Deciphering the scandalous rumors about Trump in Russia

Summary: Stories about the Trump-Russia scandal continue to roil the media. It might dominate the vital start of the Trump administration. Even if it does not, these events are rich with lessons about hidden aspects of America’s politics. Here is an expert’s analysis, a follow-up to Here are the facts so far about the Trump-Russia file.

Poster of Trump and Putin in Vilnius
Ints Kalnins/Reuters.

The story of the Trump-Russia file is among the most significant news of 2017. Not because it is yet another disreputable story about Trump (credulously believed by the Left). Not because of its salacious details (which so excite the Left). The involvement of US intelligence agencies makes it important. We can only guess at their motives for publicizing this unverified information. They move like the sandworms in Dune, giant beasts visible only by their wake on the surface.

As usual with scandals (real or imagined), the British press have covered this more closely than their US cousins. Mostly by speculation, but the better elements have presented intriguing analysis. Such as this in yesterday’s London Review of Books: “How to Read the Trump Dossier” by Arthur Snell — a veteran of the UK Foreign Office, now a managing director of corporate intelligence firm PGI Intelligence. This provides the strongest case I have seen for taking the Trump-Russia file seriously. It goes off the rails at the beginning.

“None of the claims made in the dossier has yet been verified, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. Intelligence is information, from a privileged source, that supports decision-making. It is seldom verifiable because that information is rarely in the public domain.”

Why should we take this file seriously if it has no verification? Here is the closest Snell gets to an answer. It’s quite daft.

“The reader of the intelligence report has to trust the provider of the intelligence while remaining critical. Intelligence is about degrees of credibility, and reading it is not the same as reading reportage, or a piece of political analysis. In order to make an assessment of its reliability, a reader needs to examine how it’s been sourced, insofar as that’s possible. A large number of news media organisations have reported that the dossier is the work of Christopher Steele of Orbis Business Intelligence, a British corporate intelligence consultancy. Steele’s background in government service, including a stint in Moscow, is not in doubt, and the format of the reports in the Trump dossier is the same as that used by most Western intelligence agencies.”

This is quite weak. We should take the Trump-Russia file seriously because it is the “work” of a former SIS (aka MI6) employee. We should be weight “former” more strongly than “SIS”. The format of the report tells us nothing (a well constructed lie includes these kind of trivial specifics).

The rest of the article is even less logical, consisting of a category error.  Snell describes the alleged sources of the Trump-Russia file as the actual sources. These claims are hearsay — somebody telling us what other people said. Why believe Snell’s analysis of the files until we have at least some evidence that their contents are from the claimed sources.

This would be weak even if we could question Steele, which we cannot (he is hiding). At the end Snell wrecks his theory. Despite US intelligence agencies having the files for five months, they presented it with no results of their investigation into its accuracy. Yet hours later a significant element was decisively disproven, along with denials by other named individuals and organizations denied involvement.

“One report, possibly based on a statement by an associate of the Kremlin’s former chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, alleges that Michael Cohen, a high-profile lawyer working for Trump, met Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 to discuss making ‘deniable cash payments … to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign’. This allegation has been widely discredited, not least by Cohen himself, who has stated that he was in California at the time – this has been confirmed by witnesses at the University of Southern California, where Cohen was attending a baseball game with his son.

“The reporting on Cohen is flawed at best, though the dossier’s author does seem to have received the intelligence from two separate sources, at different times, and to have produced at least three separate reports on the subject. This may be evidence of a Russian misinformation campaign – both sources are described as Kremlin insiders – but elements of the reports can be checked. A man called Oleg Solodukhin is claimed to have been one of the key organisers of the meetings. Solodukhin is a Russian official based in Prague in a quasi-diplomatic role. ‘No such meeting took place,’ he has claimed in interviews with Czech media. In one of the Cohen reports there is a reference to a company called XBT/Webzilla that allegedly engaged in hacking against the Democratic Party leadership. XBT’s CEO, Aleksej Gubarev, has denied the allegations in interviews and the report itself offers nothing in the way of corroboration …”

Ministry of Truth


Snell’s article looks like skillfully written propaganda. Why has Snell written it? Does he have knowledge about its validity that he cannot share, and so indirectly warns us of Russian influence on Trump? Or does he support elements of the US “Deep State” who see Trump as a threat (despite the blue-chip establishment credentials of his appointees)? American’s answers tend to such questions tend to depend on their political tribe.

Both answers imply serious problems lie ahead for America. Watch this story for clues, but we might never learn the truth.

For More Information

Other useful articles about the Trump-Russia file.

  1. See Masha Gessen’s devastating analysis of the IC’s report about Russian interference in the US election, relying on weak or fake evidence to draw dubious conclusions: “Russia, Trump & Flawed Intelligence“.
  2. As a reminder, here is a big list of US government officials’ past lies about vital matters.
  3. Good advice by the team at Lawfare: “About that Explosive Trump Story: Take a Deep Breath“.
  4. Glenn Greenwald goes to the heart of the issue: “The Deep State Goes to War with President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer“.
  5. David French at National Review gives a fair summary.
  6. A shrewd debunking: “The Trump Dossier Is Fake — And Here Are The Reasons Why” by Paul Roderick Gregory at Forbes.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Donald Trump, about fake news, about Russia, about information and disinformation, and especially these…

  1. Let’s stop the 2-minute hate on Putin & think before we reignite the Cold War.
  2. How the world looks from Russia. It’s a picture the US media don’t show.
  3. Notes from the Victory Parade in Moscow about our amnesia, & peace.
  4. Did NATO betray Russia, breaking the deal to stay out of Eastern Europe?
  5. Is Trump a tool of Putin? See the story & the debunking.
  6. Learning from the Cold War to prevent war with Russia today.

Two good books about Putin’s Russia.

Inside Putin's Russia
2005. Available at Amazon.
The Man Without A Face
2016. Available at Amazon.


22 thoughts on “Deciphering the scandalous rumors about Trump in Russia”

  1. Here is my question. If a person is into peculiar sex acts such as golden showers they rarely do it once. So either that was the first time Trump has engaged in that act or there are other women out there. So why has nobody else come forward? When a high profile man such as Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton is caughr cheating other women come out of the woodwork. So where are they?

    1. funstein19, You make much more sense than Snell’s article apparently does. We need George Smiley to sort this one out!

    2. funstein,

      I regard these claims as unproven, probably malicious. But your point does not apply to these claims. In scandals about prominent men misbehaving, women appear from the woodwork to get their 15 minutes of fame. Some valid, some less so. But professionals, prostitutes, seldom do. In sex as in so many other things, “go with the pros” is good advice.

      Look at the most prominent recent scandal involving prostitutes: Eliot Spitzer. One women was named. Ashley Alexandra Dupre. She used the publicity to boost her to a minor career as a singer and actress. But no other women came forward.

      “So where are they?”

      Even in Russia, announcing to the world “I am a whore” seldom brings applause or benefits to a woman. Saying “I’m a whore who gets ‘golden showers’ achieves notoriety among family and friends that few women want.

      1. Those are good points. I did not believe that question would be the “drop the mic” evidence but one would assume a way the US Intel agencies would try to confirm the dossier is to find others Trump has celebrated with.

        There are probably some pros who would find taking down a President in exchange for witness protection a good trade.

  2. I think you are correct on the issue of others coming forward when it would amount to a self-indictment, but the odds are that, as in the Anthony Weiner case, there are usually prior similar “bad acts”. Not hearing any, is a “feather” in favor of Trump’s repudiation of the dossier.

    1. Bernie,

      “Not hearing any, is a “feather” in favor of Trump’s repudiation of the dossier.”

      No, it is not. Prostitution is a massive business, as old as history. Famous men are customers, just like other men. There are few incidents of prostitutes going public with the names of the clients. I can’t recall any instances of prostitutes coming forward to admit participation in very disreputable acts such as “golden showers.”

      I explained why in my previous comment. The reason why is quite obvious.

  3. Editor: I agreed with you about people not coming forward, but people coming forward is not the only source of evidence of such problematic behaviors. I do not get the stridency in your response.

    1. Bernie,

      “but people coming forward is not the only source of evidence of such problematic behaviors.”

      Neither you nor I said that it was “the only source of evidence.” Why would anyone say something so daft?

      “I do not get the stridency in your response.”

      If being told “no it is not” is too “loud, harsh, grating” for you, then this is not a suitable forum for you. That is “strident” by the rules of tribal websites, safe spaces where any nonsense that supports the tribal bias is accepted. This isn’t one of those. The FM website runs like scholarly debates: going for the truth by use of logic and facts.

  4. Editor: I took funstein19’s primary point as being that odd sexual behavior is likely to repeat itself and leave some trace evidence. I agreed with you that such evidence is unlikely to come from participants. I also acknowledge that the absence of evidence is not itself evidence.

    In your opinion, what evidence would make the dossier more persuasive or compelling?

    1. Bernie,

      “In your opinion, what evidence would make the dossier more persuasive or compelling?”

      Here are a few, in decreasing weight.

      (1) An endorsement, even partial, of these claims by one or more US intelligence agencies. That doesn’t mean they are correct (US intel agencies have a long history of both lies and errors), but would make the report more persuasive.

      (2) Publication of results from investigations (e.g., by journalists or government) that validate at least some of the claims in this report. It’s absurd that so many Leftists treat this as gospel when the only claim tested has proven false.

      (3) Validation that some of the claims made are from the sources stated. That doesn’t mean the claims are valid, but at least allows intelligent evaluation of the sources. All we know now is that many of the attributed sources deny the claims.

  5. Putin made some insightful comments about the Trump event, though he may have known where to start.

    Putin mocks claims that Trump was spied on“, AFP, 17 January 2017.

    “Trump when he came to Moscow… wasn’t any kind of political figure, we didn’t even know of his political ambitions,” Putin said, responding to a journalist’s question at a news conference. “Does anyone think that our special services chase every American billionaire? Of course not, it’s just completely ridiculous.”

    Putin also questioned why Trump would feel the need to hire prostitutes, given his opportunities to meet beautiful women at the Miss Universe contest. “He’s a grown-up for a start and secondly a man who spent his whole life organising beauty contests and meeting the most beautiful women in the world,” Putin said. “I can hardly imagine that he ran off to a hotel to meet our girls of ‘lowered social responsibility’,” said Putin, adding jokingly “although they are of course the best in the world. “I doubt Trump fell for that.”

    Putin: Trump Didn’t Meet Russian Prostitutes, But They Are the Best“, Breitbart, 17 Jan.

    1. 4kx3,

      Thanks for posting these. I added a full citation, and an excerpt from the AFP story.

      In the AFP story, Putin makes two points. The first is probably correct. Was Trump worth targeting in 2013? The second point is probably false. If Trump wanted a women for deviant behavior, he would be better off with a pro — who would be less likely to tell the story or even blackmail him.

  6. Dear Fabius Maximus,

    This is weird. Really weird. Think about the raw meat that has been thrown to the rabid (and abused) dogs that comprise the American press corps and the only thing that’s confirmed is something disproved. 17 member-agencies of the multi-billion dollar and hard-to-account-for intelligence community with means and motivations and tens of thousands potential leaks.

    The simplest explanation I can think of is that the Russians (or, someone working on behalf of DJT, perhaps without his knowing) just made up a bunch of crazy BS and fed it to a crediblish source. Who else benefits? You would have to think there is plenty of legitimate fodder for giving DJT trouble (reality TV celebrity, real estate investor, casino owner, inherited-wealth billionaire, animate cheeto, all personas with (apparent) self-control issues, what could possibly go wrong?), so why a pile of stuff that people — motivated professionals — can only refute but not verify?

    It’s creepy! As you say, we may never know, but it makes my skin crawl, and as the Swedes say, there is a buried dog here.

    Thank you for running this thought provoking site and this great post!

    1. Bill,

      You raise good points. I don’t have any explanation. Yours makes sense, but does not explain why Christopher Steele, supposedly an experience intel guy (former SAS) would believe this material unless he had reasons for confidence.

      It’s a puzzle to me. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that we cannot see the picture because we are missing important pieces. Perhaps we will get them eventually. Perhaps we will not. In 1976 I would have bet big that by 2016 we would know who killed JFK.

  7. Dear Fabius Maximus,

    When it comes to individuals, especially those with whom I have no direct acquaintance, I cannot say what motivates them. Money? Passion? Terror? Love? The motivating factor of hunger, I’m sure, is not one in this case, but that hardly buffs my cred as prognosticator. All I can do is try to understand the evidence that is before us.

    The stinky bit *is* Mr. Steele. Exactly. I don’t know him, but he is not a one man CIA/DIA/NSA/NGA or NYT/WaPo/WSJ (give you 10 to 1 on that and I’ll buy you a beer either way). From what I’ve heard, he’s legit, with real talent/experience/capability (SAS! You know what they do!). I cannot speak to his motivation in any dimension. But, where is he now? This is weird.

    Forgive me for bringing questions without answers. However, I think this one is worth chewing on. The first PDB will be met with a WTF with no answer…


  8. Pitiful. Sad. Worrisome. I am of the opinion that we should take this Circus-like amalgamation seriously, Very seriously. And not because even a lick of the Report is even close to being verified (or note, not even verifiable, by design) and therefor not even a bit of it is true. What we can see is the deep state of the US and UK at work. Naked, in full display. This Steele gent was involved in the investigation of FIFA. He was also an associate of Litivenenko. Plus the media is all in and then followed by the Dem establishment.
    The US IC is just willfully allowing all this to fester and ferment. And the “Left” whatever is left of that is watching like little puppies and following whomever will confirm their fears about a Trump presidency.
    Creating more angst and pushing fear to the front is the SOP here.
    What a mess this country is in and distrust will only increase.
    Prospects are not good.


    1. Breton,

      “This Steele gent was involved in the investigation of FIFA. He was also an associate of Litivenenko.”

      I suggest skepticism about stories in the British tabloids citing anonymous sources. Just because they’re printed 3,000 miles away doesn’t make them more reliable than US tabloids.

  9. Pingback: Donald Trump to be the only President we’ve got | Phil Ebersole's Blog

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