From the Telluride Daily Planet, founded 1898, published Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in Telluride, Colorado, comes a local news item that may have wider significance. Last week, before a roomful of a hundred people at the Wilkinson Public Library, carried by Telluride TV and sponsored by the Telluride Ski & Golf Company, a former CIA officer called Bob Baer shared what he knew about Donald Trump and Russia. The newspaper reports that:
Baer began digging after becoming privy to the Trump-Russia ties during the 2016 election cycle, when he received a tip from a current Democratic operative who asked him to reach out to an ex-KGB officer.
‘I knew from the phone number from the FBI that it was a legit KGB guy,’ he said.
He added that the man on the other end of line said, ‘We have a tape of Donald Trump.’
The ‘tape’ was supposedly of Trump getting prostitutes to urinate in front of him in a Moscow hotel room. This was the allegation revealed later with publication of the ‘dossier’ written by a former MI6 officer, Christopher Steele. The ‘Democratic operative’ in Baer’s account was Cody Shearer, not in fact a member of the Clinton campaign or working for the DNC, but a journalist who was also an old friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In the summer of 2016, he was investigating Donald Trump and had come across the ‘ex KGB man’. He asked Baer for his opinion.
Shearer’s ‘journalists’ notes’ were later obtained by the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes. He wanted to use them to discredit the Steele ‘dossier’. Since both documents talked about a sex tape that could be used to blackmail Trump, Nunes hoped to push the story that Steele’s claims had all been cooked up in the first place by the Clintons and their allies. Unfortunately for Nunes, the timeline does not support this. Steele wrote most of his reports in June 2016. Shearer did not write his notes until September and October 2016 – they could not have been the origin of the dossier.
However, Shearer did write his notes months before Steele’s dossier was published, which was in January 2017. Was Shearer’s ‘ex-KGB’ man then a second source providing corroboration for the dossier’s sensational story of the ‘pee-tape’. Perhaps. Perhaps not…
When the dossier was first published, The Spectator reported that there were two additional sources for Steele’s account of a sex blackmail tape. As it happens, the ex-KGB man now publicly discussed by Baer was one of them.
Steele’s friends say he has since received information that as many as ten countries might have kompromat – the Russian word for compromising material – on Trump. This could be evidence that for the past 40 years Trump has been recklessly going around the world screwing anything that moves – and not caring who might be filming. Or it might be that all these stories are many streams – so to speak – from the same fountainhead: a Kremlin provokatsiya, or elaborate and sophisticated hoax.
In 2016, as now, before the audience at Wilkerson Public Library, Baer asked the right question: ‘Was this KGB disinformation?’ (The Soviet KGB was of course abolished in 1991 and replaced by the Russian FSB. But the new organisation carried over both the trade-craft and the personnel of the old, so many intelligence professionals in the West still refer to the ‘KGB’.)
Without any ‘tapes’ – and perhaps not even then – we won’t know the truth of whether Donald Trump was vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. Some have argued that the Kremlin will release fake tapes to discredit any that might be real. Regardless, the Telluride Daily Planet quotes Baer as saying that Trump unwittingly became a Russian ‘agent of influence’ – someone susceptible to manipulation – as early as 1986. Trump was, allegedly, at a Manhattan cocktail party when he met some KGB ‘illegals’, agents under non-official cover, that is spies operating without accreditation as diplomats. It was, according to Baer, the start of a long relationship during which they ‘filled his head’ with talk of a presidential run. ‘It was a piece of flattery,’ Baer said. ‘The Russians started his political aspirations.’
It will be very difficult for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to get at the truth of events that happened such a long time ago. It would be much easier to stick to what happened last year, in the Oval Office. That is why there is speculation that if the special counsel accuses Trump of anything, it will be obstruction of justice, for asking James Comey to ‘go easy’ on the ‘good guy’ Mike Flynn. When it comes to Mueller, who does not leak, there is only ever speculation. But he will soon go into purdah, with no more announcements of indictments, so as not to be seen to influence the mid-term elections in November. (This is what he will do if he follows Department of Justice guidelines, anyway.) President Trump might expect to learn his fate by the middle of September. Expect a crescendo of tweets.