Monday, June 24, 2024

News and Ideas Worth Sharing

HomeArts & EntertainmentBOOK REVIEW: 'Russian...

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump’ by Michael Isikoff and David Corn

Isikoff and Corn try to answer an essential question: Why is Trump so enamored of Putin? So willing to turn a blind eye to Russia’s efforts to sabotage American democracy, so unwilling to strike back when he continually brags about his commitment to answer every blow with 10?

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump
By Michael Isikoff and David Corn
March 2018
Hachette Book Group
New York, NY 10104

If living in Trumpovia has got you down, there is, at least, a very silver lining: the rebirth of American investigative journalism and the recent boom in publishing Trump-inspired books.

Two such journalists—Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News and David Corn of Mother Jones—have conspired to bring us “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.” “Russian Roulette” has spent the past four weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

The president’s recent firing of Andrew McCabe, just hours before the assistant director of the FBI was due to retire, fits so perfectly into Isikoff and Corn’s narrative one has to wonder whether Mr. Trump is getting a portion of their royalties.

But even as their ink dries, the story has taken enough Stormy Daniels twists and turns to deserve a revised edition. Most recently, there’s the seizure of a multitude of files from Michael Cohen and the Watergate-like possibility of tape recordings. And, of course, the possibility that, even before I finish this review, President Trump might take a break from tweeting about “slimeball” Comey to permanently finish Attorney General Sessions, or Assistant AG Rosenstein or the white whale of them all, Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

But let’s begin with this extensive excerpt from “Russian Roulette” and its attempt to explain the source of Trump’s ever-increasing fury at former FBI director Comey, McCabe, Sessions, Rosenstein and much of our intelligence community:

“It was the afternoon of January 6, 2017, and for two hours, the president-elect had sat in a conference room at Trump Tower and listened to the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community brief him on an extraordinary document: a report their agencies had produced concluding that the Russian government had mounted a massive covert influence campaign aimed at disrupting the country’s political system and electing him president of the United States. Trump had controlled his anger during this meeting—at times raising questions, expressing doubts, and clinging to the idea that it might all be a lie, part of some Deep State plot to taint his defeat of Hillary Clinton the previous November and undermine his authority as president.

James Comey, James Clapper, John Brennan and Michael Rogers. Photo courtesy

“When the spy chiefs – Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA director John Brennan, and National Security Agency director Adm. Michael Rogers – left the room, one of them stayed behind. FBI director James Comey then handed Trump something else. It was a two-page synopsis of reports prepared by a former British spy alleging that Trump and his campaign had actively collaborated with Moscow. The memos claimed Russian intelligence had collected compromising material on Trump that could be used to blackmail him, including a tape of him engaging in sordid behavior with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room. The FBI was not giving him this information because it believed the reports, Comey explained to Trump. In fact, the Bureau hadn’t confirmed any of the lurid details—and Comey told him that he was not personally under investigation. But the material was circulating within the media and might become public. The intelligence community, Comey said, merely wanted to provide him a heads-up.

“When Comey left, Trump was incensed. ‘It’s bullshit,’ he told his aides. None of this was true. The discussion turned to why Comey had gone through this exercise. Suddenly, it all made sense to Trump. He knew exactly what this was.

“It’s a shakedown,” Trump exclaimed. They were blackmailing him. Comey—no doubt, with the approval of the others—was trying to send him a message. They had something on him.”

I’ll leave it to the therapists to posit a diagnosis, but we might perhaps be dealing with a guilty conscience. With someone who knows a bit about the shakedown. Or as New York City developers would prefer to put it, The Art of the Deal.

I kept thinking about those critical moments the authors clearly haven’t yet found a leaker to let them in on, the who-said-what-to-whom, the pre-meeting meeting when Brennan, Rogers, Clapper and Comey picked straws to see who would be lucky enough to stay behind to brief the new president on the possibility the Russians would use the Moscow sex tape to blackmail him. Had Comey picked a longer straw, it might have been “slimeball” Brennan we’d been reading about on this morning’s Trump Twitter feed.

From that moment on, for Donald Trump, it was Comey who had to go, the Comey he had praised on the campaign trail. And it wasn’t just Comey—now it was Comey & Company. McCabe was Comey and Comey was McCabe and, even though they had previously been investigating Hillary Clinton and widely criticized for doing so, that no longer counted for anything. And because one thing leads to another and infections spread so, really, if Comey knew, Clapper and Brennan and Rogers knew. And hadn’t McCabe’s wife, Jill, run as a Democrat and taken $500,000 from the Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s PAC? McAuliffe was Hillary. Of course, the fact that Donald Trump had once been a Democrat and funded Democrats no longer counted for anything. Like Nixon before him, Trump was counting names. Already slipping into a Nixonian paranoia. Fake News. Deep State.

Isikoff and Corn try to answer an essential question: Why is Trump so enamored of Putin? So willing to turn a blind eye to Russia’s efforts to sabotage American democracy, so unwilling to strike back when he continually brags about his commitment to answer every blow with 10?

Their Miss Universe story is so instructive I’m going to do some re-arranging and tell their story in chronological order.

Aras Agalarov and Donald Trump. Photo courtesy

“Trump’s Miss Universe landed in Moscow because of an odd couple: Rob Goldstone and Emin Agalarov … Emin—he went by his first name—was young, handsome, and rich. He yearned to be an international star. His father, Aras Agalarov, was a billionaire developer who had made it big in Russia, building commercial and residential complexes, and who also owned properties in the United States.”

Goldstone, Aras Agalarov, and Emin were in Las Vegas in March 2013 when Trump came for his Miss USA contest. “Russian Roulette” tells us: “When they finally got together in the lobby of his hotel, [Trump] pointed at Aras Agalarov and exclaimed, ‘Look who came to me! This is the richest man in Russia!’ (Agalarov was not the richest man in Russia.)”

They had a mutual interest in holding Miss Universe in Moscow. Emin wanted to showcase his talent; Trump needed a venue and desired to create business relationships with the Putin regime. As always for Trump, there was money to be made, more publicity and the ability to move without constraint amongst beautiful young women in various stages of undress. But as Felix Sater, one of Trump’s partners, told Chris Hayes of MSNBC, the grand dream was to build the world’s highest building—a Trump—in the heart of Moscow.

Agalarov had Crocus City Hall, “a grand seven-thousand-seat theater complex … and [could] bypass the notorious bureaucratic morass that was a regular feature of doing business in Russia. He had accumulated a billion-dollar-plus real estate fortune in part by catering, like Trump, to the super-wealthy … Agalarov had been tapped by Putin to build the massive infrastructure—conference halls, roadways, and housing—for the 2012 Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok.”

Ike Kaveladze. Photo courtesy

In Vegas “Trump, his attorney Michael Cohen and his bodyguard/assistant Keith Shiller joined Emin and his British publicist Rob Goldstone, and Aras Agalarov at CUT, a nightclub at the Palazzo. Also at the table was an unusual associate for Trump: Ike Kaveladze, the U.S.-based vice president of Crocus International, an Agalarov company. In 2000, a Government Accountability Office report identified a business run by Kaveladze as responsible for opening more than two thousand bank accounts at two U.S. banks on behalf of Russian-based brokers. The accounts were used to move more than $1.4 billion from individuals in Russia and Eastern Europe around the globe in an operation the report suggested was ‘for the purpose of laundering money.’ … Kaveladze claimed the GAO probe was ‘another Russian witch-hunt in the United States.’”

Later they headed to a “raunchy nightclub in the Palazzo mall called The Act … The club featured seminude women performing simulated sex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism … Among the club’s regular acts cited by the judge was one called ‘Hot for Teacher,’ in which naked college girls simulate urinating on a professor… (The Act shut down after the judge’s ruling. There is no public record of which skits were performed the night Trump was present.)”

According to Isikoff and Corn, Trump seemed obsessed with meeting the Russian president. “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?” Trump had tweeted in June … Then while in Moscow, Trump received a private message from the Kremlin, delivered by Aras Agalarov … ‘Mr. Putin would like to meet Mr. Trump.’ … But as his time in Russia wore on, Trump heard nothing else. He became uneasy.

“‘Is Putin coming?’” he kept asking … “Trump could barely contain his praise for Russia’s president: ‘Look, he’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s representing. If you look at what he’s done with Syria, if you look at so many of the different things, he has really eaten our president’s lunch. Let’s not kid ourselves. He’s done an amazing job.… He’s put himself at the forefront of the world as a leader in a short period of time.’” (Emphasis added.)

Isikoff and Corn suggest this trip to Moscow holds significant clues to Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Putin’s behavior in Ukraine etc., and the Russian attempt to intervene in our electoral process: “His two days there would later become much discussed because of allegations that he engaged in weird sexual antics while in Russia – claims that were not confirmed. But this visit was significant because it revealed what motivated Trump the most: the opportunity to build more monuments to himself and to make more money. Trump realized that he could attain none of his dreams in Moscow without forging a bond with the former KGB lieutenant colonel who was the president of Russia …”

By the way, the alleged sexual antics that the Steele dossier refer to were not dissimilar to the acts that the Cut specialized in. And “Russian Roulette” reminds us that “Schiller would later tell congressional investigators that a Russian approached Trump’s party with an offer: he wanted to send five women to Trump’s hotel room that night … Schiller said he didn’t take the offer seriously and told the Russian, ‘We don’t do that type of stuff.’”

Regarding the Trump Moscow hotel, “Russian Roulette” notes: “The state-owned Sberbank announced it had struck a ‘strategic cooperation agreement’ with the Crocus Group to finance about 70 percent of a project that would include a tower bearing the Trump name … ‘The Russian market is attracted to me,’ Trump told Real Estate Weekly. ‘I have a great relationship with many Russians.’ He added, with his customary exaggeration, ‘almost all of the oligarchs’ had been at the Miss Universe event …

“A letter of intent to build the new Trump Tower was signed by the Trump Organization and Agalarov’s company. Donald Trump Jr. was placed in charge of the project. A few months later, Ivanka Trump flew to Russia and scouted sites with Emin for the new venture. “We thought that building a Trump Tower next to an Agalarov tower—having the two big names—could be a really cool project to execute,” Emin later said.”

While Putin never made it to Miss Universe, “shortly after the Miss Universe event, Agalarov’s daughter showed up at the Miss Universe office in New York City bearing a gift for Trump from Putin. It was a black lacquered box. Inside was a sealed letter from the Russian autocrat. What the letter said has never been revealed.”

Alexander Litvinenko in hopsital. Photo courtesy

I learned something very interesting about Christopher Steele, the author of the memos that make up the now-famous dossier. Remember Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian intelligence officer and political dissident fatally poisoned in London in 2006? The British government launched an intelligence inquiry to assess Russian complicity. “Russian Roulette” tells us: “Tasked with this assignment, MI6, the British spy service, turned to its top Russia specialist to lead the investigation. His name was Christopher David Steele.

“A turning point in the case came when a British doctor figured out the poison slipped into Litvinenko’s tea was polonium-210 – a highly radioactive substance almost exclusively under the control of Russia’s nuclear agency. Someone high up must have approved providing this substance to the two Russian assassins who flew from Moscow to London to meet Litvinenko. (The two Russian operatives had left behind a trail of radioactive contaminants – in hotel rooms, bathrooms, and on a British Airways aircraft.)

“Soon Steele was in the Cabinet Office briefing room …This was likely a state-sponsored assassination, he told them, and the orders probably came from Putin through Nikolai Patrushev, then the director of the FSB, the successor to the KGB. Steele put the odds at 80 to 90 percent …

Nikolai Patrushev. Photo courtesy

“‘If al Qaeda had done something like this, people would have been up in arms,’ Steele later told colleagues. ‘There was polonium all over London. [Prime Minister Brown and his ministers] were genuinely shocked. Here was a member of the United Nations Security Council that had just committed an act of nuclear terrorism.’

“The question was, what to do about it? Should the British government retaliate against Putin and make clear he couldn’t get away with it? These were not questions Whitehall was eager to deal with. The Brown government expelled a few Russian diplomats, but no sanctions were imposed, and business with Moscow went on as usual.

“Among those also reluctant to grapple with troubling questions raised by Litvinenko’s murder was MI6’s partner across the Atlantic: the CIA. When Steele’s U.S. intelligence colleagues were apprised of his conclusions in the Litvinenko case, they were not excited or overly concerned. ‘It’s your problem, not ours,’ they said.”

But this chapter offers yet more evidence of how well regarded and respected Christopher Steele was by MI6. And of his competence. This offers, as well, an interesting presentiment of the Democratic administration’s disinterest, and perhaps incompetence, when presented with clear evidence of Russian willingness to operate and commit crimes within the borders of its Western competitors.

Isikoff and Corn remind us: “A decade after Litvinenko’s assassination, the U.S. government would face a similar situation: how to handle an attack from Putin. And Steele would again be in the middle of the fray.” (Emphasis added.)

“Russian Roulette” offers an interesting perspective on the attempts of the Obama/Hillary Clinton Administration to reset relations with Russia, and how their failure and the resulting animosity might have fueled Putin’s desire to help defeat Hillary Clinton. We also learn about an odd episode that, given recent events, is now of interest: “In various meetings and communications, Clinton and Lavrov hammered out the details … for a new nuclear arms treaty.

“In July, Obama visited Moscow, and he and Medvedev signed an agreement that would allow U.S. military planes to fly through Russian air space to deliver supplies to U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan – a top priority for the Pentagon. Months later, in September, Obama and Medvedev met again at the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, and Medvedev signaled Russia would be amenable in joining the United States and other Western nations in pressuring Iran to limit its nuclear program.

Oleg Deripaska. Photo courtesy Wall Street Journal

“But there were puzzling moments in Clinton’s dealings with Lavrov. During their meetings, the Russian minister kept asking Clinton to intervene on behalf of a billionaire Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, who had been periodically blocked from entering the United States because U.S. officials suspected he was tied to organized crime in Russia. Lavrov wanted Clinton to help Deripaska obtain a visa.

“Deripaska was known as one of Putin’s favorite oligarchs. He had made billions of dollars in the aluminum business in the 1990s. Just why Lavrov was pressing the issue was unclear. But Lavrov and others ‘raised it on many, many occasions,’ recalled a U.S. official who worked in the U.S. embassy in Moscow. ‘It was amazing the way they pushed this from many different angles.’

“Clinton never acted on Lavrov’s requests. And it wouldn’t be until years later that the public would learn that one of Deripaska’s U.S. business partners was a controversial American lobbyist and political consultant named Paul Manafort.” (Emphasis added.)

“Russian Roulette” takes us through another bizarre intersection of U.S. policy and the Russians. It was April 2010 when Obama and Medvedev, now Putin’s successor, met in Prague to sign the START Treaty, an effort to reduce the world’s supply of strategic nuclear missiles. Soon after, the Russians voted with the U.S. on a regime of sanctions on Iran.

But simultaneously, the FBI had been monitoring “a network of ten Russian sleeper agents –‘illegals,’ in spy parlance – who had been dispatched to meld into American communities. The Russian spies had arrived nearly a decade earlier, using forged documents and stolen identities, with instructions to blend into American society: they should become good neighbors, raise families, and send their children to local schools. Their mission, according to a message intercepted by the FBI, was ‘to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in the U.S.’ One of the spies became a tax adviser to Alan Patricof, a powerhouse Democratic fundraiser close to Bill and Hillary Clinton — a connection that some at the FBI found alarming.

“The Bureau had been tipped off to the network years earlier by a high-ranking Russian intelligence official who had defected. But by June 2010, officials at FBI headquarters had become nervous. They had intercepted communications sent to Moscow and feared one of the spies was about to flee — and the rest could quickly follow. Now seemed to be the time to move in and nab them.

“At a meeting in the White House Situation Room, FBI director Robert Mueller informed Obama’s aides the Bureau intended to roll up the Russians. But deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon raised an objection. Medvedev had just arrived in Washington for more talks with Obama. To bust a Russian spy ring could blow up the reset, he argued.”

Just a Dook Snyder reminder. It was this very FBI investigation of the Russian sleeper agents that led them to three other Russians operating in New York City and their attempts to cultivate Carter Page, which led to a series of FISA warrants and surveillance of Carter Page’s activities—a fact Devin Nunes and the Republicans of the House Intelligence Committee and the president himself seem to forget when they protest the FISA warrants on Carter Page were based on the “discredited dossier” and misleading information. (Emphasis added.)

“The discussion got intense until Leon Panetta, the CIA director, weighed in. He said that Donilon needed to think long and hard about a potential Washington Post headline that would read, “The U.S. failed to arrest a group of Russian spies.” At that point, Panetta later noted, “I saw the lights go off in his head.” Soon after the meeting, according to Panetta, Donilon okayed the arrest, but he asked the FBI to wait until Medvedev was out of American airspace.

If you want to better understand Republican anger at what seems to them a relentless focus on ties between Trump and not the Clintons with the Russians, “Russian Roulette” reminds us that the larger story is a bit more complicated:

Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy CBS News

“The day after the Russian spies were arrested, Bill Clinton arrived in Moscow to deliver the keynote speech at a conference sponsored by Renaissance Capital, a Russian investment banking firm with links to the Kremlin. Clinton was paid a whopping $500,000 for his ninety-minute appearance, which drew an audience of top Russian government officials. Though his wife was secretary of state, the former president had not curbed his lucrative overseas speechmaking, even when the gigs were underwritten by groups that might have interests before the State Department.

“In the case of Renaissance Capital, the firm at that time was promoting a stock offering of a company called Uranium One – a mining firm that controlled about 20 percent of uranium production capacity within the United States. And Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, was in the process of purchasing a controlling interest in Uranium One, pending approval of a U.S. government foreign investment review board on which Hillary Clinton sat with eight other senior U.S. officials.

“There was no evidence that Hillary Clinton ever involved herself in the Uranium One review; a Clinton subordinate would later say he represented the State Department in deliberations over the deal. But her husband’s trip to Moscow was an example of a persistent criticism raised about this power couple: They were too often blind to possible conflicts of interest. Around the time of the Uranium One deal, the company chairman’s family foundation donated about $2.35 million to Clinton Foundation programs.”

But “Russian Roulette” also reminds us that: “Russia was heading toward a political crisis—and Putin would blame it on Hillary Clinton. In early December 2011, Russia held nationwide parliamentary elections. Election monitors reported blatant cheating, including the brazen stuffing of ballot boxes … Within days, protesters took to the streets in central Moscow, shouting, ‘Russia without Putin!’ and ‘Putin is a thief!’ Several hundred were arrested …Worse for Putin, his United Russia Party collected about half of the vote, a major drop in its support that would mean a significant loss of seats in the Duma. (The runner-up Communist Party had 19 percent.)

“The day after the election, Clinton was attending an international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn. With Lavrov looking on, she all but questioned the legitimacy of the Russian election. The United States had ‘serious concerns about the conduct of the elections,’ she said. ‘We are also concerned by reports that independent Russian election observers … were harassed, had cyberattacks on their websites, totally contrary to what should be the protected rights of people to observe elections and participate in them and disseminate information.’ She noted that … ‘Russian voters deserve a full investigation of all credible reports of electoral fraud and manipulation.’”

How’s that for irony? Cyberattacks. Election manipulation.

As for Putin: “He looked around for somebody to blame for the demonstrations—and pointed his finger at the American secretary of state … declared that Clinton had ‘set the tone for certain actors inside the country; she gave the signal.’ … He claimed the anti-Putin demonstrations sweeping through his country were the result of hundreds of millions of dollars in ‘foreign money.’”

Does this sound familiar: “Putin, proud and vain, hated to be challenged and ridiculed. And Clinton, as he saw it, was behind all this. For him, this grudge would smolder for years—with consequences no one in the U.S. government could foresee.”

“In the weeks after the election, the U.S. Congress took a step that intensified the mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow by passing a bipartisan measure known as the Magnitsky Act.

“The story of Sergei Magnitsky was a tragedy. He was a thirty-seven-year-old Russian tax lawyer who had died a painful death in a Moscow prison cell in 2009. He had been hired by Bill Browder, an American-born financier who headed Hermitage Capital Management, a London-based hedge fund. Browder’s company was one of the biggest investors in Russia—until it ran afoul of Putin’s regime … Magnitsky discovered that Russian police and tax officials had used documents pilfered from Hermitage Capital to mount a tax fraud that netted them $230 million.

“… The campaign for the Magnitsky Act put the White House in a difficult spot. Obama wanted to promote human rights causes – so long as they did not interfere with other foreign policy objectives. Administration officials had quietly opposed the bill … In the end, Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law. Predictably, the Russian government struck back. The Duma passed a law cutting off U.S. adoptions of Russian children. (Between 1999 and 2012, Americans had adopted close to fifty thousand Russian children.) And the Foreign Ministry released a list barring eighteen current and former U.S. officials from Russia.”

Well we’ve certainly come to appreciate how desperately Putin wants to undo the Magnitsky sanctions that have punished his oligarch friends. How the desire to get rid of the sanctions and get back at the meddling U.S. (read: Hillary Clinton) may well have prompted the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s emails, and the now famous Agalarov-sponsored Rob Goldstone, Natalia Veselnitskaya visit to Trump Tower.

And you, of course, have the option to believe that they were either bearing materials that the Russian government believed would help the Trump campaign or they wanted to talk about ending the Magnitisky sanctions so that Americans could once again adopt Russian babies. But one way or another, this meeting has come to haunt the Trump presidency.

Gen. Valery Gerasimov. Photo courtesy

“Russian Roulette” offers some new insight about what the Russians were thinking: “In February 2013, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces, published an article in an obscure Russian military journal advocating that Russia adapt its military strategies to the modern world … Here was a Russian military leader proposing a new doctrine that could shape how Russia would engage – and do battle – with the United States … He noted in the internet-dominated world there were new means for waging war: ‘political, economic, informational.’ And these measures could involve ‘the protest potential of the population.’ In other words, information warfare could be used to weaponize political divisions within another nation. Gerasimov was crafting a doctrine of ‘hybrid warfare’ – a new form of conflict in which ‘frontal engagements’ by army battalions and fighter aircraft would become a ‘thing of the past,’ replaced by hackers and skilled propagandists trained to exploit existing rifts within the ranks of the adversary … 

“Long-distance, contactless actions against the enemy are becoming the main means of achieving combat and operational goals.” Gerasimov did not spell out what “contactless actions” would replace ground troops. But it was not hard to figure out what he was talking about.” (Emphasis added.)

Isikoff and Corn offer some of what we’ve learned from a Russian source with access to the Russian president’s inner circle:

“The Russian source delivered what was perhaps his most stunning and consequential revelation later that spring, as the Ukrainian crisis continued. He told his American contact that the Kremlin was planning a wide-ranging, multifaceted campaign to attack Western institutions and undermine Western democracies. The clandestine operation was to include cyberattacks, information warfare, propaganda, and social media campaigns. Here was the Gerasimov doctrine at work.”

“You have no idea how extensive these networks are in Europe – Germany, Italy, France, and the U.K. – and in the U.S. … Russia has penetrated media organizations, lobbying firms, political parties, governments, and militaries in all these places.”

But unfortunately: “the secret source’s warnings about Russia’s information warfare plans in the United States and Europe garnered little attention. ‘Anybody who had any doubt about Putin’s intentions,’ the U.S. official later said, ‘just wasn’t reading what we reported.’”

Father Tikhon Shevkunov. Photo courtesy

Oh, and there’s this gem: “More alarming, the source claimed that Putin was increasingly being influenced by a telegenic, ultranationalist Orthodox Russian monk, Father Tikhon Shevkunov, whose principal message was that Putin had a divine mission to save Russia from its demise and to defend Christian values against the liberal, secular West. This monk had become a regular at Putin’s side, even accompanying him on foreign trips. There had been rumors swirling around the Kremlin that the xenophobic Father Tikhon had become Putin’s confessor and, having ushered him into Orthodox faith, was his dukhovnik, or godfather. The Russian official depicted the monk as a modern-day Rasputin. Whenever it seemed the moderates were making headway in the battle over Russian foreign policy, Kovalchuk—the banker—would bring in the monk to buck Putin up.”

“Russian Roulette” is well worth the time. I’ve offered but a very small portion of the insights and information Isikoff and Corn have to offer. And there’s much to think about, especially their convincing catalogue of the many missed opportunities and outright mistakes made by Democrats and Republicans alike—there’s the suspicion of the Hillary campaign and DNC of the FBI and their unwillingness to respond quickly to the Russian hacking of their servers and email, and Obama’s reluctance to accept the depth of Russian interference and alert the nation and respond with decisive action.

When it comes to style, I’m a bit partial to Luke Harding’s “Collusion.” Corn and Isikoff are well-practiced and exceedingly careful journalists. Reading “Russian Roulette” is a bit like taking several years’ worth of the New York Times and the Washington Post on vacation with you to the beach. Luke Harding is just as much a journalist but a bit of a mystery writer. There’s a dramatic tension that Harding offers that’s missing for me in “Russian Roulette.” But if you want to better understand what’s happening to us today, and who’s making it happen you can’t go wrong with ““Russian Roulette”.”

Of course, nothing compares to carefully watching the unravelling of the Trumpsters in real time.


The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.

Continue reading

PREVIEW: Phish frontman Trey Anastasio with the Boston Pops at Tanglewood, Saturday, June 29

Anastasio's 152 Phish songs and 11 solo albums only hint at the almost freakish level of musical output he has maintained over the years.

AT THE TRIPLEX: Not-so-easy riders

Motorcycles are synonymous with freedom—especially in the movies.

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Abe Lincoln in Illinois’ plays at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre through July 14

This was an extremely timely take on today’s exploding political scene, especially as Lincoln was our first Republican head of state, and we can leave the theater thinking about the next one—perhaps.

The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.