From Consortium News
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. October 29, 2016.
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Is a military coup in the works? Or are U.S. intelligence agencies laying the political groundwork for forcing Donald Trump from the presidency because they can't abide his rejection of a new cold war with Russia? Not long ago, even asking such questions would have marked one as the sort of paranoid nut who believes that lizard people run the government. But no longer.
Thanks to the now-notorious 35-page dossier concerning Donald Trump's alleged sexual improprieties in a Moscow luxury hotel, it's clear that strange maneuverings are underway in Washington and that no one is quite sure how they will end.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper added to the mystery Wednesday evening by releasing a 200-word statement to the effect that he was shocked, shocked, that the dossier had found its way into the press. Such leaks, the statement said, "are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security."
Clapper added: "that this document is not a US Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security."
Rather than vouching for the dossier's contents, in other words, all Clapper says he did was inform Trump that it was making the rounds in Washington and that he should know what it said -- and that he thus couldn't have been more horrified than when Buzzfeed posted all 35 pages on its website.
But it doesn't make sense. As The New York Times noted, "putting the summary in a report that went to multiple people in Congress and the executive branch made it very likely that it would be leaked" (emphasis in the original). So even if the "intelligence community" didn't leak the dossier itself, it distributed it knowing that someone else would.
Then there is the Guardian, second to none in its loathing for Trump and Vladimir Putin and hence intent on giving the dossier the best possible spin. It printed a quasi-defense not of the memo itself but of the man who wrote it: Christopher Steele, an ex-MI6 officer who now heads his own private intelligence firm. "A sober, cautious and meticulous professional with a formidable record" is how the Guardian described him. Then it quoted an unnamed ex-Foreign Office official on the subject of Steele's credibility:
"The idea his work is fake or a cowboy operation is false, completely untrue. Chris is an experienced and highly regarded professional. He's not the sort of person who will simply pass on gossip. ... If he puts something in a report, he believes there's sufficient credibility in it for it to be worth considering. Chris is a very straight guy. He could not have survived in the job he was in if he had been prone to flights of fancy or doing things in an ill-considered way."
In other words, Steele is a straight-shooter, so it's worth paying attention to what he has to say. Or so the Guardian assures us. "That is the way the CIA and the FBI, not to mention the British government, regarded him, too," it adds, so presumably Clapper felt the same way.
What is Afoot?
So what does it all mean? Simply that U.S. intelligence agencies believed that the dossier came from a reliable source and that, as a consequence, there was a significant possibility that Trump was a "Siberian candidate," as Times columnist Paul Krugman once described him. They therefore sent out multiple copies of a two-page summary on the assumption that at least one would find its way to the press.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with John Brennan and other national security aides present.
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Even if Clapper & Co. took no position concerning the dossier's contents, they knew that preparing and distributing such a summary amounted to a tacit endorsement. They also knew, presumably, that it would provide editors with an excuse to go public. If the CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency feel that Steele's findings are worthy of attention, then why shouldn't the average reader have an opportunity to examine them as well?
How did Clapper expect Trump to respond when presented with allegations that he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail and potentially under the Kremlin's thumb? Did he expect him to hang his head in shame, break into great racking sobs, and admit that it was all true? If so, did Clapper then plan to place a comforting hand on Trump's shoulder and suggest, gently but firmly, that it was time to step aside and allow a trusted insider like Mike Pence to take the reins?