Man, life comes at you fast. Earlier this week, I wrote that we needed to be careful not to get ahead of what the evidence about the 2016 Russian meddling had shown. Yeah, I was pretty much writing that for myself. Do not get ahead of the evidence. Do not get ahead of the evidence. Do not get ahead of the evidence.
That’s something I think we still need to do in light of CNN’s startling report that Russia has kompromat on Trump.
Reporters often have to hold back from making leaps in logic between what they think they know and what they can actually prove. If there are gaps in logic, your news organization can get sued for slander or libel (especially with a notoriously litigious president-elect).
So, in that spirit, I’m going to take a very measured approach here in looking at the allegations that Russia possesses compromising material on President-elect Trump. Know that I very, very, very, very, VERY much think this warrants an independent investigation (did I mention very?) into the ties between the campaigns and Russia. But, I worry jumping ahead of what we know could jeopardize future investigations and cause some people to dismiss serious claims as politically-motivated.
You’ve likely already heard CNN broke a story that, in Friday’s briefing, the intel community turned over evidence that there were Russians claiming they possessed compromising personal and financial information on Trump. It’s important to point out here that the intel community has not yet confirmed the veracity of those claims by Russians. But copies of the allegations were reportedly provided to both President Obama and President-elect Trump.
(These seem to echo what was first reported by Mother Jones in October. In that article, they interviewed the former British intelligence officer who claimed he had turned over this information to the FBI.)
Not long after the CNN report broke, allegations started swirling about what those were. I’m going to be cautious about them here because at least one of the outlets reporting those claims admits they are hard to verify. I can see a couple of things in the raw report that I already know are false. This comes with the territory of raw intelligence/opposition research that needs vetting. But, I think why people in Washington are taking these allegations seriously is because they align with known methods by Russian spies for “leveraging” people.
“Schoolhouse rock” on kompromat and honey traps
You’ll probably hear the word “kompromat” used a lot in the coming weeks. Soviet spies often used “kompromat”– or embarrassing, compromising information about someone — as leverage to turn them into a spy or embarrass them in mass media. Russia’s current intel organizations use the same tricks.
One way they do that is by setting up a “honey trap” or honey pot. That’s where they use the rouse of a romantic rendezvous to lure the person into a compromising position. The sexcapades are photographed or videotaped and held as leverage to get the person to do the bidding of the Russian government.
The other way they leverage people is by having incriminating information on crimes they may have committed, particularly through, say, their business interests. It may involve how the person conducts their business, bribes they have paid or taxes they’ve avoided.
This is why I believe it is important to see a presidential candidate’s tax returns early in the election cycle. Tax returns are not a sexy topic, but they do provide important information about a candidate’s business dealings and give us a hint of what might need more investigation.
President-elect Trump is scheduled to have a news conference today. He’s already tweeted out the allegations are false. But this, again, underscores why it is imperative that he release his tax returns and also completely divest his business. Transparency is the only way to address these allegations. Reporters should press him on this today (if the news conference indeed happens) because these things go hand-in-hand. By the way, ethics attorneys Norm Eisen (Obama White House) and Richard Painter (Bush White House) put out an article worth reading on this topic: “Five ways you’ll know if Trump is playing by the rules.”
In addition, I believe members of Congress should call for a full investigation by an independent committee into what happened during the 2016 campaign.
Hearings continue today for Senator Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson. These should be very interesting in light of Tuesday’s developments. On another note, The New York Times reports four other hearings have been stalled because the nominees have not yet completed their ethics reviews.