As the days have passed since the publication of the Trump Dossier it has become increasingly clear that we have witnessed what Donald Trump at least believes was a failed attempt to blackmail him, and it was not done by Russia.
I have already explained why the Trump Dossier is an obvious fake, why the claims its contents could not be verified are nonsense, and why the US intelligence community’s frantic efforts to distance themselves from its publication do not stand up.
It is not difficult to see how Donald Trump added this all up together and concluded that this was an attempt by the US intelligence community to blackmail him into changing his policy on Russia.
Firstly he was provided during what was supposed to be a confidential intelligence briefing on Friday 8th January 2017 on Russian meddling in the US election with a completely irrelevant 2 page appendix about the obviously fake Trump Dossier. With hindsight that looks like a threat to make the Trump Dossier with all its salacious details public unless Trump toed the line on Russia.
Secondly, when Trump refused to toe the line on Russia but instead put out a statement which did not criticise Russia or say it was Russia that provided the DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks, on the following Wednesday (11th January 2017) the usual “anonymous officials” told CNN that Trump had been briefed about the Trump Dossier and that the US intelligence community considered its source “credible” and “reliable”.
That as I have already said looks like the giving of the green light for the Trump Dossier to be published.
Again with hindsight that looks like action to put into effect the threat made implicitly to Trump on the previous Friday.
That was the point however when the whole blackmail attempt – if such it was – unravelled.
Instead of Trump acting defensively and trying to find ways to silence the story – which is what a more conventional politician might have done – Trump instead made it his focus, and gave it the widest possible publicity. As some people have commented, he actually seemed to revel in all the attention it gave him.
He tweeted immediately and furiously that the Trump Dossier was “fake news”, throwing the accusation of “fake news” back on the concept’s creators; he hectored CNN and Buzzfeed at his news conference instead of letting them hector him; he publicly threatened the British author of the Trump Dossier with a libel action; and he stormed and raged at the US intelligence community, saying it had acted like something out of Nazi Germany.
He also continued to tweet his continued desire for better relations with Russia.
It was a bravura performance, and the shock and bafflement it has caused across the intelligence community and the media is there for all to see.
Not only has Trump sailed through this episode undamaged, but the US intelligence community has been reduced to talking of its “shock” and “dismay” whilst protesting unconvincingly that it acted at all times in good faith, and to complaining shrilly about Trump’s comparison of its actions with Nazi Germany’s.
Never has the US intelligence community at any point in its history experienced anything quite like this.
As for the media, it too is in shock at the lack of deference shown them by Trump during his press conference, a fact which shows them that Trump is not afraid of them.
This debacle happened for multiple reasons.
Firstly the obvious falsity of the Trump Dossier despite the increasingly desperate attempts of some people to give it credence made things easy for Trump.
Secondly Trump’s self-confident and exuberant personality makes him a difficult man to blackmail, as he is unlikely to be abashed or frightened by stories put out about him which are obviously untrue.
However there may also a third reason. Trump’s business career has been in the cutthroat world of the US property and gambling industries. Given this background there has to be a strong possibility that there have been attempts to blackmail him before. If so then he has previous experience of this sort of thing and knows how to deal with it.
The big losers from this affair have been the CIA.
It has become increasingly clear over the course of the last few weeks that Trump’s problems are not really with the US intelligence community as a whole. ODNI, the NSA and the FBI have all in their different ways and at various times made clear their misgivings about the whole anti-Trump campaign. FBI Director Comey did so again at a Congressional meeting a few days ago.
It is a faction within the CIA, which in alliance with the Clinton campaign, the DNC, the Obama administration, certain Congressional leaders, and the media, has been aggressively driving this whole hysterical campaign since the early summer.
The CIA grew to enormous power under the Obama administration, who left it in charge of its drone assassination programme. There are hints that General Flynn, Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, wants this taken away from the CIA and transferred to the Pentagon, an idea which is known to have been under discussion for a long time.
Flynn is also known to have disagreed with the CIA’s covert programme in Syria, and it is not impossible that he also has misgivings about its covert role in other places such as Ukraine and even Russia, judging that the CIA’s programmes in these places have not been in the US’s interests.
There are rumours that Flynn wants to cut the CIA down to size, stripping it of its role in carrying out covert action and reducing it to a more manageable role as a simple intelligence gathering agency, a role which incidentally the CIA has never been confined to at any time in its history.
If so then it is not surprising that the CIA might see Flynn and Trump as an existential threat, and this together with obvious ideological differences may explain its furious campaign against Trump.
The CIA has badly lost this round, but if the stakes are so high it is certainly not going to give up.
In deciding who the eventual winner of this struggle will be much will depend on Mike Pompeo, the CIA’s new chief.
Will he work loyally for Trump and Flynn, or will he instead side with “the Company” (the CIA) against the Chief (Trump)? Only time can answer that question.