BOOK REVIEW: Craig Unger’s ‘American Kompromat’

'The guy is not a complicated cookie, his most important characteristics being low intellect coupled with hyperinflated vanity. This combination makes him a dream for an experienced recruiter.’

American Kompromat: How the KGB Cultivated Donald Trump, and Related Tales of Sex, Greed, Power, and Treachery
Craig Unger
Copyright © 2021 Craig Unger

Penguin Random House LLC

The very best of mysteries are just that: intricate, puzzling conundrums often unknowable until the very end. If only real life were so neat and tidy. We’ve all been prisoners in a political mystery these last many years, and I for one was hoping for that final, liberating aha! When we discovered exactly what “kompromat” Vladimir Putin has on the former president, the leverage that explains Donald Trump’s unending willingness to compromise our security and collaborate. I was hoping Craig Unger had that final indisputable piece to our jigsaw puzzle. But alas …

Still, Unger tries his very best, taking us down mostly less traveled, all too often dark roads to accumulate some worthy clues. And, while there is still work to be done, he does explain how the KGB cultivated Donald Trump and, as promised, offers those related tales of sex, greed, power and treachery. For these reasons alone, “American Kompromat” is well worth your time.

Now, for some editorial reason I don’t quite understand, Unger puts this knock-your-socks-off summary at the very end of Chapter One: “My book will show how kompromat works by examining Jeffrey Epstein’s pedophile sex-trafficking operation, where he got his money from, his links to Israeli intelligence and to Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine Maxwell’s father, who worked so closely with the KGB. Similarly, it will look into how Russian intelligence penetrated Epstein’s operation and placed within it Russian nationals who infiltrated the highest level of Silicon Valley and America’s tech sector as part of Vladimir Putin’s assault on America.

“It will delve into Epstein’s fifteen-year friendship with Donald Trump, the women with whom they consorted, and how their friendship ended, Epstein’s ties to the super pimps whose modeling agencies supplied girls for Russian oligarchs — and kompromat for Russian intelligence.

“It will show how William Barr, during his first term as attorney general, under George H.W. Bush, opened the door, inadvertently perhaps, to Russian espionage activities in 1991. And it will show how nearly thirty years later, Barr and his associates in the new Catholic right, some of whom have ties to Opus Dei, came to play such a huge role in both the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court, and how Barr, as Trump’s attorney general, helped undermine the rule of law.”

I was reminded of Lewis Carroll’s Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, not quite knowing who is who, or how, or even why these odd things are going on. Because Kompromat takes us on a twisting, turning, often mind-boggling journey, with this strange collection of folks at Donald Trump’s party:

Unger writes: “Long after he took up residence in the White House, people asked again and again what the Russians had on Trump. And in a way, it’s really quite simple: They owned him … throughout the mid-eighties, New York was a hotbed of spies. There was the Russian Mafia in Brighton Beach. The Joy-Lud electronics store. Donald Trump. As yet unidentified moles — Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen — were wreaking havoc … [Emphasis added]

Semyon Kislin sold hundreds of TVs to Donald Trump for his Grand Hyatt. Image courtesy YouTube

Unger’s main source, Yuri Shvets, a former KGB major living outside Washington, DC “had decades of hands-on experience with KGB tradecraft … personal acquaintance with the KGB’s top brass, and an understanding of disinformation, the use of compromising materials, and various other ruses employed by Russian intelligence to throw Western observers off the trail. Thanks to his experience there, he was able to state confidently that Donald Trump had been cultivated as an asset for the KGB.”

Trump first came to the attention of Soviet intelligence “in 1977, after Trump married Ivana Zelníčková, a Czech national from a town in Moravia called Zlín … where the Czechoslovakian secret service (StB) had a plainclothes secret police force that was very much in league with the KGB … [and] started keeping a close eye on Ivana and her wealthy husband …”

Add Moscow’s exploitation of the Jackson–Vanik Amendment of 1974, allowing the increased immigration of persecuted Soviet Jews. Enabling significant numbers of Jewish members of Russian criminal gangs to come to Little Odessa in Brooklyn. Former head of KGB political operations in the U.S., General Oleg Kalugin, told Unger the goal was: “To penetrate all Western institutions. Government, primarily, and business, particularly high technology … creating a hole in America’s defenses so massive that huge numbers of Russian criminals and KGB spies could and did inundate the United States.”

According to Yuri Shvets, “[Semyon] Kislin was recruited … by the Odessa field office of the KGB, which had a special ‘Jewish department’ … ‘I spoke to a two-star general who had worked there at the time … and he said many of the Jews who were immigrating signed papers saying they would cooperate with the KGB. It was almost an ultimatum.’” Then there’s Tamir Sapir, who had fled the Soviet Union for Israel, then the United States, working a variety of jobs caring for the elderly, selling tools, working as a janitor and driving a taxi in New York.

Unger writes: “Both Sapir and Kislin were veritable poster boys for up-by-their-bootstraps Soviet émigrés, who, having arrived in the United States with the proverbial three dollars in their pockets, held menial jobs for a few years, and then somehow or other became incredibly wealthy … [While] many émigrés who agreed to work with the KGB forgot about their promises as soon as they got to the United States … Kislin was different … According to Shvets, Kislin stayed loyal to the KGB and turned Joy-Lud Electronics into an outpost that played a unique role for Soviet intelligence …

“In Sapir’s case, clues revealing his ties to the intelligence services surfaced in his home country. According to the Georgian Journal, he returned to the Soviet Union in 1984 to attend the Academy of the Ministry of the Interior, which was closely tied to Soviet intelligence … It was hard enough for Jews to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the seventies, as Sapir did, but to return to the USSR later and study at a university so closely tied to the KGB made no sense.” Shvets thought it “a typical story of infiltrating a KGB intel agent into the U.S.”

Co-owner of Joy-Lud with Tamir Sapir, Semyon Kislin, now allegedly a KGB “spotter agent,” began cultivating Donald Trump as a Soviet asset when he converted the Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt. Paying only a dollar for the dilapidated property, Trump cashed in political favors with the help of Roy Cohn, then won “insanely generous tax abatements.” Trump not only made a fortune, but became a national figure.

New Yorkers might remember the electronics war waged by Crazy Eddie and his competitors, but unlike Soviet diplomats and high-level officials, few of us knew about or shopped at the KGB-connected Joy-Lud. But Donald Trump did.

“‘For every espionage agent in the United States who had spent four or five years in this country and was returning back to Moscow, it was a must to bring back a TV set,’ said Yuri Shvets … ‘The only place was Kislin’s.’ Then they’d re-sell these appliances back in the Soviet Union for forty times what they paid at Joy-Lud … “In return, Sapir told Forbes magazine, his customers included the former Soviet minister of petrochemicals, who granted Sapir rights to distribute tens of thousands of tons of fertilizer and tens of millions of barrels of oil, while pocketing fees that made him rich … [and] the mere fact that Sapir sold commodities, in effect, confirmed his ties to the KGB, because selling oil was impossible without KGB approval.”

Trump’s decision to purchase TVs for the Grand Hyatt from Joy-Lud Electronics, Unger concludes “may be the key to unraveling the mystery of Donald Trump’s ties to Russian intelligence.” [Emphasis added]

Remarkably, “according to Bloomberg Businessweek, Trump, who later developed a reputation for stiffing his vendors, made sure he paid Kislin on time. ‘I gave [Trump] 30 days, and in exactly 30 days he paid me back,’ Kislin said. ‘He never gave me any trouble.’ ”

Unger notes: “According to Shvets, when Kislin reached out to Trump, he would have had to notify his KGB handler about the transaction. That was standard procedure. Once Kislin’s handler had been activated, New York station, in the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, had an opportunity to develop Trump as a new asset. From the KGB’s point of view, the most appealing quality about Trump was probably that he had a personality that was ideal for a potential asset — vain, narcissistic, highly susceptible to flattery, and greedy… ‘The KGB was happy. Kislin was happy. Everybody was happy,’ said Shvets. ‘It was a win-win situation.’” [Emphasis added]

Here’s yet another conjunction of interests: the Brooklyn El Caribe club was owned by Dr. Morton Levine and nephew Michael Cohen, attorney for Trump’s company. “At night, El Caribe ceded the premises to Russian Mafia kingpin Marat Balagula … who had strong ties to the KGB … [and] won control over enough gas stations and fuel dealerships to partner with old-school Italian mobsters in operations that became known as the Red Daisy gas tax scam and skimmed millions of dollars in tax revenues from the coffers of hundreds of gas stations …

“These funds had to be laundered. So David Bogatin, a Russian mobster who worked the scam with Balagula, and because Donald Trump was one of the few New York developers willing to take cash “went shopping for apartments and ended up at 721 Fifth Avenue, Trump Tower, the glistening new fifty-eight-story building that was the home of Donald Trump. Bogatin, however, wasn’t looking for a home to live in so much as a place to park his excess cash, and at a closing, with Donald Trump himself in attendance, he bought not one but five condominiums, putting down $6 million in cash, the equivalent of more than $15 million in 2020 dollars …”

According to a 2018 Buzzfeed investigation: “more than 1,300 Trump-branded condos in the United States were sold ‘in secretive, all-cash transactions that enable buyers to avoid legal scrutiny by shielding their finances and identities’ … given that the average price of the condos was $1.2 million, the total amount of flight capital being parked in Trump condos was likely more than $1.5 billion, a significant but unknown part of which came from Russians. And that involves the sale of condos only in the United States, and does not include Trump properties in Turkey, Canada, Panama, the Philippines, India, Azerbaijan, or elsewhere.” [Emphasis added]

Unger writes: “Among those who reportedly got Kislin-issued mortgages for Trump condos was Vasily Salygin, who later became an official of Ukraine’s pro-Putin Party of Regions, for which Paul Manafort, later Trump’s campaign manager, worked. And Kislin partner Tamir Sapir, who lived in Trump Tower until his death in 2014, also helped bail out Trump by funding the ill-fated Trump SoHo development.”

“For more than three decades, at least thirteen people with known or alleged links to the Russian Mafia held the deeds to, lived in, or ran criminal operations out of Trump Tower in New York or other Trump properties … buying multimillion-dollar condos through anonymous shell companies. And the Bayrock Group, the real estate development company that was based in Trump Tower and had ties to the Kremlin, came up with a new business model to franchise Trump condos after he’d lost billions of dollars in his Atlantic City casino developments — all of which made the perpetually bankrupt Donald Trump rich … and ended up with Donald Trump in the White House …

“At the time, the idea of engaging Trump in discussions about foreign policy and nuclear arms sounded downright silly, given his all-too-obvious lack of expertise, but … in the mid-eighties, for no discernible reason, Trump fancied himself one of the world’s leading experts on nuclear armaments. He knew everything about nuclear, or so he said … [and] he surprised Washington Post reporter Lois Romano in November 1984 by saying that he should take over the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union. ‘Some people have an ability to negotiate. It’s an art you’re basically born with. You either have it or you don’t … It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,’ he told Romano. ‘I think I know most of it anyway.’

In 1985, Manhattan, Inc., a monthly business magazine interviewed him. “Trump Tower had been the talk of international real estate … [and] with celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Johnny Carson, Bruce Willis, and Sophia Loren owning condos there, it had begun to define Trump as the ultimate luxury brand in the largely unbranded new sector of high-end condos. Even though one stupendous project after another never reached fruition or failed — a massive domed sports stadium, a 150-story building — Trump’s brand skyrocketed.”

Still, Trump was preoccupied with his ability to tackle the nuclear arms race, which prompted Manhattan, Inc. to suggest that “because you’re so interested in world peace, can you pose with a dove?”

Donald Trump and his peace dove, November 1985. Photo courtesy Manhattan, Inc.

“Peculiar as Trump’s nuclear fixation may have been, from the KGB point of view, it presented a new opening. In 1986, he met with Nobel laureate Dr. Bernard Lown, who, along with Soviet cardiologist Yevgeny Chazov, had just accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Knowing that Lown had recently returned from meeting Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Trump pumped him for everything he knew about the Soviet leader, and then declared that within an hour of meeting Gorbachev, he would end the Cold War …

“When I asked Yuri Shvets and [former CIA national intelligence officer] Glenn Carle about how a KGB agent might handle a new asset who was being cultivated, their answers were somewhat similar. ‘Be good to them,’ said Shvets. ‘Give them what they want. Have a good relationship.’ As Carle explained, ‘I think we [as handlers] are dream makers. We fulfill the dreams of our targets …’ ‘It was like he was created for this,’ said Shvets. ‘This is what the KGB is looking for. With Trump, it was so obvious. It was just striking.’ ”

Unger notes that Trump desperately wanted a place on the world stage, and his new interest in nuclear war only made the KGB’s task easier. “‘Trump’s contact would have called him and invited him to lunch or dinner on some pretext to discuss having a Trump Tower in Moscow, or to learn Trump’s ‘valuable opinion’ on important war and peace issues,’ said Shvets … [providing] a highly credible cover for contacts with Trump that could last for decades … In the end, Trump’s dreams of building a Trump Tower in Red Square were as ludicrous as his putative expertise on nuclear arms … At the time, the Soviets still zealously guarded the Berlin Wall to safeguard East Germans from the allure of capitalist luxuries in the West … [so] how could anyone really think that Soviet communists wanted a garish monument to conspicuous consumption … Nevertheless, Trump was incapable of resisting sycophantic flattery, so the Soviets humored him and played on his vanity …”

And so Donald Trump was invited to Russia.

Donald and Ivana Trump in St. Peterburg, Russia, July 1987; Yuri Shvets

“Before Trump was brought to Moscow, Shvets says, the KGB in New York City would have done what they called a ‘preliminary evaluation’ of his personality. For this they got information on him from their human assets in his entourage — Kislin, perhaps; maybe David Bogatin, who had bought five condos in Trump Tower; or possibly Natalia Dubinina … the daughter of the late Soviet ambassador to the United Nations and United States, Yuri Dubinin.

“Next came the professional evaluation, for which Trump would have had to meet with an experienced operative at least three or four times. ‘In terms of his personality,’ Shvets added, ‘the guy is not a complicated cookie, his most important characteristics being low intellect coupled with hyperinflated vanity. This combination makes him a dream for an experienced recruiter.’

“Traveling with his wife Ivana, Trump stayed at the National Hotel … almost certainly under constant observation … Meanwhile, he was given a grand tour of Moscow and entertained lavishly. Oleg Kalugin … has speculated that the KGB may have deployed prostitutes as ‘honey traps’ for Trump in hopes of entrapping the future president. Kalugin, who did not claim to have seen such materials, told me, ‘I would not be surprised if the Russians have, and Trump knows about them, files on him during his trip to Russia and his involvement with meeting young ladies that were controlled [by Soviet intelligence]’ …

“At the time, the KGB was also concerned about losing aging assets such as Occidental Petroleum’s Armand Hammer … [who] had aided the flow of funds and technology into the USSR, bribed foreign officials, and acted as a facilitator for the Soviet intelligence … He had continued to get lucrative contracts from the Soviets because he had special skills in laundering money and distributing it to Soviet intelligence …

“Whether Trump could fill Hammer’s shoes was a long shot … [yet] according to Shvets, Trump’s ongoing fixation with his nuclear negotiations provided an opening to the KGB that made him a highly plausible possibility. ‘They’d say, “You have great potential. Someday you’ll be a big politician. You have such an unorthodox approach! What great ideas! Such people as you should lead the United States. And then together we can change the world … There is a growing admiration in the Kremlin about your successes as a businessman, and we are looking for new ideas and opportunities, and I believe that there is an opportunity for your business in Russia.”

Unger tells us “in 1987, Trump was named by the KGB’s Service A, the Active Measures directorate, as an operational asset carrying out a so-called active measure by spouting KGB talking points as propaganda in the American press …” Then, just after Trump returned from Russia, there was a report in Lyndon LaRoche’s Executive Intelligence Review that “the Soviets were looking ‘more kindly on a possible presidential bid by Donald Trump’ …

“To get started, Trump turned to Roger Stone, a dirty trickster from the Nixon era who was then with the firm of Black, Manafort and Stone, a seamy K Street lobbying outfit that was just becoming known as the lobby shop of choice for tyrannical dictators all over the world … Trump decided to promote his newly acquired foreign policy expertise that had been fed to him by the KGB when he visited earlier that summer” by taking a full-page in Washington Post, New York Times and Boston Globe criticizing current U.S. foreign policy:

Donald Trump’s full-page ad in The New York Times urging the U.S. to no longer protect Japan.

Then Yuri Shvets received a cable in early September calling attention to “a successful active-measure operation … voicing KGB talking points in major American newspapers … Even though the new asset had no security clearance or access to classified documents, Shvets said, the KGB had concluded that he could still be used to channel active measures to influential people in the United States … The ad was assessed by the active measures directorate as one of the most successful KGB operations of that time … calling for the United States to stop spending money to defend Japan and the Persian Gulf … [and] for all practical purposes, called for the dismantling of the postwar Western alliance …

“‘The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help,’ the ad said. ‘It’s time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and others who can afford it, pay …’

“In effect, the asset was taking the shared bipartisan foundations of American foreign policy, policies that were the basis for the astonishing ascent of American power after World War II, and throwing them out the window. No wonder the Soviets were so enamored with his ideas …

As it happened, the new asset soon dropped out of the GOP primaries, but to the KGB he had already achieved something extraordinary. This active measure was successful enough that it was cause for a minor celebration. Even though the new asset was, relatively speaking, insignificant, Shvets remembered his name — Donald J. Trump.[Emphasis added]

So, Unger concludes: “the interactions of Trump surrogates and Trump himself with dozens of Soviet émigrés, Russian mafiosi, businessmen, and the like over forty years can be seen in an entirely different light, not so much as crimes but as part of standardized intelligence operations that served to bring Trump into the KGB’s fold, that tested him to see if he was worth cultivating, that compromised him through lucrative money-laundering schemes, sycophantic flattery, pie-in-the-sky Trump Tower Moscow projects, extravagantly well-paid franchising projects, and more.”

Add some other connections: Trump’s ties to oligarchs like Aras Agalarov, and their collaboration on his Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013; his deals with the Bayrock Group; and Paul Manafort’s ties to Putin’s pal Kilimnik “must be viewed not just as dubious financial deals with formerly Soviet entities, but as part of a long, ongoing Russian intelligence operation.

“Indeed, during the 2016 election cycle, the Russian Federation’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, the Russian successor to the Soviet KGB, found plenty of ways to subvert America’s elections without breaking the law. There was nothing illegal, for example, about naturalized American citizens like the Odessa-born billionaire oligarch Len Blavatnik and his businesses contributing millions to Mitch McConnell’s GOP Senate Leadership Fund and to the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, as he did in 2016.”

An April 2016 event brought together the Trump campaign and the Center for the National Interest (CNI), a conservative foreign policy think tank led by Russian born Dimitri Simes.

Dimitri Simes, photo courtesy

Some “described Simes as ‘an agent of the Kremlin embedded into the American political elite,’ … [who] through CNI, organized meetings between high-level officials at the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Department of the Treasury with Maria Butina, who was later arrested on espionage charges and pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to influence U.S. politics …”

Here are excerpts from Donald Trump’s Mayflower speech: “We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria … It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy … In NATO, for instance, only 4 of 28 other member countries besides America, are spending the minimum required 2 percent of GDP on defense. We have spent trillions of dollars over time on planes, missiles, ships, equipment, building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia.

“The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves … We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China. We have serious differences with these two nations, and must regard them with open eyes, but we are not bound to be adversaries …”

“Trump may not have been doing anything illegal at the Mayflower, but the Russians were there and in a position to expose him. That was kompromat … [they] had essentially hijacked Trump’s foreign policy in plain sight and nobody noticed …” [Emphasis added]

The Trump presidency turned rhetoric to reality. Witness his constant criticism of NATO, the suggestion that it might not be in the interests of the U.S. to defend NATO members from Russia aggression, the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, abandoning our Kurdish allies … Firing Comey and ham-stringing many of the most competent members of our intelligence services, replacing many at State and Defense … Add Rod Rosenstein’s narrowing of the Mueller probe to sideline the Russian intelligence investigation and Bill Barr’s deliberate mischaracterization of its conclusions.

Unger emphasizes: “The investigation into Trump’s well-documented four-decade relationship with the Russian Mafia, a de facto state actor, and Russian intelligence, and all the financial transactions between them, was nowhere to be found … [Emphasis added]

I’m going to leave it to you to take the intriguing but chillingly depressing journey into the overlapping worlds of William Barr, Jeffrey Epstein, and the most powerful law firms in Washington.

Some breadcrumbs to start you off: William Barr’s father was the headmaster at the Dalton School at which Jeffrey Epstein began to teach. Robert, the father of Epstein’s lover and co-conspirator, Ghislaine Maxwell, spied for the Soviets, and Russian intelligence infiltrated Epstein’s operation, providing young women who mostly likely unwittingly created kompromat for Epstein and the KGB to influence some of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

If you like spy novels, you’ll be interested in the incredible coincidences involving the very powerful, secret Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei, which knew for twenty years that Robert Hanssen “gave up the nation’s most important military and counterintelligence secrets, including the names of dozens of American assets in the Soviet Union …”

Meanwhile, “Hanssen’s brother-in-law, who later became an Opus Dei priest, was working in the Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr and his associate Pat Cipollone during the George H.W. Bush administration and that, during Barr’s tenure from 1991 to 1993, Hanssen was promoted twice after having been first discovered.”

And “Hanssen’s brother-in-law reported directly to Paul McNulty, the Justice Department spokesman under Barr who would later be the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Hanssen and somehow agreed not to prosecute Hanssen’s wife, allowing her to keep most of her husband’s pension, or $39,000 per year.”

There are significant connections between Opus Dei and the incredibly conservative agenda of folks like Bill Barr, Pat Cippolone, and Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society. Leo, of course, has shepherded a generation of conservatives onto the bench of our courts, high and low. These are the same men who, by inflating the power of the American presidency, helped Trump dismantle democratic safeguards like the separation of powers, the traditional distance between the Justice Department and the White House, and the ability of Inspectors General to investigate misuse at public agencies.

Unger concludes: “Given all these unexplored conflicts, this untold chapter of the Hanssen story can be seen as crucial to opening the floodgates for the Russians. At the same time the KGB was cultivating Trump, it was also undermining the FBI from within. The very institution tasked with protecting America against Soviet espionage was under siege, and one of its key sentinels, Robert Hanssen, was a traitor.”

Meanwhile many of these conservative attorneys worked at major international law firms representing billionaire Russian oligarchs, and financial institutions such as Alfa Bank and Deutsche Bank laundering their money. They represented Jeffrey Epstein. And “during the Trump administration, amassed extraordinary power in such formidable bodies as the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of New York, the FBI, the White House counsel’s office, the National Security Council, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Supreme Court … Indeed, it is not possible to fully understand Trump’s success in shattering norms and violating laws without understanding the motivation and mindset of his Praetorian Guard, led by William Barr and a small group of attorneys with ties to Opus Dei.”

Then, just in case you haven’t had enough of the rabbit hole, Unger tells the story of the former Palm Beach deputy sheriff John Mark Dougan who ends up in Moscow with some of Epstein’s tapes.

Former Palm Beach Deputy Sheriff John Mark Dougan, now in Russia. Photo courtesy ‘Kompromat’

As for some conclusions, Unger writes: “Almost immediately after he was installed in the Oval Office, Donald Trump showed he clearly had gotten Russia’s message … And why was Trump doing that?

“The answer, I believe, is that John Brennan, Michael Morell, Michael Hayden, and James Clapper were right when they said that Donald Trump was a Russian asset … Trump answered more of Putin’s prayers than the Russian leader could possibly have imagined, inflicting more damage on NATO during the first three years of his administration than all its foes during its entire seventy-year history … Worst of all, in terms of Trump’s stunning deference to Putin, on June 26, 2020, the New York Times published reports that Russia was offering lucrative bounties to the Taliban to target remaining American troops in Afghanistan … Moreover, his antipathy toward the military was crystal clear. As the Atlantic reported, he had bridled at being forced to go to an American military cemetery near Paris. Trump said, ‘Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.’ Separately, he had referred to 1,800 marines who died in battle as ‘suckers’ …

“Trump went even further to win Putin’s favor by directing the CIA to share intelligence on counterterrorism with Russia … As part of his assault on NATO, Trump had essentially seized control of U.S. intelligence and had, in effect, muted counterintelligence reporting on his ties to Russia … And it is hard to imagine agents in the CIA or FBI bothering the president with additional reports that were critical of Putin’s Russia. How could the FBI, the CIA, or our military possibly protect us from our gravest national security threat when it came from the man they had pledged to serve? …

“And so Trump’s whitewash continued. To that end, he granted clemency to Roger Stone, who had been convicted of no fewer than seven felony counts — of obstructing a congressional inquiry, of perjury, of witness tampering — all to cover up his effort to get information about Democrats’ emails hacked by Russians to help Trump win in 2016. Trump clearly benefited from Stone’s crimes, and for all we know, he may have ordered them.

“But commuting Stone’s sentence was not merely an act of cronyism, of Trump doing a favor for a friend. Stone had the goods on Trump but didn’t talk. He had been convicted of lying to protect Trump. If Trump let him languish in jail, especially with the ongoing pandemic, he might talk. So in letting Stone walk, Trump was protecting himself.

“And in the end, that’s what it was all about — keeping secrets. Keeping Roger Stone happy so that he wouldn’t talk. And that would help keep Trump in power, which was essential to Trump, because as a private citizen he could be prosecuted. That meant keeping any compromising materials — kompromat — out of the public eye. It meant keeping transcripts of Trump’s private conversations with Putin in the vault, on the top-secret White House server. It meant keeping Trump’s financial records secret. Keeping the Jeffrey Epstein files in safe hands …

“Having already installed the outrageously unqualified John Ratcliffe as director of National Intelligence, Trump now began to decapitate the surveillance state. On November 9, Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. The next day, Trump appointed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a steadfast Trump loyalist, as acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence …

“As to Trump’s fate, that was still unclear …” So while Biden won the election, over the last many decades Unger has shown us that with the help of the Russians, Donald Trump won so much more than he lost: “Laundering money for the Russian Mafia through Trump luxury condos, to partnering with wealthy Soviet émigrés in franchising scams, to becoming involved in countless financial irregularities, to creating secret back channels with the Russians, to partying with Jeffrey Epstein, and on and on …”

And as Yuri Svets argues, the Russian relationship with Donald Trump “paid off much, much more than anyone could possibly have imagined.”