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In late 2016, Luke Harding and a colleague from The Guardian interviewed Chris Steele, co-director of Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd, in his London office.
Steele was a former SIS agent working under diplomatic cover in Moscow from the late 1980s until 1993.
He now ran a private intelligence agency in London.
His report on Trump’s many Russian contacts was thorough and explosive, even if it did not, as Harding speculated, finally reveal the whole truth. Investigative journalism is one thing; speculative journalism another.
In the expert, and somewhat over-eager hands of Luke Harding, investigation and speculation often merge to tell a series of stories, framed by Steele’s dossier, of espionage, financial peculation, murder, blackmail and political skulduggery.
The title of the book is somewhat misleading. The reasons why Trump won the White House lie within the United States’ own corrupted version of democracy.
What Harding’s book does show, however, is just how involved Trump, his family and a wide range of his closest advisers, have been in the Russian financial system, so much so that they have become entangled in Putin’s web.
Harding sets out to show that Americans have been cleverly and ruthlessly outmanoeuvred by Russian intelligence agencies, by their deeply experienced diplomatic corps and ruthless financial operators, often using Americans to do their work.
Harding has plenty of experience as an investigative journalist, having served as The Guardian’s bureau chief in Moscow for four years (2007-11).
He wrote a book on the 2006 poisoning in London of Aleksandr Litvinenko, a Russian ex-agent, as well as works on the whistle-blowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.
This experience has engendered in Harding a pessimistic view of the world, one obsessed with crime, money, power and a complete indifference to ideals and the Enlightenment Project.
The indisputable facts documented in this Trump-Putin exposé contribute to this view.
The speculation of collusion between Trump and Putin to alter the results of the presidential election, while missing clinching details, certainly points to a broad conjunction of their interests.
Trump and Putin are both leaders of oligarchic kleptocracies that seek to keep their populations ignorant of their predation.
Putin’s political motivation, so Harding alleges, is to place a president in the White House who will remove sanctions against Russia. Trump’s motive, it is suggested, is to use Russian money to keep his financial interests from collapse.
However, the frightening situation of Trump being in the hands of Putin, for a whole host of documented reasons, is one which Americans have yet to understand and which this book shows only too clearly: the FSB (formerly the KGB, in which Putin was a trained operative) run Trump, and those close to him, as sympathetic agents within the American establishment.
The story goes that making America great again with Trump in the White House can only happen if Russia is allowed to become even greater.
- Peter Stupples, now living in Wellington, used to teach at the University of Otago.