The Donald Trump dossier is as plausible as the President-elect's fake news

Oh, that Donald is a devil, isn't he?

Or maybe he isn't. Trump's huffing and puffing in denying the possibly amazing story of employing a number of prostitutes to perform a "golden shower" show in front of him, as he did or didn't bunk in the same Ritz-Carlton suite that Barack and Michelle Obama had occupied on an earlier visit to the Russian capital, is beside the point.

Salacious, damaging stuff, to be sure, and it's more viable than much of what Trump and his surrogates were spouting during the election campaign. In the absence of any evidence, they decided that Hillary Clinton was sick - and kept repeating it; while Trump has never apologised for pushing the birther lie about Barack Obama, they concluded, again without evidence, that she, Bill Clinton and other senior Democrat figures were running a child sex racket - and kept repeating it.

And this is not just about sex; another charge is that, through intermediaries, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin did a deal by which Moscow would help his campaign if, as president, Trump would bend US foreign policy in Russia's favour.

On the basis of all this, it seems, we can conclude that Trump missed Sunday school on the day they discussed the biblical proverb: as you sow, so shall you reap.

More importantly, the President-elect's denials confuse two different aspects of the story. The extraordinary contents of the leaked intelligence dossier indeed could be fake and not worthy of repetition; but that several US intelligence agencies are investigating its provenance certainly is a new event worth reporting.

The intelligence agency chiefs who briefed Trump on Friday were savvy enough to make clear that the contents of the dossier, which on face value could leave the incoming president vulnerable to coercion, bribery and/or blackmail, had not been substantiated by the FBI. But at the same time, they considered the former high-ranking British intelligence agent who had compiled the dossier to be competent and reliable, and his sources to be credible and plausibly capable of being in possession of firsthand knowledge of Moscow's spying on Trump.

And so it was that the Russians and sex abroad were dominant themes at Trump's first all-in press conference since last July, which was attended by more than 250 reporters in the flag-bedecked lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan.

What have we got here?

We have reports on an explosive document that has been floating around Washington for the best part of a year - but which was first alluded to in print only in the weeks before the November election, by Mother Jones magazine, and which has been published in its entirety only this week, and only by BuzzFeed.

A report from Moscow - Vladimir Putin's guys deny they were spying on Trump, claiming that the dossier on their efforts to compromise Trump as far back as 2013 and its contents are "pulp fiction". To which a reasonable man could respond, "Well they would say that."

And reports from New York - Trump denies it all too. To which a reasonable man again could respond, "Well he would say that."

And a long report by Molly McKew in Politico magazine last week, in which this one-time adviser to the governments of Georgia and Moldova, attempts to put the minutiae of Moscow's messing with the West, and especially the back-and-forth about the Democrats' emails being hacked and, now, the Moscow fling that Trump did or didn't have, into an over-arching, geopolitical narrative.

McKew's thesis, contained in two paragraphs, is worth considering: "Even this week, as Barack Obama tries to confront Russia's open and unprecedented interference in our political process [by hacking the Democratic Party's computers], the outgoing White House is so far responding to 21st century hybrid information warfare with last century's diplomatic toolkit: the expulsion of spies, targeted sanctions, potential asset seizure. The incoming [Trump] administration, while promising a new approach, has betrayed a similar lack of vision. Their promised attempt at another 'reset' with Russia is a rehash of a policy that has utterly failed the past two American administrations.

"What both administrations fail to realise is that the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not. It may not be a war we recognise, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests."

Seen in that light, is there an argument that the unfolding, Hollywood-esque scenario of hacked Democratic emails and the political and personal embarrassment of an incoming Republican president all are a part of a Putin plot to delegitimise American democracy?

It's not as though Putin was going to hold a press conference to announce that his intelligence agents had been poking around in the Democrats' emails and, look at this, would you believe what Jon Podesta was saying about Hillary Clinton? Or that in the interests of American democracy, he thought it was important that his guys keep the cameras running 24/7 while Trump was in Moscow and, "Here you go, here's the video of his antics at the Ritz-Carlton!"

No. It's far more plausible and destructive for all this material, on the Democrats and on Trump, to arrive in the public domain as it has - through WikiLeaks in the case of the Democrats, and through the US intelligence agencies and/or reporters in the case of Trump, as witting or unwitting puppets of Putin.

That's not to say that this is what has happened - but certainly, it's a plausible reading of events.

Equally plausible, and not mutually exclusive, is that Trump and the US intelligence services are being gamed into an impossible relationship on the eve of him taking over the White House.

Throughout a gruelling election campaign Trump frequently rebuked and ridiculed the intelligence services over the Iraq War and the non-existent WMD, and more recently over their finding that the Russian hacking of the Democrats and the release through WikiLeaks of bundles of sensitive and damaging emails was a deliberate bid to help his campaign.

Obviously, there was going to be payback, which might just have been the intelligence chief's decision to include a summary of the dossier in their briefing to Trump - on which Obama and eight Congressional chief were CC-ed.

And given Trump's accusation that the intelligence services had leaked the dossier, there might even be more payback. The President-elect's unsubstantiated charge against the agencies ignored the fact that news of and versions of the dossier have been floating in media and political circles since early 2016.

Trump's over-weaning bromance with Putin and Moscow makes him a sitting duck for this kind of play - as early as 1987 he was urging a US-Soviet alliance against France and Pakistan; his campaign questioning of NATO's relevance was music to Moscow's ears, as was his praise for Moscow's intervention in Syria and as is his continuing refusal to criticise Putin or Moscow.

Similarly, replete as the public record is with so many accounts of Trump cutting corners and scarpering with other people's money, if Moscow was looking around for a sitting duck, how could it pass Trump as a target?

And for all that, a possible breach of the bromance was evident during Wednesday's press conference, when Trump conceded, after denying and deflecting for months, that Moscow might have been responsible for the Democratic hacking.

"I think it was Russia," he told the reporters. But then he did what his opponents will do with accounts of the Moscow dossier - he implicitly defended the hacking because of the political value, as he saw it, of the Democratic emails leaked after the hacking.

But there was still that yearning to hold hands and play. "if Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability," he said. "I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin - I hope so, but there's a good chance that I won't."

Perhaps Trump has been talking to his secretary of state designate Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive of ExxonMobil, who was being grilled at a Senate confirmation hearing at the same time as Trump was being grilled by the press.

Explaining that Putin wanted to rebuild Russia's global prestige, he told the senators that the Moscow mindset was "Russia is here, Russia matters and Russia is a force to be dealt with".

Revealing a bit more steel than Trump, Tillerson said that Russia had to be asked, "Do you want this to get worse, or does Russia desire a different relationship?"

Observing the clash in values between the US and Russia, he concluded: "We're not likely ever to be friends." But describing Russia as possibly an "unfriendly adversary" as opposed to an across-the-board "enemy", Tillerson said: "With Russia, engagement is necessary in order to define what is that relationship going to be. There is scope to define a different relationship that can bring down the temperature around the conflicts we have today."

Trump, who in the months between Wednesday's press conference and his last such outing had fired off about 1600 tweets, was belting them out through Wednesday morning - one of which included: "intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"

Nazi Germany? No - this is Trump's America.

The story The Donald Trump dossier is as plausible as the President-elect's fake news first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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