A Compromised Administration Is as Bad as a Colluding One

Josh Marshall wants us to look at Michael Wolff as a spy who used cunning, guile, and flattery to gain close to unfettered access to the West Wing. I think that’s a fair point because the most important fact that the Trump administration should have understood about Wolff, but didn’t, is that he had used the same approach to get access to Rupert Murdoch and then had published a vicious biography of the man. So, we can think of Wolff as a spy because he was gathering information with which to hurt the highest echelon of the U.S. government. Of course, I don’t mean to imply some lack of loyalty or patriotism in Wolff. It’s just that there’s a similarity to the world of espionage. And it’s relevant, as Marshall insists, because if the administration is vulnerable to penetration from a sycophantic U.S. journalist, then they’re probably vulnerable to foreign assets using similar approaches.

Marshall suggests that this might be the real story behind the Russia story. Rather than something sophisticated and closely coordinated, the collusion may have been more a function of a loosely organized, unworldly, unethical, and greedy campaign family and staff that was so susceptible to simple enticements that it didn’t take much work for the Russians to ensnare them in compromising positions.

This would be a different kind of story from the one that would help explain Trump’s shocking victory.  Instead of a story about how Russian intelligence hacked the Democratic Party and disseminated the information through WikiLeaks to the Trump campaign and the world, and rather than a story about the generation of fake news and the purchase of illegal political advertising laser-targeted to key districts and demographics, this story would be about the cultivation and ultimate compromise of key figures in the campaign who were on a path to have a foreign policy role. The big fish was obviously Michael Flynn, who became the national security adviser, but Carter Page and George Papadapoulos both were on a path to serve in key roles. Compromising Kushner and Trump Jr., was an added bonus, especially considering Kushner’s eventual portfolio covering the Middle East.

Of course, if we’re telling the story this way, the hiring of Paul Manafort, who was as thoroughly compromised by and indebted to Russian oligarchs as it is possible to be, isn’t about witting collusion but mind-bending naivety.

This is one possible rejoinder to Glenn Greenwald’s question about the Russian probe so far:

“Some Russians wanted to help Trump win the election, and certain people connected to the Trump campaign were receptive to receiving that help. Who the fuck cares about that?”

Setting aside that tens of millions of Americans care quite a lot about that, even if you minimize the whole grand conspiracy down to the level that Marshall describes, what you’re left with is an administration that allowed itself to be penetrated and compromised much in the way that Michael Wolff compromised them. Except it was far more serious to have a compromised national security adviser than it was to have top White House staffer like Steve Bannon speaking to a reporter on the record and out of school.

Personally, I think the coordination went deeper than this. I suspect that voting data was shared that made it possible to target certain key parts of the electorate for saturation propaganda efforts. The timing of the release of WikiLeaks material may also have been a cooperative effort. And I don’t discount the possibility that the Russians have compromising information on the president.

But, I think we have reason to care about even the lesser version of this story. If the administration can’t protect itself against a person like Michael Wolff, it certainly can’t protect itself against sophisticated foreign intelligence services. In fact, it’s already clear that they haven’t protected themselves, or us.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.