“Substantial chance” That Trump is being blackmailed by Putin, Says Former Bush Official

Is President Donald Trump being blackmailed by Russian President Vladimir Putin? A former Bush administration official says it’s entirely possible.

In an interview he agreed to be a part of with Salon, Richard Painter, who served in the administration of former President George W. Bush as the chief ethics counsel for the White House, said he has serious worries about Trump’s present relationship with the Kremlin.

Some of those concerns stems from Trump’s past. “People knew Trump had strange relationships with the Russians even before he was elected,” he said. “Consequently, there is every reason to investigate whether Donald Trump is a Russian asset.”

Indeed, it appears that has already happened. According to reporting from the New York Times, Trump was investigated by his own FBI in the days following his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, after he made strange comments on the Russia investigation playing a part in his decision to do so.

Painter expressed further worries that Trump was working with Russia to undermine U.S. interests because they had compromised information on the president.

“I think that there is a substantial chance that Trump owes the Russians money or that they provided him with money in some other ways,” Painter said. “There is also a substantial chance that the Russians have the goods on him,” he added, citing the possibility of blackmail or “even something worse.”

Whether special counsel Robert Mueller’s report actually demonstrates wrongdoing or not on behalf of the president, however, Painter isn’t confident that Democrats will do something about it. He cited the fact that Democrats are hesitant to actually remove Trump from office because doing so would result in a more conservative option: President Mike Pence.

That worries Democrats, Painter added, because “Pence could actually get re-elected.”

The former White House ethics chief also expressed qualms with recent revelations that Trump spoke to Putin alone, without having cabinet officials or other White House staff present with him.  The only person present was an interpreter, according to reporting from the Washington Post.

That makes things increasingly difficult, especially when it comes to Trump’s interpretation of the events.

“Trump will offer his own version of events. But Putin could be wearing a wire and therefore has even more leverage over Donald Trump,” Painter explained.

Of course, Painter added, there’s a possibility Trump has no ties to Putin at all, and that the Russian president is merely using him as a means to disrupt America’s interests throughout the world. Trump’s inability to be a “stable” person, in his business dealings or otherwise, might have appealed to the Kremlin in 2016.

“It could be that Putin put Trump in the presidency knowing that he is just an unstable person to begin with. But it could be true that Putin has information to leverage and blackmail Trump too.

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