The outlines of the deal are emerging from a fog of tweets, prosecutions, punditry and plea deals. The candidate’s men offered to remove sanctions on Russia and the Russians helped the candidate become president.
So the two end pieces of the quid pro quo are now apparent with almost high-definition sharpness. What remains hidden is the connection. The rope running between the two stays shrouded in intrigue and imagination.
And that connection is the stuff of spy stories that, just as often as not, include a bumbling idiot, a figure who is disposable, a kind of Shakespearean clown, a cut-out.
I thought at first that Maria Butina would turn out to be the real deal, a Moscow agent, but it seems that she was an amateur, a volunteer, a kind of adventurer seeking fortune at home through her antics abroad. She is revealed as a marginal actor.
And Cohen too has turned out to occupy one of the smaller rings of the ever-shifting circus where Trump is the orange-haired ringmaster. That the president orchestrated payments to a pair of mistresses in the build-up to the presidential election is no longer in doubt.
But will that sway the half of the nation that, based on the most recent poll, approve of the president’s actions. Not a chance, in my book.
No, the center ring belongs to Russia.
But here we have not one but three characters who operate as some kind of hybrid player: cut-out, clown, bumbler, spy.
There is Roger Stone, who fancied himself a political trickster and operator, slippery as a greased pig, evading rhetorical traps with skill, shifting versions of events with ease, a vaudevillian character who should be wearing a cape and top hat, friend to politicians and madames.
And then there is Jerome Corsi, a kind of sidekick to Stone, a lesser version of the swashbuckling, chalk-stripe-suited Stone, a voice far out on right-wing radio, a pale newt of a man who, unlike Stone, seemed to avoid the light.
And then there is Paul Manafort, a smoother character than either of the other two and once truly a player in the dangerous and volatile borderland between Russian puppets and oligarchs and the dominions at the edge of Europe.
So who among those characters will make the connection to Julian Assange, publisher of the materials stolen from Hillary’s campaign, documents and emails that were broadcast by all of us in the media and that dominated political coverage in the last stages of the campaign for president.
The connection between the electronic burglarizing of Hillary’s campaign and the current president rides on a person or two or three who had enough communication with the Wikileaks publisher to know the poisonous fruit was about to fall.
Because the translucent opal made from a god’s tear that exists at the center of a revolving galaxy of investigation is the foreknowledge that the hacked documents and emails were about to be published. Trump’s people knew. But who was the go-between.
The three characters, Stone, Corsi and Manafort, are by all appearances leading candidates for the role of cut-out. And because they hold that card, the one that can fill Mueller’s straight flush, they can play for high stakes. They can gamble on a pardon.
My guess is they are likely to get one. But that guess too is a gamble because, in a very risky and murky political environment, they could, like a classic cut-out, be left for sacrifice, left on the wall between east and west, left to Mueller and his hounds.
At the same time, the choice to pardon must be an excruciating dilemma for Trump who could take his part in a Nixonian tragedy if the pardons were seen as part of a great cover-up, and if the Senate Republicans, sensing deep peril in the elections to come, were to abandon him.
The drama feels like it is coming into its climactic stage with the elements, building over such a long period, now close to culmination. So we wait.