Rex Tillerson: A little spy story

As I eagerly await new indictments — my temperament seems to require an indictment every month or so — and yes, the most recent subpoena announcement does soothe me…

For most of my life as a reader I have devoured spy stories, both fictional and factual, especially David Cornwell’s great Smiley novels which were themselves provoked by the devastating Cold War British spy scandal embodied by Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. (A Spy Among Friends, by Ben Macintyre, is the non-fiction book to read; Cornwell, who knew at least one of the characters, wrote the afterward.)

I am hardly the first person to watch what has happened in America and to develop dark notions about Russian moles, tools and candidates. As a devotee of both Rachel Maddow and the clout of time lines, I just gave myself a few little chills by putting together a wee narrative about Rex Tillerson’s hiring and firing.

Here are the facts, interspersed with my spy-infused suppositions in italics.

  • In November 2016, just about the time I was managing to get out of my PJs and back into regular clothes, Trump met Mitt Romney for dinner. Bruted about was Trump was interviewing Romney for Secretary of State.
  • Didn’t happen. According to Jane Mayer’s “The Man Behind The Dossier,” Christopher Steele’s memos contained the allegation that Putin himself killed the Romney nomination because Romney had marked Russia as our major enemy during his 2012 presidential campaign.

The other night my cousin Ruth and I were ruminating over how Putin might deliver his orders to Trump. I figured, burner phones. Trump takes his out into the Rose Garden, yadda yadda. Ruth said she thought it’d have to be a face-to-face meeting between otherwise low-level or unknown (unrecognizable to lurking reporters and photogs) White House and Russian Embassy, um, “coffee boys,” and they’d meet some place in the middle of the night. Yes, I said, at a diner! [I thank my friend Michele for introducing me to Diner Love.]

Of course, DC shuts down really early. Are there any diners open at, say 2 am? Maybe they go out to a rest stop on 95. Either way, Ruth gets full credit for selecting a realistic communication arrangement between the White House and Kremlin — one that would not be picked up and transcribed by the FBI.

UPDATE: Michele just told me there are no NYC-type diners in DC! This is very sad. Some enterprising diner magnate should think about this. So I guess we have to go with the rest stop on 95.

Putin is content: envision that weird icy smile. Putin now looking forward to future discreet dealings with the guy to whom he gave a gilded medal of friendship and with whom he forged valuable oil deals (you’ll see evidence of this later in the narrative, hope I haven’t blown the suspense.) Putin says he regrets giving Tillerson the medal because Tillerson has fallen in now with bad company. Right. Don’t listen to what he says publicly: like his chief idolizer, he lies, all the time.

Putin must have been as shocked at Trump’s election as we all were and had to scramble fast to figure out how to manage things to his benefit. He knew Tillerson was, essentially, an oil salesman, not a diplomat, so Putin figured he could leave Tillerson to his own devices and State would fall apart anyway. Moreover, Tillerson’s communication with foreign entities would be captured by the FBI so direct orders would have be unwise.

I’m thinking Tillerson was not actively engaged with Putin but was a semi-witting Kremlin tool who, as time went on, began to realize what was happening and got more and more truculent about it. After all, he had been the CEO of a corporation with an economy bigger than a lot of countries, but now he was being treated like Putin’s minion. Worse, Trump is the middle man.

OK, now there had to have been some urgent diner trips. The Kremlin guy lays down the order (along with his grilled cheese sandwich, whole wheat bread, so he can poke his sort of greasy finger menacingly at Trump’s guy): no way will Putin accept any further sanctions and, oh, btw, what about those Obama sanctions Trump promised to have removed?

And now I’m wondering whether instead of diner meetings, maybe that often mentioned Russian-White House back channel was established. Where? Not sure but definitely in neither the White House nor the Russian Embassy. So maybe Trump got his marching orders via a back channel. (Maybe the back channel is in that diner. Maybe it’s late and I’m hungry and need to take a break here.)

It’s said Tillerson was ready to quit and Mike Pence talked him out of it. Personally, I think Mike Pence couldn’t talk anybody out of anything, except maybe Jesus. Tillerson may have threatened to quit but aren’t we all sure Trump was apoplectic? Trump would never accept Tillerson quitting, not when he’d been called a moron and his sole sales pitch is, “You’re fired!”

But Tillerson remains at State. Why?

Even if Trump has said nothing about imposing new sanctions for messing around in our election, he seems to be having trouble getting rid of Obama’s Russian sanctions. Which, from everything we know, was surreptitiously promised to Putin by multiple Trumpians like Michael Flynn.

I suspect Trump railed about Tillerson, either by sending his guy to the diner or maybe even by direct communication with Putin (burner phone), with the message, “I’m gonna fire his ass!” (Trump bragged to the Russians — privately — about firing Comey. He likes to brag to Russians about firing people.) But Putin ordered Trump to stand down for now. Tillerson was still useful to Putin because of that gigantic oil deal — the one you’ll read about below. Because, as you’ll see, getting rid of those sanctions turned out to be the sine qua non of the gigantic oil deal.

Well well well. Immediately after Pompeo’s statement, I’ll bet there was another major diner meeting where Trump is given his orders: make a no-sanctions announcement to counteract Pompeo NOW.

It’s been widely noted that the public communications and actions emerging from the administration are crazily, inexplicably contradictory. But they are explicable if Putin is controlling Trump but not Trump’s administrative deputies. Here’s the thing: Putin doesn’t think he has to. He’s a despot. Nobody in his administration contradicts him.

But Putin’s big weakness is that he is a despot and therefore can not understand the United States, can’t understand how rambunctious we are, even under (temporary) one-party rule. He certainly can’t understand our journalists and investigators, our investigative and legal non-profits. In Russia he imprisons or kills journalists or anyone who objects to him too loudly.

Putin must have believed he’d control Trump and Trump would run everything, and anything Trump did or said would be obeyed. Or else.

I’m thinking Putin might have gotten a bit uneasy here. Trump wasn’t imposing new sanctions but his own top deputies were not denying that Russian interfered with our election and would be doing it again. Something further had to be done about this problem. So… 

So Putin sent his top spies to the U.S. secretly to meet with Pompeo and Coats. What did they talk about? I’d think sanctions, yeah, but also in some relatively subtle way Pompeo and Coats were given Putin’s permission to admit openly the election interference. Why? Because Putin has decided he wants us to know how powerful and clever he’s been. And, through Pompeo, Coats, et al. he’s warning us that they’ll keep doing it. He’s using our own top intelligence people as his mouthpieces, to threaten us and our electoral system.

And don’t you think Pompeo and Coats told the Russian spies that nothing whatsoever was being done about their interference with our elections?

Putin watches, and is pleased. He assumes since we were schmucks enough to put Trump in the White House, we’ll be schmucks again in 2018, and 2020. So he’s proud to have it announced that he owns us. 

Whoops. Exxon Mobil, under Rex Tillerson, made a big oil exploration deal with Russia but Exxon is now cancelling it. Because of sanctions.

  • The article continues: “During the early years of the Obama administration, when there was a brief warming of relations [and minimal if any sanctions], Exxon Mobil signed an exploration deal with the Russians…[but] After Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the United States and its European allies applied several sanctions on Moscow, eventually freezing Exxon’s investments.”

Tillerson is now of no use whatsoever to Putin. Uh-oh.

Why would Putin direct an assassin to attempt to kill a man who, by a decade ago, had given everything he knew to the Brits and had no more to offer, could no longer do any damage to Russia?

First, because Skripal was an easy mark. After all these years he probably felt pretty safe in England and was no longer looking over his shoulder or worrying about drinking tea with another Russian exile.

Second, and most important, Putin had him killed as a warning, I think. A warning, in particular, to Paul Manafort. A warning of what will happen to anyone who might think about spilling the beans to Mueller about Putin, and Russian money’s involvement with Trump, about Russian corruption. About Russia.

Unlike the old-timey American Mafia, Putin goes after entire families, not just individuals he has targeted as enemies. Children, wives, mothers, distant cousins…anybody he can reach.

I’m beginning to think that after Mueller’s investigation is done, our witness protection program will swell to numbers approximating the entire population of Wyoming.

Some typically chaotic information emerges from the White House about exactly when Tillerson was fired. They want us to believe he was fired before Tillerson spoke out against the Russian poisoning, not after. They do not want the Tillerson firing to be seen as retaliation for Tillerson’s condemnation of Russian aggression.

But it is. As always, this White House is too stupid to get its act together. I just picked up the word to describe it: FUBAR. Translation — Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

Preceded by another frantic late-night diner meeting. Putin’s emissary tells Trump’s guy to have Trump concede the assassination. Maybe he even hands Trump’s guy a written statement roughly encoded into the diner’s all-day breakfast menu section. Because Putin has decided it’s not a bad idea to have Trump himself emphasize the reality of Russian assassination, presumably to anyone who threatens Trump. (Anyone Mueller has indicted, is interviewing.)

And now we can see clearly that Trump is Putin’s mouthpiece, his tool. His Moscow Candidate. Trump himself is now enhancing Putin’s reputation as an absolute autocrat, and a danger to anyone who betrays either Putin or Trump. Trump is blurting out to everyone, “I got protection, I got muscle, Putin’s got my back, so watch out.”

So that’s what I’ve been thinking.

An afterthought. As nuts as this may sound, it is much saner and neater than the true story of Kim Philby, the British MI6 agent who spent his whole career spying for the Soviet Union.

One big shock I got out of A Spy Among Friends was that, of the four primary intelligence agencies tangled up in the British spy scandal, the two “upper class” ones — Britain’s MI6 and the United States’s CIA — refused to accept evidence shoved in their faces that Philby was a Soviet spy and fought to protect him.

The two intelligence agencies convinced of Philby’s treachery were street: the FBI and Britain’s MI5. We should all keep that in mind, especially now, as Trump attacks the agency that probably has evidence of his treachery.



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