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Putin, Trump & 'Russian Roulette'

Michael Isikoff and David Corn lay out the foundations of the Trump-Russia affair.

As of writing, we are eighteen months into the presidency of Donald Trump. That time in office has found his administration, intelligence agencies, and the news media focused on lingering questions from the 2016 election. 

Namely, it's been the issues of Russian interference in the election, connections between those in the campaign and that country, and the efforts made to undermine Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Exploring all of these questions, Russian Roulette by journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn offers a crash course in an ongoing political scandal.

Isikoff and Corn begin the narrative not with the election but much earlier. Starting the Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow in 2013, they trace a history of dealings between Trump and the Russians that (in fact) dates back farther than that. They explore the efforts the real estate boss made in efforts to build Trump Tower Moscow, all of which failed. The pair goes into Carter Page's dealings with a Russian spy ring, how George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort's dealings caught the attention of counter-intelligence officers and the birth of what has become known as the Steele dossier. For those who may have had difficulty in following the various threads of this affair, the book is a genuine godsend.

The book is more than a regurgitation of facts. It also delves into less well-explored areas of the Russia-Trump story such as offering a brief history of recent Russian espionage activities including hacking efforts and the planting of fake news stories. 

In particular, the authors focus on a 2013 article by Russian General Valery Gerasimov that essentially laid out the information warfare campaign used throughout the 2016 campaign. They also explore the motives Putin and Russian officials might have had for launching such an effort including efforts to connect with the Trump campaign through cutouts. These sections of the book make for some of its most intriguing reading.

They aren't the most damning pages of it, however. Isikoff and Corn look at the failure to prevent the hacking of the DNC by the Party's computer security teams, how the FBI failed to get the gravity of the situation across to them, and how the attempts by the Clinton campaign to raise awareness of Russian responsibility for the hacks backfired on them. Perhaps most damning of all, the book goes into some detail about the Obama administration's failure to deal effectively with the Russian cyber-attacks until it was too late, including failing to raise awareness of the issue (the latter due in part to GOP members of Congress seeing such an effort as tainting the campaign). The result is a sobering reading that left this reader wondering "Why didn't we do more?"

Of course, the book does have one issue. In being published in the middle of an unfolding event (the book was in fact release in March 2018) the book is already out of date in places. The book effectively ends with the firing of FBI Director Comey but takes in details as late as the beginning of 2018. As a result, it can not be a definitive book on the Trump-Russia affair but, it lays the groundwork for those wishing to learn more on the topic in the future.

Indeed, that might be Isikoff and Corn's achievement here. If you've found yourself wondering what this is all about or asked: "Is there any truth to this?" then this book is for you. There's a lot of smoke here and, if what the journalists report here is any indication, there's fire too.

'Russian Roulette' is available on hardcover and Kindle now.

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