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Amid news the Mueller probe could extend through 2018, Guardian reporter Luke Harding and TRNN's Aaron Mate discuss Russiagate and Harding's new book "Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win"
AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News. I'm Aaron Mate'. 2017 is almost over, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation is not. In fact, the Washington Post reports that Mueller's probe could last another year through much of 2018 at a minimum. The prospect is sure to annoy President Trump who has been hampered by the Russia story throughout his first year in office. Well according to a best-selling new book, Trump has ample reason to worry. The book is called 'Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.' I'm joined up with the book's author, Luke Harding, a veteran journalist for The Guardian and the paper's former Moscow correspondent.
Luke, welcome. Let's start with the book's title. Do you think there actually was collusion?
LUKE HARDING: I think we're already across the line in terms of collusion. I think actually you have to go back a long way to see when it began to Donald Trump's first trip to Soviet Moscow in 1987 paid for by the Soviet Union where he was discussing hotel deals. I think we can say -- and I'm sure this is something that Robert Mueller is looking at -- that there's kind of long-term relationship. That doesn't mean that Donald Trump is an agent or a KGB colonel, merely that there's been a kind of transactional deal going back a very long way indeed.
AARON MATÉ: That's also an assertion of the infamous Steele dossier, that there's a transactional relationship between Trump and the Kremlin and that Putin has been cultivating Trump for several years now. But explain why you think that is and why you think there's evidence of a transactional relationship.
LUKE HARDING: Well I think you just kind of have to look at what happened. We had Donald Trump's trip back in the kind of late Cold War period, and I talked to a number of sources for this book, some in Moscow, some in London, some in Washington, some defectors. I met with Chris Steele, the author of the dossier, as well. I think what you have to understand is the fact that the sort of Soviet state and its Russian successor is raking on kind of cultivating people, particularly Americans.Bringing Trump over for this kind of trip was pretty unusual. It was what's known in the intelligence trade as kind of classic cultivational curation. We know from leaked KGB memos the kind of person they were looking for during this period was someone who was vain, narcissistic, interested in money, perhaps unfaithful in their marriage. Basically Donald Trump kind of ticks every single box. When I was researching this, I tracked down the daughters of the Soviet ambassador at the time who went up to Trump Tower, flattered Trump, and said, "You've built the most wonderful building in America." So it goes on.I think it's gone through phases. Moscow's been interested in Trump, not interested in him, and then most recently according to the Steele dossier, became more interested in him from about 2012, 2013 onwards at a time when Donald Trump was the sort of foremost exponent of birtherism. Obama was in office. Of course we have the famous trip by Trump to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe beauty pageant.
AARON MATÉ: Okay. But where then is the proof of a transactional relationship?
LUKE HARDING: Well I mean there are secret meetings as the book says that we now know about, some of which we have discovered about in the last few months. We have Donald Trump, Jr meeting with a Russian lawyer now famous, Natalia Veselnitskaya, having been promised information from the Russian government as part of its campaign to support Mr. Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton. We have four indictments by Robert Mueller-
AARON MATÉ: Luke, Luke, let me stop you there. Luke, let me stop you there. If we already have a transactional relationship between Trump and Russia going back to the late '80s as you say, then why would they have needed a music publicist to set up this meeting? I mean presumably that level of relationship would have entailed some high-level contacts that wouldn't have needed an intermediary like this kooky music publicist, Rob Goldstone.
LUKE HARDING: Yeah. I think what you have to understand about Russian espionage is it's not Vladimir Putin sitting in a cave flicking a red switch and things happening across the continental United States. It doesn't work like that. It's opportunistic. It's very often pretty low-budget. The kind of hacking operation to hack the Democratic Party was done by two separate groups of kind of Kremlin hackers probably not earning kind of huge sums of money. So some of it is kind of improvisational.The most important thing is that you have people with access, which in this case is Donald Trump and his entourage. The oligarch involved is someone called Aras Agalarov who hosted Trump in 2013. You're right. The music publicist is a bit of a curious guy, called Goldstone, but nonetheless it works. He actually managed to bring the Moscow lawyer to Trump Tower and set up this meeting which, by the way, the Trump team said nothing about until it finally leaked out early this summer, a year almost after it happened.
AARON MATÉ: Right. But their explanation is that the meeting had nothing to do with the emails that were later released by Wikileaks, that they were about that the lawyer was promising compromising information about Hillary Clinton's dealings with Russia, and in return she wanted some assistance lifting sanctions which had nothing to do with the whole Wikileaks aspect.
LUKE HARDING: Well I think Donald Trump, Jr didn't know that when he took the meeting. It's about intentionality. Meanwhile, we have George Papadopoulos, foreign policy aide to Donald Trump, who in the spring of last year is running around my town where I am, London, meeting a mysterious professor who features in Mueller's indictment with contacts to Moscow who tells Papadopoulos-
AARON MATÉ: Well hold on a second, Luke. Hold on a second, Luke. Hold on a second. He tells Papadopoulos that he has contacts to Moscow. We actually have no clue what those contacts are. His name is Joseph Mifsud, right? He's a professor in the UK right now, and Papadopoulos claims that Mifsud told him that he has high-level Russian government contacts. So far, there's been no even proof of that.
LUKE HARDING: Well it's in the indictment. I mean either you kind of live in the empirical world or you don't, but I mean-