What to think of the Trump dossier?

When I first heard the news of the Watergate break-in back in 1972, I thought it absurd to think that the President of the United States would be personally involved in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee.

It didn’t make sense to me that President Nixon would take such a big risk for something so small.

Since then I have learned not to say that someone wouldn’t have done something because it wouldn’t make sense.  People do things that don’t make sense all the time.

Sadly, in the case of the secret dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged dealings with Russia, I can’t say that it doesn’t make sense.   It does make sense.   But there’s no independent evidence that the report is true, and good reason to question it.

I can well imagine Trump borrowing money from Russian financiers, and I can imagine people on Trump’s campaign team exchanging information with Russians.   Secret intelligence agents have a way of forming relationships with people they target, and getting people to exchange favors in a way that seems harmless at first until the targets find themselves in too deep to get out.

Also, Trump doesn’t care about norms of human behavior that restrain most people.

The author of the report, former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, has a reputation for being honest and capable.  But he wasn’t being paid to make an impartial assessment of Trump.  He was paid by Trump’s political opponents to dig up negative information on Trump, and his informants may have been given money to produce this information.

One key item in his dossier has already been proved wrong—the allegation that Michael Cohen, a Trump campaign lawyer, went to Prague last August to arrange financing for anti-Clinton hackers.   Cohen was in California at the time, and can prove it.

I don’t take the sexual blackmail allegations seriously.   Trump is shameless and un-blackmailable.   But the possibility that he or his staff took money from Russian agents and exchanged information is serious.  It is different from passively benefiting from hacks or leaks of Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign e-mails.

Matt Taibbi said in his interview with Democracy Now! that there are two possibilities.   One is that Trump relied on the help of a hostile foreign government to get elected.   The other is that American intelligence agencies are deliberately trying to negate the results of the election.

I can think of at least one more possibility.   That is that some of the charges against the Trump campaign are true, but the evidence is false, and that Trump’s opponents are being set up.

Dan Rather’s investigation of George W. Bush’s draft evasion reached a true conclusion, but, as it turned out, based partly on a false document.   This was taken as vindication of Bush.    If the Steele sources prove to be bogus, this could vindicate Trump.

Taibbi is right that it is important to investigate the Trump dossier, and decide one way or another what the truth is.


How to Read the Trump Dossier by Arthur Snell for the London Review of Books.

How a Former CIA Officer Reads the Trump Dossier by Philip Giraldi for The American Conservative.

When Going to Bed With Dogs Is News, Getting Up With Fleas Is a Scoop – Here’s the One About Trump’s Bed, Putin’s Bed by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.  [Added 1/18/2017]   The most interesting part is not the sex stuff, but the last few paragraphs, in which Helmer, an independent foreign correspondent in Moscow, points out the conflicts between Steele’s Trump dossier and the official Director of National Intelligence report on Russian interference in the U.S. election.

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