadies on the House Intelligence Committee but there was much more on the Russian front, beginning with the virtual omission of all things Russian in the Trump State of the Union speech.

Just hours before the speech, Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, said he “has every expectation” the Russians will attempt to influence the results of the 2018 midterm elections, just as they did in 2016’s contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton.  But the president, who has called the investigation into Russian interference a hoax and a witch hunt, chose to ignore this threat to the Union in his review of its state.  But that wasn’t all.

The day before the speech, the Trump administration announced it would ignore the near-unanimous law passed by Congress last year to impose additional sanctions on Russia for interfering in that election.  Instead, the administration published a list of Russian tycoons it was watching—a list that was apparently copied from Forbes magazine.  

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act was passed by an impressive 419-3 vote in the House and by 98 of the Senate’s 100 members, with only the strange bedfellows Republican Rand Paul and Socialist Bernie Sanders dissenting.  But Trump, always resentful of the intelligence agencies’ incontrovertible evidence of Russian influence in his election, had never supported the sanctions.  

So why is Trump so soft on Russia and Putin?  Let me count the ways.

In his earlier life, as he presumably prepared for his presidency, impresario and entrepreneur Trump did a considerable amount of business with Russia and Putin—from a failed 1984 deal with the then Soviet Union to build a Trump Hotel across the street from the Kremlin to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and beyond.

During that business relationship, Trump had many encounters with Putin and his people.  The Russians are, of course, known to blackmail vulnerable foreigners, especially those known to be social animals, in any way you may want to use that term.   

Over the years, Trump has paid Putin compliments at least 80 times, according to news accounts. We have, in fact, just celebrated the one-year anniversary of Trump’s most depraved defense of his friend Vladimir.  

The occasion was a taped halftime presidential interview during the Super Bowl with Bill O’Reilly, then a star of Trump’s custom tailored Fox News.  

The newly inaugurated president had been so effusive in his praise for Putin during his successful campaign, even the softball pitching O’Reilly had to ask about it.

When Trump agreed that he did respect Putin, O’Reilly reminded the new President that his respected friend is a killer and in a remarkable response, the classic “whatabout,” Trump protested his country also engages in political killings.

“There are a lot of killers.  We have a lot of killers,” Trump explained.  “Well, you think our country is so innocent.”

It wasn’t the first time Trump had excused Putin’s killings.  In 2015, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked Trump if he was troubled that Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.”   Trump wasn’t.  “Well, I think our country does plenty of killings too, Joe.”  

That was back in the days he appeared on networks other than Fox.  Last Sunday, he became the first president since Reagan not to take part in the Super Bowl.  This year’s halftime interview would be on NBC, the network where he inadvertently admitted he’d fired FBI Director James Comey because of the Russian investigation.

Trump’s most brazen act of Putin pandering occurred during the convention that nominated him as the Republican candidate when he contradicted his own party’s position on the Russian annexation of Crimea.  A plank in the party platform was removed by Trump delegates under the orders of then campaign manager Paul Manafort, who made tens of millions lobbying for the Ukraine’s pro-Russian president.  It called for providing arms and otherwise supporting the freedom fighters against Russia in Crimea.

There’s so much more: Donald Jr.’s meeting with Russians with dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s role in covering the meeting up, National Security Advisor Flynn’s Russian payments and on and on.  

What it adds up to will presumably be determined by the Mueller investigators.  In the meantime, we can ponder John McCain’s comment on the memo:

“We are doing Putin’s job for him.”


Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.