The former director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper delivered an astounding and direct charge against Donald Trump on national television Tuesday, no longer mincing words or making indirect or suggestive references to what the U.S. intelligence community is thoroughly convinced of.
That is, that Trump, our president, is a severely compromised Russian agent of influence.
Clapper, in a tone of significant irritation, told CNN reporter James Sciutto on live TV that a recent exchange between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump “was illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset and that’s what he’s been doing with the president.”
Coming from a person of Clapper’s stature and deep connections to the entire U.S. intelligence community, this was a show stopper: no more qualified words, or “possible” this or that. No, Clapper declared Trump to be a Russian “asset,” plain and simple.
This bombshell has not received any significant coverage beyond the domain of CNN, itself, for whatever reason. But it comes none too soon, designed undoubtedly to deter Trump from taking extraordinary steps to deter the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his Russian ties. Short of the many criminal indictments that are sure to come from Mueller’s office, and no one should assume he will stop short of Trump himself, White House insiders are reporting that Trump is seriously considering one form or another of removing Mueller from his post in a desperate effort to prevent the inevitable.
So, Clapper’s very deliberate and forceful identification of Trump as a Putin “asset,” while not new to anyone close to the investigation, has moved a step ahead of Mueller’s deliberate but determined effort to put all the evidence in the proper form for the coming blizzard of arrests.
Asked to comment on Clapper’s remarks, House Intelligence committee minority leader Rep. Adam Schiff said on CNN that it is clear to him “how flattery gets you just about anything” when it comes to Trump, and that Putin clearly “knows how to push this president’s buttons, and praise is the way to do it.” He added, “The only surprise is how well this seems to work with the president.”
There is a fascinating book by a Russian (then Soviet KGB) spy who engaged in the recruitment of “assets,” ranging from agents of influence to downright spies, prior to defecting to the U.S. in 1979 and working with U.S. intelligence. “On the Wrong Side, My Life in the KGB” was written by defector Stanislav Levchenko in 1988.
Among the many revelations in the book is Levchenko’s shorthand for the keys to identifying and recruiting an “asset.” His acronym for this is “MICE,” which refers to “money, ideology, compromise and ego.”
Most recruits, he wrote, can be “turned” to become agents of influence for a hostile foreign power by the exploitation of one of those four elements. A person needs money, a person has an ideological predisposition, a person can be compromised (by the threat of blackmail, etc.) and a person can be lured by assuaging his ego.
In the case of Trump, it appears evident that three of the four factors are involved. His financial woes in the 1990s, in particular, but probably going back two decades further, his vulnerabilities regarding young women (already the subject of lawsuits), and his gigantic ego all come into play, and have probably all been played like a violin ever since the Russian mafia came into Manhattan.
When he was in the spy recruiting business, Levchenko wrote, “Mine was the second oldest profession in the world. And it’s not much different than the first. The oldest profession seduces the body; the second oldest seduces the soul.”
His chief remedy to Americans was, poignantly, to “read the front pages of your newspapers, and read them every day. Read news magazines; read important books.” The press in democratic countries, he wrote, “is there to serve the readership. That is why my best advice for the future of the free world is read, inform yourselves, make your own interpretations and draw your own conclusions. Informed readerships will guarantee real freedom of the press.”
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.