Russian meddling in American democracy didn’t start with Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, and, new reporting makes clear, it hasn’t ended with his inauguration.
The New York Times and the Intercept reported Friday that a Russian intermediary attempted to sell compromising material on the president to American intelligence agencies last year. What started in an effort to recover American hacking secrets apparently turned into an offer by a shadowy Russian to provide the Americans a “video of Mr. Trump consorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room in 2013,” according to the Times. The Russian, in other words, apparently intimated that the infamous “pee tape” was real. He offered to sell it to the very intelligence agencies that Donald Trump has personally attacked over allegations that his election victory was tainted.
None of the new reporting gives any additional reason to believe that the pee tape is real. But it suggests Russian agents are taking advantage of American divisions over questions like the existence of compromising information about the president in order to keep the United States off balance. The Russian intermediary’s attempt to sell dirt to American intelligence officials, wrote the Times’ Matthew Rosenberg, “raised suspicions among officials that he was part of an operation to feed the information into United States intelligence agencies and pit them against Mr. Trump.” Those agencies are deeply divided. The Intercept’s James Risen reported, “U.S. intelligence officials are torn about whether to conduct any operations at all that might aid Mueller’s ongoing investigation into whether Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.” They fear, he continued, “blowback” from Trump if they got involved.