To understand the dance between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, one only need think in terms of a mobster and the fool he’s managed to compromise. Putin is willing to do Trump’s bidding, to the extent that it keeps his asset in play. But Putin is just as willing to punish his asset in order to motivate him to try harder to deliver. I believe we’ve been seeing that play out in particular over the past few months. And it’s about to reach the next stage.
Putin tasked Trump with lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as his top priority. But for the past six months Trump declined to do it, presumably for fear that it would compromise his already teetering grasp on the presidency beyond repair. So a few months ago Putin took his first stab at motivating Trump by leaking the meetings that his own people had been having with Jared Kushner. How can I be so sure? Go back and look at the original reporting on those meetings; it’s based on the Russian Ambassador’s secure phone conversations with the Kremlin, which shouldn’t have been hackable to begin with. That’s because it wasn’t hacked; Putin just leaked it to the media himself. Taking down Trump’s son-in-law was the first warning shot to motivate Trump to lift sanctions. It didn’t work.
But then Putin tried the carrot approach. Trump concluded that his Russia scandal was all the fault of Jeff Sessions for recusing himself, and that his best way out of the mess was to get rid of Sessions; perhaps the next Attorney General would be willing and able to fire Robert Mueller. After Trump’s blunt force attempt at getting rid of Sessions in the New York Times didn’t work, Putin threw Trump a bone by leaking dirt aimed at finishing Sessions off. The source: once again, a secure phone call that Kislyak had with the Kremlin. The kind you can’t hack. The kind you’d only know about if you were in on the conversation.
Trump, as eager as he is to please Putin, still wasn’t willing to harm himself by lifting those sanctions. And then Trump’s own party decided to protect itself from his Russian exposure by making a move to permanently take away his power to lift Russian sanctions. It’s not a coincidence that a few days after the Senate held that vote, dirt suddenly leaked which incriminated Donald Trump Jr. This was Putin’s way of telling Trump to find a way to lift sanctions before Congress closed the window. Destroying Trump’s son-in-law wasn’t enough, so now Putin was going after his son.
That almost halfway worked. Trump somehow leaned on Paul Ryan to indefinitely delay the House vote on sanctions. But it wasn’t enough. The rest of the Republican Party has pushed Ryan into allowing the vote to go ahead. It’ll pass by a margin that Trump can’t veto. So now what? Who’s next? Putin has been burning people who are progressively closer to Trump, but to no avail. All that’s left is Ivanka. Trump cares about her the most. Don’t be shocked if Putin leaks dirt on Ivanka next, in one last ditch effort to motivate Trump to find a way to preempt that sanctions vote. Trump has proven he doesn’t care about his son-in-law or his son. Does he care enough about his prized daughter to throw himself on the fire?
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Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report