Carter Page and Donald Trump: Too Dumb to Collude?

I have tried to stay clear of the whole “Russian collusion” investigation, or whatever it is that Robert Mueller is engaged in, not because I believe it is “fake news” or “a witch hunt” — Trump’s election campaign really did have the material support of Vladimir Putin’s government, whether it was solicited or not, so the exposure of the nature and potential illegality of that support is significant — but rather for two non-Trumpy reasons. First, the facts around this investigation are so nebulous, so secret, or so poorly and politically reported, that no one on the outside should go around pretending he knows exactly what is going on, or what it “really means.” Second, that the modern Democratic Party, which for fifty years has been virtually a creation of the Kremlin, should have the gall to play anti-Russian patriots in order to use this investigation for political gain, is so absurd that the fact they are getting away with it in the eyes of most Americans is indicative of the extent to which the U.S. polity has collapsed — which is to say the whole matter, in its public iteration, is just too depressing.

One of the few aspects of this story on which I have taken a fairly firm stand, however, is my acceptance at face value of Trump’s denial that he personally colluded with the Russians. My reason for feeling quite certain on this point is simple: I do not believe that Trump has either the intellectual acuity or the innate moral sense to engage in collusion.

That is to say, collusion (in the quasi-criminal sense) is a fairly sophisticated activity, which requires that the colluder be smart enough to maintain a comprehensive double-layered narrative over a long period of time without messing it up, and also that he have enough basic social awareness and emotional stability to grasp the full significance of the underground social network collusion creates, and to sustain the “honor among thieves” kind of integrity involved in maintaining such a scheme — i.e., keeping a secret, sticking to publicly unverifiable promises, and so on — over a long period of time.

Donald Trump is essentially a stupid man. (Please don’t waste your time or mine on the “But he’s a billionaire” schtick — been there, done that. As Charles Foster Kane’s right-hand man, Mr. Bernstein, points out, “It’s no trick to make a lot of money…if all you want is to make a lot of money.”) And he has exactly the amount of emotional stability and social awareness you should expect from a garden variety megalomaniacal sociopath, namely none. (“But he’s raised lovely children.” Really? Is that your argument?) In short, he is not constitutionally suited to a fancy crime like collusion, so I don’t believe he is guilty of it.

Then there is the man who seems to be at the center of the collusion investigation, Carter Page. Under a Freedom of Information request from the “fake news media,” the Department of Justice has released the FISA application used to renew the surveillance warrant against Page, a member of Trump’s campaign team. The application, as we already knew, identifies him in the strongest possible terms as a Russian operative, and cites evidence of the Russian government actively seeking him out as an inside man.

Have you ever heard Carter Page speak, beyond interview clips? I watched a video of his presentation at a Russian conference in December 2016 — here’s a link, in case you are interested, since I don’t want to waste your time by embedding the actual video here in Limbo — and I have to ask, in all seriousness: Is this really the kind of man the Russian government is recruiting as part of their effort to subvert the United States of America? If you had a master plan to destabilize or manipulate American society for strategic advantage, and were looking for moles and operatives within the country to carry out specific acts of subterfuge and promote your nation’s agenda, would you isolate Carter Page as a strong candidate? You might as well hire Mr. Magoo as a crossing guard.

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the failings of U.S. intelligence agencies. But what about Russian intelligence? If Page is indicative of the kind of network of operatives they are putting together these days, then my guess is that whatever effect they achieve thereby will likely be the opposite of what they had intended. The man, like his former boss, is too dumb and too self-aggrandizing — too desperate for the warmth of the unearned spotlight — to collude.

In the always graceful and articulate words of the Orange Genius himself, “No collusion!”

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