The Trump/Mar-a-Lago Story Comes into Focus

Collecting 'dirt' on friends and rivals has been a Trump mainstay for decades.
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office of the White House, January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. On Saturday, President Trump is... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office of the White House, January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. On Saturday, President Trump is making several phone calls with world leaders from Japan, Germany, Russia, France and Australia. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Yesterday Rolling Stone published an article about President Trump and French President Macron. The ex-President has reportedly bragged that he had “intelligence” on Macron’s sex life. And these brags seems to coincide with documents seized from the ex-President’s estate which, according to the search inventory, contained a dossier of information about the French President. I’ve been particularly interested in this because a French expat fellow reader of ours has been focusing my attention recently on how the French far-right rumor mill went to town on this subject in 2017 when Macron was first elected. The French far-right and Trumpworld are all part of the same far-right, authoritarian, revisionist world, often more or less openly allied to Russia. People immersed in the world of French politics and the French far-right perked up immediately when they saw that item on the search inventory.

On its face this is all just layers of whisper campaign. We can’t know just what Trump knows, or thinks he knows, about Macron, or whether his purported knowledge is tied to U.S. intelligence he may have stolen and stored at his Florida estate. But for our purposes these details are mostly beside the point. This is likely our first real view of the “why.” Why was Trump so focused on holding on to this stuff?

As TPM Reader TS put it yesterday, for him it’s like another version of all the choice dirt The National Enquirer had stored up in that secret safe: a store of menace and threat, chits to be exchanged, leverage to be exerted, an insurance policy in case things got rough. Owning what’s in the safe is power. It can’t be stressed enough how much this has been Trump’s M.O. for decades — only now supercharged by the most powerful information-collection engine the world has ever known.

Another thread of the story is that the possibility that Trump is bragging about secret information about the French President’s sex life (true or not) has understandably gotten the attention of the French government. It has “triggered a trans-Atlantic freakout,” as Rolling Stone puts it. Was this just Trump BSing as part of his on-again, off-again and currently on-again feud with Macron or was it some kind of genuine intelligence breach that could be damaging to France or the Franco-American relationship more generally?

Our information is so scant that it is impossible to know on the particulars. The big picture is more clear. People don’t tend to change much. And this is Trump’s MO since basically forever. In terms of “selling intel” and other similar ideas, probably not. The power of holding or claiming to hold this kind of information is far more in the threat of wielding it than in actually doing so. But for a man who reportedly put so much stock in the power of that safe at National Enquirer headquarters, the finds available to a U.S. President are simply unimaginable. No wonder he wanted to hold some material in reserve.

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