Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump
Russian Roulette is essential reading for anyone interested in the strange story of Donald Trump’s complex and disturbing relationship with Russia. The tale is still being investigated by special federal prosecutor Robert Mueller, but this riveting book by two prominent liberal Democratic investigative reporters is the best account we have so far of numerous key chapters in the bizarre saga:
- Trump and top Trump associates’ (including Trump’s slimy former campaign director Paul Manafort, Trump’s bizarre former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign consultant Carter Page, and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos) financial, political, and espionage entanglement with Russian oligarchs, officials, and agents;
- Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe trip to Moscow and a mysterious sealed letter (its contents have never been revealed) that Trump received inside “a black lacquered box” from Russia’s president Vladimir Putin after the pageant;
- A Russian journalist’s discovery of the infamous Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm” employing hundreds of Russians creating and working with fake Web identities to influence American politics;
- The alleged Russian Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear-Guccifer 2.0-WikiLeaks-Julian Assange cyber-hackings of the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2015 and 2016;
- “Moscow’s . . . clandestine propaganda endeavor, stretching across social media platforms and in sync with the cyberattacks and the output of [Russian state media outlets] RT and Sputnik . . . to persuade U.S. voters to elect a president who would adopt a softer approach to Russia.”
- The infamous meeting in Trump Tower in June of 2016 of Donald Trump Jr. and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner with Russian agents promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton;
- The “golden shower” Steele Dossier, a summer 2016 report by Britain’s former top Russian intelligence expert alleging that Russia had cultivated Trump for at least five years and possessed compromising and salacious information on the future U.S. president;
- The Trump campaign’s squashing of a platform amendment that would have called for arming Ukraine in its war with Russia;
- The US. “intelligence community’s” early detection and investigation of Russian election interference in 2015 and 2016;
- The Democratic Party’s panicked, paralyzed response to the “intelligence community’s” reports that that it was under Russian cyber-assault;
- The Obama administration’s reluctance to openly confront Russia on the Kremlin’s alleged subversion of U.S. “democracy.”
All that and more is treated at great and careful length in Russian Roulette.
Russian Roulette is not without flaws. The title promises an “inside” account, and while highly readable the book does not reveal much that was not previously reported. It is easy to get lost in Isikoff and Corn’s blitzkrieg of names and dates (keep a notebook handy), and their chronology is not always clear.
Isikoff and Corn refer to Putin’s alleged subversion of “American democracy.” This may incrementally be true. And though outside the scope of this book, numerous detailed studies show that the majority of U.S. opinion is regularly trumped by the plutocratic power of the nation’s real owners: wealthy U.S. oligarchs, not Russian ones.
At the same time, while Isikoff and Corn are focused on the Russian angle their narrative touches upon many aspects of the election that collectively are a damning statement about our supposed democratic process, with, for example, details about the DNC putting its thumb on the scale during the primaries in favor of Clinton. Also laid bare is the dismal and uninspiring Wall Street-funded listlessness of the Hillary Clinton campaign portrayed as frequently more concerned with winning than issues.
Isikoff and Corn refer to Russian help as the “original sin” of Trump’s presidency, actually one of many sins, beyond the Russia focus, of a campaign and presidency also embracing racism, nativism, and abuse of women.
While Russian Roulette reveals little new information, and provides no firm evidence of crimes of collusion, it does create a narrative of many disparate facts, developments, and much that is conjectured as a single readable account.
An imperfection of the book is that it is premature, as the full story of the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia is not yet known, though the authors themselves acknowledge this complicated issue in the writing of the book. And to Isikoff and Corn’s credit, after reading this book, it strains credulity to posit that there is nothing odd, relevant, or problematic about Trump’s relationship with Russia and Putin.
Read Russian Roulette knowing there are more chapters to be written in the Trump Russia saga. Until Mueller’s report (and studies informed by Mueller’s findings) come out, this book is the best and most accessible write-up of the RussiaGate narrative so far.