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So the question facing me Wednesday morning was which news item to address over that all-important first cup of morning coffee. As usual, it was a tough call. The paucity of up-lifting, life-affirming stories made it hard to choose.
Do I go with yet another icky Catholic Church sodomy-cum-accompanying cover-up scandal? Ex-CIA Director John Brennan having his security clearance summarily revoked? The latest episode in the on-going Omarosa traveling circus? Or do I home in on the continued speculation that Russian leader Vladimir Putin does, in fact, possess some unbelievably damaging video material which he’s using to “blackmail” President Trump?
Because I’ve grown prematurely weary of Omarosa’s coyness and self-righteous posturing, I went with the story that is, arguably, the most sordid, the most sensational, the most disturbing, and, by all that’s Holy, the one that we can only hope is the most implausible: I.e., the one where the Russkies are putting the squeeze on Donald Trump via a sex tape.
Before we let our imaginations run wild, let’s look at the facts. The facts are clear. No one has ever denied that the USSR relied regularly on the use of the “honey trap” to gain leverage. Even the esteemed Soviet analyst George Kennan acknowledged that the honey trap was the Soviet’s stock in trade. This blackmail device is cheap, uncomplicated, and, given the reliability of the male sex drive, more or less foolproof.
The way the honey trap works is like this: You target a diplomat, trade representative, politician, scientist, etc.—someone who has access to classified or proprietary information you desperately want—and have an attractive, irresistibly seductive young woman lure the man to a hotel room for the purpose of sex. Of course, the room is equipped with hidden cameras and microphones.
After the deed is done, you show the man photographs of the encounter and tell him that if he doesn’t come across with some documents, the incriminating photos will be passed on to his wife and children or his parents or his colleagues. It’s a procedure that’s been around forever.
And just for the record, to assume that the big, bad Russians are the only ones who use a trick like this is being naïve. In Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA (Legacy of Ashes), he notes that the U.S. tried the same ploy to penetrate Fidel Castro’s inner circle. For whatever reason, they were unsuccessful.
All of which brings us to Donald Trump. Again, let’s stick to the facts and avoid speculation. So what do we know? We know that Trump was in Moscow in 2013. We know that he was staying at the Ritz-Carlton, camped out in the presidential suite. We know that the self-described “pussy grabber” has had relations with prostitutes in the past (and has paid to keep that fact quiet).
And we know that it’s been rumored repeatedly that, while in Moscow, Trump requested that two prostitutes be sent to his room and that the two woman pee on each other for his amusement and gratification. To his credit, no one is suggesting that Trump himself asked to be watered down. After all, the man has standards, no?
That’s what we know for a fact. But, in addition to the facts, what can we safely assume here? For one thing, we can safely assume that Trump’s hotel room was bugged and secretly videotaped. How could it not be? How on earth could there NOT be surveillance?
Why would his Russian hosts let a chance go by to get something incriminating on this influential, loud-mouthed American—long before anyone dreamed (including Trump himself) that he would one day be president? He likes the company of whores, he’s a boy far away from home, and he has a healthy libido. The notion of him cavorting with Russian prostitutes not only seems reasonable, it seems likely. Lights. Camera. Action!
Still, the most compelling aspect of this story is Trump’s own behavior. The man is nothing if not a swaggering bully. That obnoxious behavior defines him. Indeed, the notion of being deferential to people is alien to him. And yet, when you watch news footage of him with Putin, he appears not only abjectly polite, he seems almost frightened. Study the footage. Trump is not comfortable, not even close. One might even argue that what we see in his eyes is fear.
All of which raises the question: If there is, in fact, an incriminating “Golden Showers” video floating around the Kremlin, what does Putin intend to do with the leverage he gains from it? Obviously, he can’t risk overplaying his hand by forcing the issue. He can’t, for example, insist that Trump sell back Alaska. He has to be cautious.
Meanwhile, all we can do is wait and see what happens. Maybe Mueller’s investigation will turn up something, and maybe it won’t. In any event, as a playwright who’s written his fair share of fiction, all I can say is: You can’t make this shit up.