Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch have written an insider account titled Crime in Progress, with eye-popping anecdotes, of alleged collusion and the failure of the US media to expose it.
In January 2017 a meeting took place in a deserted building in Foggy Bottom. It was conspiratorial. The office in downtown Washington belonged to David Kramer, long time aide to the Republican senator John McCain. His furtive guest was Ken Bensinger, a reporter for Buzzfeed. Kramer had brought with him a series of confidential memos. They concerned Donald Trump, the man who was about to be sworn in as US president, and his murky ties with Russia. Kramer laid them out on the table. In delicate fashion, he then excused himself and said he had to make a phone call and pay a visit to the bathroom.
Bensinger whipped out his iPhone. He photographed the papers, one by one. Kramer came back half an hour later. Kramer had served as a US assistant secretary of state under George W Bush and was deeply appalled at the prospect of a Trump presidency. For good measure, he shared the memos with other news organisations and Obama officials.
Kramer’s thinly deniable leak ignited a scandal that would consume Washington life for three long years. The memos didn’t quite ease Trump from power. But they did shed light on one of the biggest and longest-running mysteries in 21st-century politics: why is Trump so fulsome and such a suck up when it comes to Vladimir Putin, a KGB guy not over-blessed with charm? The author of the Foggy Bottom dossier was Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer who spent a career digging up Russia’s dark secrets. His memos alleged that the Kremlin had been sup-porting and cultivating Trump for at least five years. And that in best KGB tradition it had acquired a sizeable amount of Trump kompromat, which could be deployed for blackmail purposes.
Steele knew Russia well. He served at the British embassy as the USSR fell apart, and swapped government spying in 2009 for private business intelligence. In spring 2016 a Washington-based research firm, Fusion GPS, got in touch. Might Steele use his network of sources to investigate Trump? Specifically, what Trump had got up to over the years in Moscow?
Crime in Progress is billed as the secret history of the Trump-Russia investigation. It is more or less that: an entertaining and readable account of the dossier’s origins, and of the cosmic fall-out once Buzzfeed put it online, to Fusion’s fury. Trump, of course, denies wrong doing and says he’s the victim of a witch-hunt. He has called Steele a “failed spy” and Marxist plotter.
The book’s authors Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch co-founded Fusion a decade ago. As Wall Street Journal alumni they know how to tell a story. Crime in Progress doesn’t radically alter our understanding of the collusion saga, but there are plenty of colourful details and anecdotes. Once Trump shuffles off stage – in 2020 or later – a movie version seems highly likely. Fusion began its own research into Trump in August 2015, at the behest of a Republican client. It found damning open-source evidence: court documents, corporate bankruptcies and ties to organised crime. It turned to Steele to get intelligence from inside Russia. Many strands pointed there. What Steele might find was uncertain. “We threw a line in the water and Moby-Dick came back,” Simpson writes dryly.
In July Mueller gave evidence to Congress. A day later Trump picked up the phone and rang Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The riveting impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill suggest the Ukraine drama is season two to the original Russia boxset: with Trump again soliciting favours from a foreign power in order to smear a political opponent. Another day at the Oval Office, another alleged crime. We wait to find out the denouement.
• Luke Harding’s Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win is published by Guardian Faber. Crime in Progress: The Secret History of the Trump-Russia Investigation is published by Allen Lane (RRP £20). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £15.
Source: The Guardian newspaper.