(Editor note: As noted in our Forward Five for Tuesday, we normally focus on Kentucky politics, but the question of Trump and Russia is so critical to our nation that we think it worth addressing on the site. Jonathan Chait has done an extended, detailed piece laying out the long and complex story of Trump’s involvement with Russia, and asks the question “Is it possible that the truth is worse than we have considered?” There is much discussion about Chait’s article, including considerable blowback. So, when we saw that Tom Nichols, a conservative professor at the Naval War College, had laid out his thoughts on the Chait piece in a Twitter thread, I thought it worth sharing with our readers.

To get the most out of all this, you should go read the Chait piece first. It is detailed, and troubling. Then, come back here and read Mr. Nichols comments on it.)

So, apparently, the thing now is to just call this @jonathanchait piece crazy because that’s what you do now to pieces about Trump and Russia. It’s a long piece, and I doubt most people have read it carefully, but here’s some comments. /1

First, the cautions: I think Chait is too willing to take a flyer in a few places. (The pee story. Saying “it could be true” doesn’t mean anything. I wouldn’t have bothered with it.) Also, the chart, which is captioned “a crazy quilt,” is a crazy quilt. It’s not helpful. /2

Also, I don’t have juicy inside info or special classified Secret Squirrel stuff here. My observations are based on being a Russia for most of my career. Chait is not a Russia guy (afaik), and neither (afaik) are his critics. /3

The story is two stories. (1) the facts (which are not, or should not, be in dispute) about Trump, the Trump family, the Trump campaign and their *staggering* amount of points of contact with Russia. (2) what those facts mean. /4

People want to trash the story because of Chait’s interpretations of those facts as pointing to something more sinister and purposeful than they’d like to believe. I’ll get to that, but it’s important to say it again: a *staggering* amount of connection to Russia. /5

It’s not illegal to have contacts with Russia. But this many contacts with Russia – and with the Putin govt – is astonishing. And until now, because it’s dribbled out over months, it’s not looked as crazy as it does when you assemble them all in one place as Chait did. /6

That’s one of the reasons I think people are attacking the story: because as long as you look at any small number of those points of contact, you can brush it off (or try to), but when you compile them all together, as most of us who follow Russia did, it’s damning. /7

A note here on conservative hypocrisy: no matter what you think of Chait’s conclusions, conservatives – who would still be on Benghazi had Clinton been elected – would have wrapped themselves in the flag and taken apart any Dem with this much Putinist stink on them. /8

Two things, imo, are undeniable and unremarkable, even though Chait saying them has people going nuts: First, the Russians invested in Trump early. Second, that Trump’s dealings with Russia provide leverage over a man whose finances won’t bear scrutiny. /9

Manafort and Flynn, alone, should have been alarm bells, but even without them, Trump’s finances are evidence enough of multiple problems. The Russian mob, the Russian intel services, the Russian business community, the Russian govt…are *basically overlapping structures*. /10

You can’t say “Well, it was just some real estate deals.” Because you can’t deal with just one arm of that octopus. If you’re in deep with the mob, or oligarchs, or the Russian state, you’re in deep with all of them. That’s just how it is. /11

That should be enough to make any American, and every Republican going to the mats, scared to death of the possibility that Chait raises: that a US president is compromised by a foreign power. Where things get edgier is whether Trump is knowingly doing Putin’s bidding or not. /12

Some of Chait’s critics are straw-manning the hell out of this: “Oh, sure, like they knew in 1987 he’d be president.” That’s not how it works. They didn’t have to say “work for us.” They could just invest time, money, attention in him and see what happens. Why wouldn’t they? /13

People think this is like the movies or an episode of The Americans. “We have you, you will do what we say.” The genius of this kind of thing is to get the guy to do what you want without telling him to do it. Because he’s being a friend. Helping friends. Doing business. /14

It was just a freak accident that a rich New York doofus ended up being president, but what luck for the Russians: Trump was just a junk stock in 1987. Today, he’s a blue chip. But does that mean he’s a Red President? No. /15

It could well be that Trump does what he *anticipates* the Russians would want, because he’s afraid of them. Or the Russians indicate what would be the act of a friend, via conversation, and Trump just goes with it. That doesn’t mean he’s an agent taking orders. /16

Chait gets out too far over his skis implying that, imo, but to me, he’s right there *is no innocent explanation for the amount of contact between everyone in Trump world and Russia*. And that’s really the bottom line of the Chait piece, as I read it. /17

There is no way, in my view – no way – that Russia does not have damaging personal and financial information about the President. Whether it’s as bad as Chait argues, or whether Trump is directly responding to it, is arguable. Fine. /18

But Trump defenders are being monumental hypocrites here. This pile of contacts, over 30 years, is damning no matter how you look at it, and yet these are guys that were waiting to impeach Clinton over Benghazi and Uranium One and Pizzagate and God knows what else. /19

Do I think every assertion in the Chait piece holds up? No. But I think Trump defenders are preemptively shelling the whole piece because they know that even if you took Chait’s assertions out of it, and boiled it down to the facts of the case, it’s undeniably awful. /20

I do not know how much Trump is doing what he’s doing because of pressure from Russia. My guess is: None. I doubt anyone has threatened him. I think he’s proactively responding to what he knows exists. (Manafort, different story.) And here’s the reason I think it’s possible: /21

Because Donald Trump, imo, never had any serious intention of winning the presidency. I think he, and others like Manafort and Flynn, didn’t see a problem with their Russia contacts because they assumed that Hillary would win and were just as happy with that outcome. /22

The whole story makes far more sense if you assume that Trump and his coterie never intended to win the presidency, but to run, lose, and make money off of being professional Clinton critics as a shadow administration. /23

I think when Trump won, the existence of everything Russia knows about Trump, his family, and his business, became salient, and protecting all that became Job One for a big part of the administration. Chait just catalogued all that. /24

As I said, I think Chait’s off the ledge on a few of his assertions. Others, I might have emphasized even more than he did. But dismissing it all as nutty and unfounded is just a defense mechanism against seeing what it all looks like when gathered in the same place. /25

I’ll end by saying there wasn’t much in there that surprised me. There was nothing new. It’s just eye-watering when it’s all toted up at the same time, like adding up a lot of small debts that don’t look like financial ruin until you write them all down. /26

It’s not the final word on Trump-Russia. We may never get that, depending on what Mueller finds or what, if anything, is ever be declassified. But the article itself is hardly some sort of lunatic accusation. People dismissing it that way are doing so for obvious reasons. /27x


What do you think of Chait’s article? Of Nichols’ analysis of it? Add your comment in the comment section at the bottom of the page. And if you think this is worth sharing, please use one of the share buttons to do so. Thanks!

Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. He has been President, Vice-President, and Treasurer of the Metro Democratic Club, and has served on the Democratic Party Executive Committee in Louisville. He began blogging in 2004, and currently operates two personal blogs (BruceMaples.com and brucewriter.com). He founded Forward Kentucky in the wake of the state elections in 2015, and expanded it in the summer of 2016. He has lived in Louisville since 1992 with his wife and two sons.
  • Thank you for posting these. Both the Chait article and the Nichols response add valuable insight to our understanding of the Trump-Russia story. I agree with Nichols that Trump never expected or even wanted to win the presidency. I also think that Russia found Trump to be eminently susceptible to manipulation and exploitation in 1987 and a possible prize down the road. I don’t think anyone foresaw Russia hitting the jackpot as they did with Trump back then.

    • Yep – Russia hit the jackpot, and the rest of the Western alliance gets the shaft. I just hope we make it to November without blowing up NATO or further damaging our democracy.

  • I, too, appreciate your posting these. I think so many questions could be answered by Trump being forced to reveal his tax forms, but that is obviously not going to happen. It could just be that Putin and Trump hit the jackpot financially, but I have never believed Trump was as wealthy as he claims, and Putin plays all of his cards (including his wealth) close to the vest. So what we have here is one leader who has trained from an early age in KGB tactics and for the most part has little to say about his accomplishments, and another leader whose only training is essentially in real estate. He tweets every thought he ever has (embarrassing himself and our country) and only cares about pursuing those countries who are not inhibited by democracy. What does that say about him? For one thing, it says he is a lover of tyranny. I don’t think he would love it at all if he were not the tyrant. Most of those who find him so mesmerizing would probably deftest him if he were a guy names Joe who they had to work with every day. He hasn’t been able to get through a day of his presidency without lying, ridiculous lies, that no one could possibly believe. I think he and Putin are corrupt to their core. Trump just lacks the intelligence to hide it as well as Putin. I hope we haven’t already lost our true Allies forever.