Collusion should be one of the bibles of the resistance.
With Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, journalist Luke Harding eviscerates the many disinformation campaigns swirling around the election of the forty-fifth president of the United States. A veteran of the Moscow beat for a British newspaper, The Guardian, Harding lays out the simple narrative that allies Trump with Vladimir Putin. The word “collusion” fails to address the extent of Trump’s crimes. These are treasonous acts carried out with bumbling imprecision by a campaign staff and with the likely knowledge of Trump himself. The former is credibly proven by Harding (and hopefully by the special prosecutor) while the latter remains an infuriating matter of supposition.
World history feels like an unlikely plot from a poorly executed season of House of Cards since Election Day 2016. The machinations of spy networks and hacking collectives are too arcane for regular citizens who are trying to reckon with what happened to the United States. For the sake of narrative expediency, a hero must be found to help navigate us through the morass of international shadow societies. Harding finds his protagonist in Christopher Steele, the author of the now famous dossier pertaining to Donald Trump and his dealings with Russia.
Steele is a former British spy who worked in Russia at the end of Soviet rule and its aftermath. He is an expert in the KGB and the methods the former spy network used to cultivate and turn foreigners to work for them. Typically, the most successful method was blackmail involving prostitutes, but they also utilized loans, shady business deals and money laundering. Their usual marks were puffed up individuals who weren’t very intelligent. According to both Harding and Steele, Trump was a dream for any Russian spook, now serving under the acronyms FSB and SVR, due to the New York billionaire’s large, fragile ego and lascivious nature.
In 2009, Steele left the MI-6, the British spy service as any casual viewer of a James Bond film knows, to form Orbis, a private sector firm specializing in political intelligence. He was now in competition with his former colleagues, but with a paucity of resources. But what Harding stresses and Steele’s record proves out is the thorough meticulousness and professional manner with which the former spy comports himself. Before the Trump dossier, Steele had worked on a case that showed Russian influence peddling in its bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Steele’s work exposed the corruption within FIFA, world football’s main governing body. This case helped solidify Steele’s reputation in the private sector and augment the partnership between Orbis and a Washington D.C. intelligence firm, Fusion GPS.
For those who may not follow this story as obsessively as others, Fusion GPS began researching what would become the Trump dossier when contracted by Paul Singer, a wealthy Republican donor. When events made it evident that Trump would be the Republican nominee, Singer canceled the contract and the Clinton campaign assumed it. The rest is the stuff of Fox News conspiracy theories and admonishments from Congress people on the right. Steele is being portrayed as a sort of information mercenary, selling inflammatory rumors to the highest bidder. Collusion functions to clear the name of its protagonist. Harding does so by laying out the facts of Steele’s life. By all accounts, Steele is an honorable man who is fiercely loyal to his network of sources. He knows exposure will mean death for the people who help him. His career as a spy was distinguished and he only left it after the death of his wife created the need for a greater salary with which to raise his children. Christopher Steele is a serious, professional person, in so many ways the antithesis of a great number of his current attackers.
While Steele is the protagonist of Harding’s account, he is but one player working among a rogues’ gallery. The roles of the currently indicted include former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son, Mike, Jr., campaign strategist Paul Manafort and his assistant, Rick Gates, and foreign policy advisors, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Chapter by chapter, Harding connects these men to the known timeline of suspected criminal acts and clandestine meetings that helped get Trump elected. The extent of the conspiracy against the United States looks so clear that the glacial pace at which the law works is infuriating.
This is not a salacious tome like Michael Wolff’s vastly wider read Fire and Fury, but it is an excellent primer that outlines the geopolitical forces that brought us to this moment. From the fall of the Soviet Union to the rise of Putin, the erosion of faith in democratic institutions and the proliferation of social media and porousness of the digital age, Harding connects it back to Steele and his dossier. His work was known for months before Buzzfeed finally published it in January of 2017. The FBI held the dossier as credible because it confirmed information they already had about Russia’s influence campaign into the 2016 election. But its importance was being drowned out by the endless news cycle hunting for that elusive dirt in Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Of the FIFA case, Harding writes that Steele’s work was the spark that caused the investigative fire. The same is true with the Russia investigation. A year ago, allegations of collusion were considered a Democratic rationalization for an election loss, but the last few months have shown the veracity in the allegations. Steele’s commitment to his work and willingness to defend it under oath makes him a credible narrator and another hero getting his reputation decimated by the likes of Sean Hannity and Lindsey Graham. History will remember Steele fondly. The same is unlikely for the other two.
Collusion should be one of the bibles of the resistance. When commitment wanes, a reading of any random page or chapter will be sufficient to reignite passion for the cause. That is if there’s ever a time when there’s a shortage of outrage during the Trump administration.