[NOTE: On Mar. 5, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]
The Russians call it “kompromat” — “compromising information collected for use in blackmailing, discrediting, or manipulating someone, typically for political purposes.” In the Trump-Russia scandal, kompromat boils down to a question of Vladimir Putin’s leverage over Donald Trump:
What does Putin know about Trump that the American people don’t?
Eventually, the counterintelligence prong of Mueller’s investigation should answer that question, but a partial answer is already apparent. Regardless of whether criminal charges or articles of impeachment result, the national security implications are profound. Michael Cohen’s testimony last week is a reminder that, well into Trump’s presidency, Putin held at least two sources of kompromat.
Kompromat: Trump Tower-Moscow
Throughout the 2016 campaign and beyond, Trump claimed repeatedly that he had “nothing to do with Russia.” But according to Cohen, Trump knew that Trump Tower-Moscow discussions continued into June 2016. So did Putin. And for two years, Putin knew that Trump was lying to the American people about it. Here are a few highlights from the Timeline:
May 2017: Michael Cohen meets with Trump and Trump’s lawyer in the Oval Office to discuss Cohen’s upcoming congressional appearances, according to Cohen’s Feb. 27, 2019 testimony.
Aug. 28-30, 2017:The Washington Post breaks the story that Trump Tower-Moscow negotiations continued during the 2016 campaign. But someone feeds the Post false information that the discussions ended in January 2016. In false statements to congressional investigators and the public, Cohen says that negotiations ended in January — after he’d sent an email to Dmitry Peskov (Putin’s personal spokesperson) and never received a response. Peskov corroborates Cohen’s account.
Sept. 19, 2017: Cohen issues another false statement to Congress and the public, saying that the Trump Tower-Moscow negotiations ended in January 2016.
Oct. 25, 2017: Cohen repeats the Trump Tower-Moscow lie to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Nov. 29, 2018: Pleading guilty to previous false statements, Cohen admits that efforts to develop Trump Tower-Moscow continued into June 2016.
Because the American people didn’t know the truth, Putin had kompromat relating to Trump Tower-Moscow for the first two years of Trump’s presidency.
Kompromat: Russian Contacts and Election Assistance
Throughout the 2016 campaign and beyond, Trump denied that his campaign had any contacts with Russia and resisted suggestions that Putin wanted him to win. Again, Cohen’s recent testimony, together with a few highlights from the Timeline, reveals what Putin knew and the American people didn’t:
June 9, 2016: Three Russians (including at least one with Kremlin connections) meet secretly with Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower. They’re together because Russia has promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and wants to use it as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
June 14, 2016: The Washington Post breaks the story that Russian government hackers have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee. US intelligence agencies later determine that Russian military intelligence feeds the material to WikiLeaks.
July 18 or 19, 2016: Cohen is in Trump’s office when Roger Stone calls, according to Cohen’s Feb. 27, 2019 testimony. Over the speakerphone, Stone tells Trump that he just got off the phone with WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, who says that within a couple of days there will be “a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Trump’s response: “Wouldn’t that be great.”
July 22, 2016: As the Democratic National Convention begins, WikiLeaks releases its first tranche of stolen DNC emails. According to Mueller’s later indictment of Roger Stone, someone on Trump’s team directs a “senior Trump campaign official” to contact Stone about additional WikiLeaks releases.
July 27, 2016: At a press conference, Trump seeks Putin’s assistance in procuring Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Later that day, Russian hackers make their first attempt to break into servers that Clinton’s personal office uses.
July 8, 2017: The New York Times breaks the story that on June 9, 2016, Trump’s most senior campaign advisers met “with a lawyer linked to Kremlin.”
For a year, the American people didn’t know the truth. That gave Putin kompromat on Trump relating to his campaign’s contacts with Russia and its knowledge that Putin wanted to help Trump win.
Does Putin possess other Trump secrets? We don’t know what we don’t know.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
NOVEMBER 2015 – JUNE 2016: Cohen Keeps Trump Informed of Trump Tower-Moscow Developments; Sater and Cohen Consider a Free $50 Million Penthouse for Putin (revision of previous entry)
JULY 18 or 19, 2016: Stone Tells Trump About Upcoming Wikileaks Release
JAN. 20, 2017: Kilimnik Attends Inaugural
MAY 2017: Cohen Meets With Trump and Trump’s Lawyer to Discuss Cohen’s Upcoming Congressional Testimony
SEPT. 15, 2017: Kushner Security Clearance Revised to ‘Interim’
SEPT. 19, 2017: Michael Cohen Issues False Statement on Trump Tower-Moscow (revision of previous entry)
OCT. 20, 2017: Cohen Senate Appearance Postponed (this previous entry is has been deleted)
OCT. 24, 2017: Cohen Appears Before House Intelligence Committee
OCT. 25, 2017: Cohen Testifies Before Senate Intelligence Committee
FEB. 23, 2018: Kushner Security Clearance Downgraded
SHORTLY PRIOR TO MAY 23, 2018: Trump Orders Kelly to Grant Kushner’s Security Clearance
NOV. 6, 2018: Election Day: US Blocks Russian Troll Farm; Rohrabacher Loses; Democrats Win House; Republicans Keep Senate (revision of previous entry)
FEB. 25, 2019: Manafort’s Attorneys File Sentencing Memo in DC Case
FEB. 26, 2019: Court Affirms Mueller’s Authority
FEB. 26-27, 2019: Gaetz Threatens Cohen
FEB. 26-27, 2019: Cohen Links Trump and Stone to Wikileaks
FEB. 27-28, 2019: Trump Tweets: Cohen ‘Is Lying to Reduce His Prison Time’
MAR. 1, 2019: Trump Attacks Cohen, ‘Witch Hunt’
MAR. 1, 2019: Manafort Seeks Leniency in VA Case
MAR. 2, 2019: Trump Continues Attack on Cohen
MAR 3, 2019: Trump Attacks Cohen, ‘Presidential Harrassment’, ‘Witch Hunt’, Democrats’ ‘Abuse of Power’