Sex, spies and Putin: Trump’s ‘dirty dossier’
Trump has had an explosive week, including an extraordinary press conference in New York. There is now serious concern that he colluded with Russia to win the presidency. Can it be true?
The story unfolded like a James Bond movie. It involved hidden cameras in luxurious Moscow hotel rooms; a British spy on the run; a sensational press conference in New York, where the future president of America shouted down major news organisations.
What on Earth is going on? Who is saying what — and is any of it true?
For months, senior politicians and the media have been buzzing about a 35-page document full of accusations against Donald Trump. It claimed that he was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government thanks to videos of lurid behaviour at a hotel in Moscow. It also said that Russia had been ‘cultivating, supporting and assisting’ Trump for five years, including sending him intelligence about Hillary Clinton.
The ‘dirty dossier’ was written by a former MI6 officer, claiming to use information from top government and security officials in Russia. (Its author is now ‘in hiding’.) Top figures in Washington have known about it for weeks — but no one has been able to prove whether any of it is true. On Tuesday, CNN reported that President Obama and Trump had both been briefed about it. That evening, BuzzFeed published the document in full, ‘so that Americans can make up their own minds’.
Trump was furious. ‘FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!’ he tweeted. At a press conference the next day he called BuzzFeed a ‘failing pile of garbage’, compared the report’s publication to living in Nazi Germany, and implied it could not be true because he is a ‘germaphobe’.
It is worth noting again: its contents may be false. The document contained spelling errors and inconsistencies. And yet its author is a respected expert on Russia — the CIA described him as ‘credible’.
And it would explain a lot. Why does Trump attack everyone who offends him (including China, the FBI, both political parties, and Meryl Streep), but never Vladimir Putin? Could it be that he has become a modern ‘Manchurian candidate’ — a Russian agent in the highest office in the USA?
Yes, say some — including experts. It sounds outlandish, but these are extraordinary times. Russia is well-known for keeping kompromat (compromising information) on people it wants to manipulate. Trump, meanwhile, has been bizarrely deferential to Russia. We must keep an open mind. If it is true, it could be the political scandal of the century.
This is the wrong question to ask, respond others. We do not live in a black-and-white world of double agents any more — no matter how compelling the story. In the 21st-century, the twin forces of technology and globalisation have blended the world into shades of grey. The real question is, does Trump have America’s interests at heart — or his own?
- Do you believe the allegations made about Donald Trump?
- Was BuzzFeed wrong to publish the report without knowing if it was true?
- Imagine you are a journalist with just two minutes to interview Donald Trump. What questions would you ask in that time?
- Write your own report about Trump’s relationship with Russia. At the end, write a paragraph concluding whether or not you believe it is enough to disqualify him from the presidency.
Some People Say...
“What is not surrounded by uncertainty cannot be the truth.”Richard Feynman
What do you think?
Q & A
- Is a sex scandal really a big deal in 2017?
- The contents of the video (if it exists) are not the problem. The problem is that they could be used to blackmail Trump. This would give Russia (a country to which many in the USA are hostile) enormous influence over America’s democracy. The second allegation, that Russia was feeding Trump intelligence about Clinton, is also extremely serious.
- What will happen next?
- It depends on whether the report is true or not — and it could be a long time before we know for sure. Journalists and American intelligence agencies have been unable to prove it so far. That could get easier now that it is in the public domain, as people may start coming forward with information. If true, it’s very bad for Trump. If untrue, it’s very bad for BuzzFeed.
- Press conference
- The focus was supposed to be on Trump’s businesses, which he has put in a trust and handed to his sons to avoid conflicts of interest. But questions on Russia dominated. See Become An Expert.
- Hillary Clinton
- Trump’s opponent for president in last year’s election. The report claims Russia has a dossier on her too, mostly involving bugged phone calls.
- The UK’s secret intelligence service. Christopher Steele no longer works for it, but runs a private consultancy firm. He was initially hired to write the report by Republicans who opposed Trump during the campaign.
- BuzzFeed was very clear that its contents were still unsubstantiated, but felt that the public deserved to know its contents.
- Manchurian candidate
- A 1959 novel (and 1962 film) about an American from a political family who has been brainwashed by the Russians.
- Common during the time of the KGB, the Soviet Union’s spy agency. In 1999 when Putin was head of the KGB’s successor, the FSB, he confirmed the existence of compromising images of a rival of Boris Yeltsin, then president of Russia.