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The Russian Blackmail Problem


Yglesias pinpoints the fundamental problem:

But the basic problem she identified persists. Unlike the public, the media, the Congress, the FBI, or the special counsel’s office, Russian intelligence services know exactly what went down between their government and the Trump campaign. Their knowledge of the facts, paired with Trumpworld’s relentless dishonesty and the high consequences of seeing that dishonesty revealed, means a potentially large swath of Trump’s inner circle has been (and may still be) exposed to blackmail.

And that, in turn, makes it hard for the country — and our allies — to trust that American policy toward Russia is being made in service of American interests rather than in service of keeping Trump’s team out of legal and political trouble.

This might be easy to ignore if Trump’s attitude and policies toward Russia were typical for an American politician. But from his contempt for NATO to his unwillingness to punish Moscow for election meddling, they’re not.


By having repeatedly committed itself in public to false narratives about interactions with the Russian government, Trump and his aides have repeatedly put themselves under the thumb of the Russians. To let the president and his top aides have that kind of threat hanging over their heads would, under any normal circumstances, be considered completely intolerable.

These are, of course, unusual times. And having decided that they can tolerate a confessed sexual predator in the White House and accommodate his desire to run his businesses in a way that makes it easy to bribe him, congressional Republicans can no doubt rationalize the bribery issue away, too. After all, McMaster and Jim Mattis will be along to babysit the commander in chief. Except when he leaves them out of key summit meetings, unexpectedly drops text from a major speech, or otherwise needs to respond in real-time to a crisis.

Beyond the implications for Trump personally, his administration, or the 2018 midterms, this is an uncomfortable situation for America’s allies and a downright catastrophic one for American foreign policy. Part of what makes it so disastrous is that nobody really has any idea about the extent of the exposure and what kind of pro-Putin policies Trump might pursue in the future.

Worst of all, the Republican majorities that control Congress seem to have decided that they would just as soon not know, treating the Trump-Russia story as essentially an endless series of annoying White House gaffes rather than the potentially crippling security vulnerability it is.

Let’s be clear: the Republican Congress fully owns every bad thing that Trump does and all of the resulting consequences. As Dan says, they know what he is, and they’re all-in on him.

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