After Christmas, if you are left with a book token that someone has given you, you might consider buying the latest book by Luke Harding: "Collusion - how Russia helped Trump win the White House". There is nothing ambiguous about the title, and you might think it an unnecessary purchase. After all, hasn't the topic been covered extensively by the news media? Well, yes, it has, but Harding's book provides us with greater detail and insight into the nature of the issue, providing us with overwhelmingly incriminating information about Trump's relationship with Putin's Russia, financial and political, and also, in my opinion, pointing to some similarities between the two men themselves. But I'll save that for later.
We need to be clear from the outset that Trump denies any wrongdoing with matters Russian. It also needs to be said that the book does not provide the "smoking gun" evidence that would prove Trump a liar. That is the first similarity between Donald and Vladimir - there is no conclusive proof of nefarious activity by either of them, despite strong circumstantial evidence to the contrary. In "The Threepenny Opera", Mack the Knife always wore white gloves. Both Trump and Putin vehemently deny any truth in the secret report by Christopher Steele, the former MI6 man who once served in Moscow, despite Steele having an outstanding reputation as a private intelligence operative. In any case, the revelations in Steele's dossier, leaked online, detailed how the Russian regime cultivated Trump for a number of years in order "...to encourage splits and division in the western alliance".
In the dossier summary, Steele says that "...he (Trump)and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals". He goes on to say that the FSB compromised Trump by secretly recording his engaging in "perverted sexual acts" while in Moscow. The summary also mentions "... a dossier of compromising material on Hilary Clinton". The sources of these revelations appear to have been Russian intelligence officers and/or Kremlin insiders. Sinister repercussions followed.
Harding lists a number of mysterious deaths of Russian government officials and diplomats following the publication of Steele's dossier. Harding says:
"There was no obvious pattern: the deaths took place in Moscow, Moscow, the United States, South Asia."
It is not known if these deaths were of Steele's sources, but Harding says, rightly, that it looked as if a spy network was being rolled up. Someone in the Kremlin was clearly upset.
As for Trump's election campaign, Harding demonstrates that Russia was actively operating online to discredit Hilary Clinton. I myself remember videos on YouTube making salacious claims about Clinton's sexuality. The US security agencies put out a report to this effect and, as Harding states:
"From June 2015, Russian operatives purchased a series of advertisements on Facebook...they pretended to be American activists...Facebook would eventually admit that Russia had employed 470"inauthentic accounts and pages" as part of its influence campaign".
Other strange events, like the sacking of FBI Director, James B. Comey and the links of Trump loyalists with Russia are examined in great detail. We learn of Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who worked in Ukraine to elect a pro-Russian president. There is also much to learn about Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser, so well thought of by the Russians they called him "General Misha", who has recently agreed to testify to a forthcoming inquiry.
In the last part of Harding's book, we learn of Donald's relationship with Deutsche Bank. Charles Kaiser in The Guardian writes:
"... Trump’s incredibly convoluted relationship with the German bank, which included defaulting on a $330m loan from its real estate division – and then settling that default by borrowing hundreds of millions more from the bank’s private equity division. Asked if “it was normal to give more money to a customer who was a bad credit risk ... a former senior Deutsche bank staff member said: ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’
More grounds for blackmail by the FSB, in other words. And Trump has still not published his tax returns.
Aesop, he of the fables, once said: "A man is known by the company he keeps". If that be true, what are we to make of the fact that Harding is able to list seven known pro-Russian figures in the Trump administration, serving or former members? Besides this, there is the matter of Trump's financial interests in Moscow. As Charles Kaiser says here:
"Trump has repeatedly tweeted that he has no financial connections to Russia. But in 2008 Donald Trump Jr said in Moscow: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” A Reuters investigation revealed that individuals with Russian passports or addresses had bought property worth $98.4m in seven Trump-branded towers in Florida."
And, as Harding points out in his book, some of these individuals who bought property were neighbours in Trump Tower - many with links to organised crime.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I find Trump and Putin to be two of a kind, despite many obvious differences. They both like getting their own way, which needs no exemplification. They both detest all opposition, the difference being that Trump sacks his critics, while Putin takes more drastic action. We can only be glad that the USA is a democracy with a system of checks and balances on presidential power. Without them, the resemblance between Trump and Putin would be stronger.
The only problem with Harding's book is that, like all other books dealing with current affairs, it could be overtaken by events. It might yet be conclusively proven that Trump was fully aware of contacts with Putin. But, I doubt it. As I said, both these men are adept at covering their tracks. They have both learned from Mack the Knife. Still, this book is a rattling good read and I recommend it unreservedly.