Coats, wrote Woodward, thought Putin “had something” on Trump. Despite efforts by Trump’s allies to write off Russiagate, Coats was clearly correct about that. If nothing else, Putin would have known about Trump’s Moscow real estate maneuvering years before the American people did.
But you don’t need blackmail to explain Trump’s fealty to the Russian president. Avarice will suffice.
Trump’s financial condition, wrote The Times, “lends some credence to the notion that his long-shot campaign was at least in part a gambit to reanimate the marketability of his name.” Throughout the campaign, he tried to ingratiate himself with Putin. But then, catching the tiger by the tail, he won.
He’s used his office to extract all that he can. “His properties have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking face time, access or favor,” wrote The Times. As president, he’s garnered millions from licensing deals in foreign countries, including some with authoritarian leaders: “$3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey.”
But he appears to need more. Trump’s brand, perhaps his most lucrative asset, is worthless in much of the country. His family’s plans for two new hotel chains, Scion and American Idea, were scrapped last year. Despite hosting festivals of graft, his Washington hotel lost $55.5 million through 2018. The Times reports that the coronavirus pandemic is hitting Trump’s businesses hard. (That may be one reason he’s extra desperate to lift public health restrictions.)
Among those best positioned to rescue him are international oligarchs. That includes Putin, but others as well. Trump, for example, helped the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, evade consequences for the killing of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, boasting to Woodward, “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone.”
Perhaps the president simply feels a kinship with rich villains. But if he’s truly facing ruin, Trump needs them at least as much as they need him.