For all we know right now, hopes for the endurance of Donald Trump’s presidency may rest with one of the least appetizing features of his business reputation. That is: Trump’s lack of devotion to promptly paying those he owes.
It has long been evident that Russia’s Vladimir Putin regime found the prospect of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ascending to U.S. president less than ideal for its interests. U.S. clashes over Ukraine and Syria left Trump an opening to tout the possible benefits of friendlier relations with Moscow.
Now we are in the middle of his first year in the White House, and nobody should be shocked that it turns out a lawyer with Kremlin contacts may have tempted the Trump camp with the prospect of juicy information on Clinton.
But perhaps the president’s team can show probers on their trail that there was never a quo for any alleged quid.
If you credit our intelligence agencies at all — and if you consider the curious sight of the free-swinging Trump pulling all verbal punches against Putin — it only makes sense that they had at least a flicker of an understanding.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing,” Trump said in a news conference last July. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.
“Let’s see if that happens. That’ll be next.”
“Rewarded mightily” is the phrase of a man who says he makes “the best deals,” who glorifies the transactional.
But did Trump do anything once elected to show any sense of indebtedness, presuming the Russians hacked and leaked Democratic emails?
So far, he doesn’t seem to be giving Putin what we presume Putin wants — a lifting of sanctions, for example.
For Trump’s purposes, his big first-time summit with Putin looks like a much bigger “nothing burger” than the email trail of his son Donald Trump Jr.
Just this week, Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, told Russia it must change its course in Ukraine to get European and American sanctions lifted.
Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, said last week Russia is “not just meddling in the United States’ election. They’re doing this across multiple continents, and they’re doing this in a way that they’re trying to cause chaos within the countries.”
Ironically, as these criminal investigations proceed, it may be best for Trump & Co. to let themselves be listed as deadbeats on Russian paper.
The word “collusion” gets kicked around a lot. This is a handy way for Democrats and other Trump-haters to make his campaign-time cordiality sound disloyal to Americans — especially in contrast to the “America First” sales pitch.
Collusion, per Merriam-Webster: “A secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose,” as in “acting in collusion with the enemy.”
But a key question in claiming collusion — which doesn’t define a specific crime — is whether Russia is really “the enemy” in its post-Soviet incarnation, even if Putin did once serve in the old KGB.
Authoritarian, yes. A rival for economic and power advantages, possibly. But an enemy? From where Trump and advisers sit, Russia surely offers, at least in theory, a useful partner against violent Islamic extremism — and an enabler of oligarchs putting funds in U.S. real estate.
In the mindset of businessman Trump’s transactional world, the meeting of his son, son-in-law and campaign manager with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya gets dismissed as something akin to a bad sales lead.
Nobody gets commissions for no-go deals, not in Trump's world.