New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait lays out the most extreme possibility of Trump-Russia collusion: that Trump has been a Russian intelligence asset since 1987.
HAYES: A week from today the President is set to meet behind closed doors with Russian President Vladimir Putin one-on-one plus translators. The meeting is raising concerns, grave ones among U.S. allies and some of the President`s own advisors that Trump will be outmatched by Putin who has reportedly been cultivating their personal relationship in a series of phone calls. According to the Washington Post, the Russian President complains to Trump about fake news and laments the U.N. – U.S. foreign policy establishment, the deep State in Putin`s words is conspiring against them. It`s not us, Putin has told Trump, it`s a subordinates fighting against our friendship. It`s beautiful. The precise relationship between the two leaders is at the heart of the mystery still surrounding the 2016 election, did the Trump campaign, did the candidate at the heart of it conspire with Russia to subvert American democracy or and does Russia have some kind of leverage over Donald Trump?
In a new cover story for New York Magazine, Writer Jonathan Chait argues we have not allowed ourselves to consider the full range of possibilities. Chait lays out what could be considered the worst-case scenario for Trump-Russia collusion, that Donald Trump has been a Russian intelligence asset since 1987. New York Magazine Jonathan Chait joins me now. OK, it sounds insane. I just want to say it really does, like the idea that he went – he goes to Moscow in 87 is cultivated as a Russian intelligence opposite – asset and is this sort of like sleeper cell for decades sounds nuts. It sounds like the stuff conspiracy theories, why are you not insane?
JONATHAN CHAIT, WRITER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: so that`s a great question, Chris. I get that all the time. So first –so first of all, the piece acknowledged that that is probably not true but it might be. And one of the reasons I wrote this is you need to take seriously some of these low probability, high impact scenarios. You know, before the election sort of everyone heard that Hillary Clinton had about an 80 percent chance of winning and we all just treated it like that meant a hundred percent and didn`t think about what would that 20 percent alternative really mean. So that`s part of what I`m doing with this – with aspects of this piece like this trip to Moscow. You know, what would it mean if it – if it really went that deep. Now, there`s a lot of ways in which this scandal could be really bad and not go that deep but I think you need to consider that for another reason which is that everyone always says well, this has been Trump`s view forever.
All the stuff he`s saying with the Western Allies, splitting us apart from the West and how he`s sort of pissing on them all the time in saying you know, we should let them go their own way, that`s just what he`s always thought. It`s not really what he`s always thought, it`s what he`s thought since 1987. He never thought that before then or at least he never said it before then. And in 1987 is when he went to Moscow and he`s vetted by the Russians and tours Moscow and then he comes back then he starts talking about running for President for the first time and then he starts talking for the first time about how our allies are a bunch of freeloaders and we should kick him to the curb.
HAYES: Yes, we should say that he is – I mean, I just want to be clear here, he is really consistent on that point, right, the idea of this sort of zero sum view that our allies are free riding and we`re paying for it. He takes out full-page ads that are $100,000. He sounds identical to how he does now, right. The idea that like we`re getting abused, we`re getting taken for granted and we`re paying for other people`s defense.
CHAIT: We`re paying for other people`s defense who we`re defending against the Russians.
HAYES: Right. At that point particularly, yes.
CHAIT: So it really dovetails with Russian foreign policy interests then and now.
Now, again, that`s probably a coincidence, but it might not be. I mean, I think you know you have to take seriously the possibility that it`s not a coincidence. And, you know, I tried to assemble all the information that I think can be brought to bear on this question. Like I quote John Brennan, who was the CIA director as recently as 2016, who said that he thinks the Russians have something over on Donald Trump. And the weird thing is thinking like the CIA director, hey, maybe he knows what he`s talking about, that`s the kook theory as far as we understand it.
Like, the kooks are the ones who are saying we should listen to the guy who is running the CIA. Usually the kooks are saying the CIA is part of the conspiracy, and now it`s we kooks who say let`s listen.
HAYES: And I want to follow up on that, but first there`s one piece in here that I`d completely forgotten about. So, I want to play Brennan`s testimony May 2017 that you that cite in the piece just to give people a flavor of how he talks about it. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I`ve studied Russian intelligence activities over the years and have seen it again manifest in many different of our counterintelligence cases and how they have been able to get people, including inside of CIA to become treasonous and frequently individuals who go along that treasonous path done even realize they`re along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: And you also have a reminder in the piece about that, like, he got briefed in what was it, August – in August 2016, the head of British intelligence flies to the U.S. – this was reported by Jane Mayer – to brief him personally on what was going on between the Trump campaign and Russia.
CHAIT: Yeah, and The Guardian had another report about another western European or I think maybe an eastern European intelligence agency briefing him about the same thing. They were listening to intercepts of Russian officials talking about the Trump campaign and the connections they had between them.
So, we don`t know what those intercepts said, but clearly something alarmed him, set him off and made him reach these dire conclusions.
HAYES: Here – you know, you have this metaphor of the cave, right, that we keep thinking the bottom is just right around the corner and maybe we`re at the mouth of it, right. And I`ve had this thought too, a vertigo-inducing thought. I never know quite where to orient ourselves. And we just know the facts as they come to light, you kind of assemble them, you come up with a mental theory.
My question to you is are you confident we will know the final truth, right, that like ultimately the thing will be revealed about what is true and what`s not, what the facts of the matter are?
CHAIT: I think some of the facts we`ll find out. I think the things pertaining to the end of the Trump campaign we`ll probably find out, because a lot of people are flipping and cooperating with Mueller. But if there`s leverage in Moscow my guess is that`s going to stay in Moscow. I don`t see how Mueller`s going to get at secrets locked in the Kremlin.
HAYES: All right, Jonathan Chait, thanks a lot.