“There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But there never had to be…” @emptywheel

"There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But there never had to be..."

by digby

Marcy explains the Trump Tower quid pro quo to the Russia denialists:

Because there’s no shiny tower in Moscow with Trump’s name on it ... it is proof that when Don Jr took a meeting in June 2016 at which he (according to the sworn testimony of four people who attended) committed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad got elected, the possibility of a $300 million payoff didn’t factor in to Junior’s willingness to sign away American policy considerations on behalf of his father.

That’s not how criminal conspiracy law works.

If you sign up for a deal and take steps to make good on it — as Don Jr did on June 9, 2016 and Paul Manafort appears to have done on August 2, 2016 and Mike Flynn appears to have done, on Trump’s behalf, on December 29, 2016 — then it doesn’t matter if the partner to that deal fucks you over later in the process. And, after all, the Russians did continue to supply Trump with a steady supply of dirt on Hillary Clinton all through the election. They got Trump elected, or at least did what they could to help, even if that payoff wasn’t the one Trump was most interested in.

Do you think Oleg Deripaska, a key player in both the deal-making and likely in the cover-up of it, gives a shit if Paul Manafort — who had screwed Deripaska over years earlier — had his life ruined as part of the process of compromising a President and getting sanctions relief? My suspicion is we’ll learn that Deripaska actually magnified Manafort’s hurt, once he had gotten him to compromise himself and the campaign.

Do you think Putin really cares whether Trump — to say nothing of the United States — benefits from the stupid choices Trump made during the election? Putin — a far better “deal” maker than Trump — got a win-win either way: Either Trump succeeded in compromising America’s rule of law in an effort to squelch any investigation into what happened, robbing the United States of the claim to idealism that so irks the master kleptocrat, Putin, or Trump would spend his Administration desperately trying to find a way out, all the while Putin connives Trump into dismantling the alliances that keep Russia in check.

And, too, Putin’s election year operation exacerbated the polarization between Democrats and Republicans such that most Republicans and a goodly number of Democrats have been unable to step back and say, holy shit, this country got attacked and we need to come together to do something about it. Trump’s win got Republicans to fear Trump’s base so much that they care more about those fevered hordes than doing what is right for this country. And Democrats rightly want to punish Trump for cheating, but haven’t thought about what a least-damaging off-ramp for that cheater might look like.

Putin doesn’t care if Trump benefits from all this — though he is happy to keep toying with Trump like a cat plays before he eviscerates his mouse. He cares about whether he and his cronies win. And there are multiple ways for him to get a win out of this, whether or not Trump manages to eke out any kind of real payoff past the election.

And let’s be honest, Putin isn’t the only one playing this game. Certainly, Mohammed bin Salman feels the same way, even if his record of ruthless dealmaking is shorter and sloppier than Putin’s. The truth is that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are easy marks for a whole range of skilled operators willing to stroke their egos and dangle loot, and over and over again they’ve let themselves be bested in foreign policy negotiations, to the detriment of the interests of the United States. That they are so bad at deal making in no way disproves their culpability.

There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But there never had to be. All that was needed was the promise of a ridiculously lucrative narcissism-stroking deal for the Trump family to agree to shit that would hurt this country. And all the evidence suggests that they did, and continue to do so.

James Fallows interviewed Russia hand Bill Burns and Burns had this observation about Putin and Trump:

Fallows: Everyone who is not an expert has this question for Russia experts like you. Why does Donald Trump never criticize Putin, ever? Or cross him in any way? How can this be?

Burns: Whatever may lie beneath the surface of what Mueller is investigating, I don’t know. It’s important for us to find out, and I think we’re going to find out a lot more than we know now.

But even at this stage, what’s obvious is the case of Putin envy that Trump has. I think he’s attracted to the way autocrats lead. Maybe that’s how he led the Trump Organization, I don’t know. But there’s this very transactional kind of muscular unilateralism which Putin has come to embody, at least in the imaginations of a lot of people. And Trump is clearly enamored of that. So those are clearly two factors, and what the balance is between them, I just don’t know.

There’s a profoundly mistaken view that in dealing with an autocrat like Putin, what you want to do is just curry his favor and get along, and your amiable personal relationship is going to translate into the promotion of American interests. I think there’s little evidence in the history of dealing with Putin in the last 20 years that that pays off.

Fallows: Have you seen them interact in person?

Burns: I have seen Putin lots of times over the years. I watched [on TV] their event in Helsinki. I said publicly it was the single most embarrassing performance by an American president on the international stage I’ve ever seen. And that goes back a long ways! You had Trump standing alongside Putin, throwing 17 U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies under the bus—all in an apparent effort to get along with Putin. Which is totally at variance with what diplomacy is all about. It’s not about getting along with people. It’s about promoting your interests.

Fallows: What was Putin thinking then?

Burns: Oh, you could almost see it crossing his face: What an easy mark. It’s true of a lot of autocrats, that he sees that effort to ingratiate as a sign of weakness, and as opening the door to manipulation.

That doesn’t mean you have to pound the podium and throw things at him. But what he appreciates are firmness and consistency, and what he saw was anything but that.

Putin undoubtedly also knew before the election just how desperate Trump had been for a Moscow Tower project. He'd been angling for one for decades.

What an easy mark...