Skip to main content

Blackmail for Fun and Profit

Once in a while, I like to use this space to indulge in some idle speculation, taking a few what-ifs and seeing where they lead. I tend to do this in response to some stimulus, some ping to my brain. Which is just what Keith Olbermann provided in one of his podcasts last week.

He was talking about Jeff Bezos’ upcoming wedding to Lauren Sanchez, the woman with whom Bezos had been having the affair that ultimately ended his marriage. You'll recall that in 2019, Trump operators had a heavy hand in that breakup, having attempted to blackmail Bezos into coercing The Washington Post, which he owns, into covering Trump more obsequiously.

It's rare to see such an instance of high-level blackmail surface in public, and we only know about it because Bezos didn't bite. He outed himself, he went public about the whole affair, thereby ending his marriage, which was apparently on the ropes anyway.

An unusually happy postscript to this otherwise routine multi-billionaire divorce is what has since emerged as one of the most impressive philanthropic operations in the country. Mackenzie Scott, Bezos' ex-wife, took her half of Amazon and started giving it away, generously and methodically. She has already surprised dozens of worthy organizations with unheard-of injections of capital, and she's just getting started.

But I digress. Olbermann was talking about a botched blackmail attempt, at which, at the time, we all rolled our eyes, Trump being Trump. But then he tossed out an idea so startling, I've been thinking about it ever since. To paraphrase:

If Bezos told Trump's blackmailers to buzz off, how many others were there who didn't?

I'd never thought of the incident as anything more than a one-off, but since he asked, subsequent questions have practically asked themselves. Who else, among those in positions of power, was susceptible to blackmail? Who has caved to it? What have they done in return? Are they still on the hook? How many people have the kind of fuck-you money Bezos has?

There's a lot of revisionist thinking around Trump these days, in light of all the criminality that keeps surfacing. Part of it starts with the recognition that Trump has been deeply enmeshed in various organized crime syndicates for the better part of four decades. Seen in that light, the idea of an industrial-strength blackmail operation, complete with honey traps, dick-pics, and peeping-Tom videos is not much of a stretch.

So let's take a step back to review a few basics of Trump history.

First, Trump's crime spree in the White House was the culmination of a forty-year career in organized crime. This is profusely documented and not in dispute, though the mainstream press has either refused to follow its abundant threads or is deliberately not telling us about it. Either way, I urge you to see for yourself, starting with the trail of reputable journalism I followed back in February.

Second, there is abundant evidence — which may never be investigated, let alone punished — that Trump has been a Russian intelligence asset going back to the days of the old KGB. If it seems like he's been doing Putin's bidding all this time, it's only because he has.

Think about that when you consider the possible espionage charges against him. What does Jack Smith have, and how incriminating is it? How important were the documents Trump so badly wanted to keep? How were they used? With whom has he shared them? How many countries have the same information? What did Trump get in return?

The possibilities are mind-blowing, and we'll never know a tenth of it, even if Trump is convicted of a hundred felonies.

But with that in mind, let's hypothesize that while Trump was president, he had access to all sorts of dark resources and skill sets, both Russian and American. Do we doubt that he accessed them?

People in power are natural blackmail targets, and Republican politicians are especially vulnerable. Between their public rectitude and their private degeneracy, there's plenty for a blackmailer to work with.

And ever since Trump got our attention in 2015, the behavior of certain Republicans has been far out of character, and some of their turnarounds have been notably dramatic. I'm not the first to wonder what dirt Trump might have on them.

Rand Paul and Ron Johnson have both made trips to Russia, where every hotel room is bugged, and where blackmail is an art form. They came home with pro-Russia positions that were out of sync, not just with their party, but also with their own past behavior.

Mitch McConnell still has yet to explain either his wife's Chinese financial interests, or why he lifted sanctions on Oleg Deripaska in 2017, an apparent quid pro quo for an aluminum plant in Kentucky that, alas, never got built.

As for Lindsay Graham, rumors about his personal life suggest the sorts of weaknesses tailor-made for Russian-style sting operations.

As we think about this stuff, remember that blackmail is just one of many dark arts being used to undermine the institutions of democracy, and that Russia is deeply implicated in many of them.

Is there a connection between Russia and the wingnut loons in the House now playing chicken with the global economy? Putin is known to get aroused at the thought of a debt-ceiling collapse, and how it would weaken both the U.S. and NATO. Is the Freedom Caucus under Kremlin influence? What about the red-state legislatures currently remaking their states in Putin's image?

There is ample evidence that Russia is actively tampering with American politics, and it's surely in Russia's interest to have invested in Republicans at every level of government over the years. And when we speak of investment, it's not just about money. It's also about leveraging the whole kompromat bag of tricks, tried and tested in the world's largest kleptocracy.

As I said up top, this is speculation on my part. The Bezos sting might really have been a one-off, but I don't believe it. I'm also quite sure we'll never know for sure. Which is a shame, but that's what speculation is for.

Republicans and Russians have been pulling in the same direction for some time now, and it's hard to overstate what a jarring and abrupt about-face this is. For most of my lifetime, fierce animosity towards all things Russia was Republican dogma, practically a religion. And now it isn't.

Why? What changed them? True ideological conversion seems unlikely — these people don't believe in anything. So was it bribery? Extortion? Blackmail?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how they got to where they are, or who has dirt on them. What matters is that they've been doing Trump's — and therefore Putin's — bidding, whether they know it or not.

Blackmail is as old as civilization itself. Just because it didn't work on Bezos doesn't mean it doesn't work.


  1. It works well on those who are utter scum to begin with. That is the GOP in Congress.

  2. My favorite phrase: "These people don't believe in anything" I have wondered how they sleep at night, with the horrendous anti-democratic, racist things they do and espouse. Perfect answer, they believe in nothing but power. It is all so clear when you realize they don't have a conscience.

  3. I have said for a long time that it's not bribery or influence Republicans want. It's the integrity of their sorry soft asses they want to protect, first and last. They can't back down on gun sucking because they might get shot for it. That seeps through the whole party.

  4. I do not think that Trump was knowingly a Russian asset, This is because if he were, he would have blabbed it on The Apprentice or some such. Say what you will about the Russians, but their spycraft is not that mindbogglingly bad.

    1. I wouldn't underestimate Trump's knack for self preservation. Proof of that would be the end of him. Literally! Cuz treason.

    2. Given the news over the past 24 hours, it appears that Trump was admitting on tape about possession and existence of Iran attack plans, so clearly his self preservation instinct will not prevent him blabbing.

      It was clear to anyone that that this was the case for decades.

      Also, not literally treason, because the US constitution very tightly defines treason, and Trump's acts do not meet the definition, but literally espionage, which can carry the death penalty as well.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

France and Britain Just Gave the Finger to Fascism

There is now ample evidence that people with democratic systems of government actually like them, and would just as soon keep them, flaws and all. There seems to be a strong backlash occurring in several European countries, a trend toward shoring up democracies threatened by toxic authoritarian forces. In Poland last year, then in France and Britain last week, actual voters — as opposed to deeply compromised opinion polls — gave a big middle finger to the fascists in their midst. I don’t pretend to understand the electoral systems of these countries — let alone their political currents — but I’m struck by the apparent connections between different elections in different countries, and what they might be saying to us. I’ve spoken before of Poland , where ten years of vicious minority rule was overturned at the ballot box. A ban on abortion was the galvanizing issue — sound familiar? — and it brought an overwhelming number of voters to the polls, many for the fir

Are America’s B.S. Detectors Finally Getting an Upgrade?

  Can a person acquire an immunity to propaganda? I’ve been wondering. It was Julia Ioffe who got me started. She wrote last week of the dwindling effectiveness of the Russian disinformation industry. She reports that the bot-farms that caused all the mischief in 2016 are now a shadow of their former selves. Ever since their founder and leader, Evgeny Prigozhin , was blown out of the sky last year, they’ve come under the control of Putin’s office, which means poor performance is now institutionalized. This can be seen in the messaging being disseminated by these so-called influence campaigns, which is almost comically inept. The content is focused exclusively on undermining support for Ukraine, a subject that couldn’t be less relevant to most Americans. Anyone who actually cares about Ukraine will just laugh at the fumbling English and feeble logic of the posts they’re seeing. But what really got me thinking was Ioffe’s assertion that these campaigns are old

Democrats, Step Away from the Ledge

  Anxiety comes easily to Democrats. We’re highly practiced at perceiving a crisis, wanting to fix it immediately, and being consistently frustrated when we can’t. Democrats understand consequences, which is why we always have plenty to worry about. Republicans don’t give a rat’s ass about consequences — which is, let’s face it, their superpower. I wasn’t intending to write about last Thursday’s debate, mostly because I post on Tuesdays, and this could be old news by the time it gets to you. But then the New York Times weighed in with a wildly disingenuous editorial calling for Joe Biden to drop out of the race, and the rest of the mainstream media piled on. In the Times' not-so-humble opinion, Biden needs to consider “the good of the country,” something their own paper has repeatedly failed to do for almost a decade. And since this is now the crisis du jour for virtually every Democrat who watched that shitshow, I thought I might at l