Politics & Policy

The Corner

Why You Should Doubt that Salacious Trump Espionage Memo

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why You Should Doubt that Salacious Trump Espionage Memo

It’s looking more and more implausible by the hour, but go ahead, read the 35-page memo posted by BuzzFeed detailing a scenario where Vladimir Putin and the Russian government developed Donald Trump as an ally and an asset, gathered salacious compromising information about him, used him to collect information on Russians in the United States, and colluded with him and his campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Last night, in response to one of the memo’s claims, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen denied that he had ever been to Prague and posted a photo of his passport.

Elaina Plott confirms: “Two USC baseball sources confirm for me that Michael Cohen and his son visited campus on August 29th, time report places him in Prague.”

Wait, there’s more, from the Wall Street Journal: “The FBI has found no evidence that he traveled to the Czech Republic, where the meeting allegedly took place in August of last year, officials said.”

So one major detail in the memo is already proven false: a claim of Cohen secretly meeting with Kremlin officials in Prague in August. If that part is made up, there’s no reason to put more faith in the other allegations.

Various items in the memo that jumped out at me as being odd:

  • For a memo allegedly written by “a former British intelligence agent,” it contains only a few British spellings of words. (I found “cauterise” and “favourably.”) There are other interesting linguistic and style quirks, and a few errors; the author uses the article ‘a’ before the plural noun “showers.” UPDATED: Not a grammar error, the object in the sentence is singular, “show.”
  • On the other hand, the author knows the plural of “ruble” can be spelled “Roubles.”
  • The author uses the term “e-mail,” not “email”. This is generally the older way of referring to electronic mail.
  • The author refers to “US” not “U.S.”
  • Some pages have hand-written numbering in the corner, some do not.
  • These are photographs of the document, not scans. On pages 10, 11 and some others you can see the shadow of the hand and (presumably) the cell phone used to take the pictures.

Two explosive but implausible claims on page 7. First, “PUTIN motivated by fear and hatred of Hillary CLINTON.” Hatred, I guess I can see, but fear? Really? You think he was afraid of what a Clinton administration would do to Russia? After Hillary’s State Department signed off on a deal that gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States?

Secondly, the memo claims the Russian government was getting “intel from TRUMP’s team on Russian oligarchs and their families in US.” If true, this would be the most devastating allegation in the memo; Trump would be acting as an agent of Russian intelligence.

But think about this for a moment. Yes, Trump has had some dealings with Russian oligarchs over the years. But how much relevant information about those oligarchs would Trump have access to? How much would he know that Russian intelligence wouldn’t already know? And if you were a Russian émigré who the Kremlin didn’t like, would you be hanging around with Donald Trump? Would you be revealing potentially compromising or sensitive information to him?

Page 12: Sometime in July, “Kremlin concerned that political fallout from DNC e-mail hacking is spiraling out of control… President PUTIN and others in the leadership thought things had gone too far now and risked spiraling out of control.” Really? Did it feel like the political fallout was spiraling out of control in July?

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