viernes, 13 de enero de 2017

Russia dossier: what happens next – and could Donald Trump be impeached?

What are the origins of the 35-page intelligence dossier containing allegations about links between Donald Trump and the Kremlin – and how bad could it get?

Donald Trump and Mike Pence at a news conference at Trump Tower on Thursday.

With days to go before Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, Washington has been convulsed by news of a 35-page intelligence dossier containing incendiary allegations from Russian spies about close links between the Trump camp and the Kremlin as well as salacious sexual details that could allegedly expose the next US head of state to blackmail. The allegations are wholly unsubstantiated, but were deemed serious enough for US intelligence agencies to pass a two-page summary of them last week both to Trump and the current president, Barack Obama.

Donald Trump dossier: intelligence sources vouch for author's credibility

What is the origin of the Russian dossier?

The provenance of the dossier lies with a Washington-based opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, led by former journalists skilled in digging up secrets on public figures. The company was employed in September 2015 by one of Trump’s Republican detractors to look into his dealings. According to the BBC, an outside group supporting then presidential candidate Jeb Bush was the main client initially, followed by an anonymous Democratic donor. Fusion GPS in turn contracted a former British counter-intelligence officer with strong Russia contacts to delve into Trump. Reports gathered by the contractor based on his Russian sources were brought together to form the dossier, which in turn began to circulate between the FBI, British intelligence and DC-based journalists who looked into the allegations but could not stand them up. The dossier was also personally passed by the Republican senator John McCain, a critic of the president-elect who learned about the allegations in November, to the FBI director, James Comey. Top federal officials decided the claims in the dossier, albeit unverified, were so explosive that Trump and Obama had to be informed, so they appended the summary to their report to the president and president-elect last week on Russian hacking of Democratic emails during the 2016 election.

Trump called it fake news, but can it be dismissed so easily?

At a press conference on Wednesday in Trump Tower, the president-elect dismissed the dossier as “fake news”, “phony stuff”, “crap” and the work of “sick people” among his political opponents. Certainly, none of the news organizations that had access to the dossier before this week, including the Guardian, were able to verify its most salacious details and nor have the intelligence agencies been able to ascertain whether it is at all reliable. But it is unlikely to be discarded as quickly or as conclusively as Trump would like. The flip side of information that cannot be classed reliable is that neither can it be classed unreliable. The individual responsible for compiling the reports – a former British MI6 officer called Christopher Steele – is highly regarded among US and UK intelligence circles and was at one point head of MI6’s Russia desk. He was described to the Guardian by a US official as consistently reliable, meticulous and well-informed, with extensive Russian contacts.
Does the dossier contain anything that could cause Trump problems after he becomes president?

The most sensational details contained in the dossier concern the allegation that Russian spies gathered compromising material, or “kompromat”, on Trump by secretly recording audio and video tape of his sexual activities in the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton hotel in Moscow. Such content is virtually impossible to prove, or disprove, other than in the unlikely circumstance that tapes were to emerge. A potentially more potent line of inquiry contained in the dossier that could yet cause Trump trouble relates to allegations that members of his team were in close contact with Russian officials in the course of last year’s presidential election over Russian hacking of Democratic emails that were later published by WikiLeaks. Independent reports suggest that US intelligence agencies were already investigating alleged links, such as those between businessman Carter Page and senior Russian officials. The president-elect’s spokesman Sean Spicer this week said that the president-elect “does not know” Page, even though Trump himself last March described Page as a member of his foreign policy team.
How bad could it get for Trump?

As ever, the question of whether the Russia dossier has legs is a matter not of science but of politics. The degree to which it might continue to snap at the heels of the 45th president depends on whether there is the appetite to pursue the claims. News outlets can be expected to stick with the theme, though all efforts so far on their part have failed to throw up anything solid. Congress has formidable powers to subpoena witnesses that have the potential to uncover secrets that others cannot reach. Two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of them Trump skeptics, have been pushing for a no-holds-barred investigation into Russian hacking by a special select committee of the ilk of the Watergate panel. But so far the leadership of the Republican party, who control both chambers of Congress and thus have the final say on any such exercise, have shown no appetite for rocking the boat with their new president. That leaves the intelligence agencies. The danger for Trump here is that he has so alienated senior officials, not least by likening them to Nazis, that he has hardly earned their loyalty.

Donald Trump's truce with spy agencies breaks down over Russia dossier

At most extreme, could the new president be impeached and how?

We are currently a very long way from this point, but not so far to prevent speculation about whether Trump could be impeached. Were Trump’s team to be found to have conspired with the Kremlin to distort the 2016 presidential election, that would certainly fall into the impeachable category. But, again, it is entirely unsubstantiated. To take a flight of fancy, what if it were substantiated? That would again come down to a question of politics. No US president has ever been forced out of office by impeachment (Richard Nixon resigned before the vote; Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted by the Senate). Any such procedure would have to be prepared and approved by a majority of the House of Representatives, and then passed to the Senate for a two-thirds majority vote. As the Republicans hold the reins in both chambers, it would take an almighty severing of ties between Trump and his own party to even get close to such a place.

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