John Kass: Putin's great American spy novel

Americans don't think of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin as a man of letters.

We don't see him as a literary man, but as a man of action, at least in his own mind. In Putin-approved photos, he wrestles wild beasts and bends them to his severe Russian will. He rides horses with his shirt off, that sort of thing.


So we don't see Mr. Putin with pen in hand, at a desk by the fire, with loyal serfs and lickspittle oligarchs bringing him tea as he sketches out a broad outline of chaos in a faraway republic.

Yet with this ongoing Russian business, he couldn't have a more compelling American political drama to enjoy if he'd written it all by himself: the anti-Trump liberal media and their allies, the Democrats and the Republican establishment, seeking to topple the president; Mr. Trump with his paranoid and angry tweets; the pro-Trump nationalists; and the forgotten middle class devoured by the elites. All of them howling at each other's throats.


Ignored in all the recent partisan political rage is a humble creature, wounded, weakened, perhaps wondering if all the screaming is worth it.

Many years ago, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman reportedly asked of Benjamin Franklin: "Well, Doctor, what have we got -- a republic or a monarchy?"

"A republic," Franklin said, "if you can keep it."

I'm no drama critic, but the media reaction to the indictment of Paul Manafort -- the creepy former campaign manager of President Donald Trump -- was just a bit predictable.

But if you've ever watched bloodthirsty American adolescents play one of the more gruesome combat video games in your living room, you wouldn't have been surprised.

With a howl of triumph, the conquering avatar rips the living spine from the vanquished, holding the trophy aloft as virtual proof of righteous victory. And so, as Rachel Maddow smiled, you could almost see saliva dripping from her bicuspids.

Naturally there was much loathing, snark and manic sarcasm, too, as the Watergate mantra was offered up, again and again by hopeful voices: Mr. Trump as Nixon, wandering the White House in a nightshirt.

This came not only from the liberal political media, but from their nominal allies in the big-government Republican establishment, because in all things Trump they are one, having hated him for months.


The boorish vulgarian defeated them, defeated the Republican establishment before he defeated Hillary Clinton, for the simple reason that Americans considered both sides -- the Clintons and the establishment GOP -- as corrupt and full of lies. And now, with their hold on empire threatened, they want to take Mr. Trump down.

But equally predictable was the defensive reaction of the pro-Trumpers from the nationalist right, and it didn't take much imagination at all to write their dialogue. It doesn't take inspiration to write for loyal hounds.

And so the pro-Trumper Sean Hannity kept up his incessant loyal barking, arguing that in special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of Mr. Manafort, there was no there, there.

There was nothing to see, nothing really, at all.

And others said that the Mueller indictment wasn't all that bad for Mr. Trump because the charging documents didn't show the president colluding with the Russians to take the election from Ms. Clinton.

But think again. It wasn't just some guy who was indicted. It was the president's campaign manager who was indicted. And Mr. Manafort will be squeezed the way the feds have always squeezed people, from mob bosses to politicians.


Their wealth will be squeezed, and their friends and family will be squeezed. All it takes to stop the squeezing is a statement, an admission, a story about someone else close to Trump, like a friend, or a son-in-law, and the thing metastasizes.

So there is something there. There's plenty there, including the likely wiring up of the so-called foreign policy expert, George Papadopoulos of Chicago, who really wasn't much of a foreign policy expert.

If he were an expert — and not some odd, self-important character straight out of a John le Carré novel — he wouldn't have been played by "the professor" and others, running about insisting (according to Mr. Mueller's documents) that all Mr. Trump had to do was meet with Mr. Putin and get damaging info on Ms. Clinton.

Mr. Papadopoulos allegedly lied to federal investigators. They caught him, broke him, and he rolled. Being from Chicago, he probably knows the rules. When the big federal bus pulls up, you get on and grab a seat and you wear a wire. Or you take your chances.

Mr. Manafort was working on behalf of Mr. Putin's boys in Ukraine for years before hooking up with Mr. Trump, and as the Manafort indictment dropped, so did another shoe, a Chicago Democratic shoe.

Tony Podesta -- brother of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta-- resigned from the powerful lobbying firm the Podesta Group, which worked with Mr. Manafort on Ukraine.


If Mr. Mueller is serious at all about Russian interference in Washington, there's plenty to investigate.

First, of course, Mr. Trump and his White House, but also the role of American lobbyists in the employ of Putin puppets, and the origins of that salacious Clinton-Democratic Party-funded Russian dossier on Mr. Trump.

It began with a push from never-Trump neoconservative Republicans and was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

Because it was that dossier, instigated by the Republican neocon Free Beacon newspaper and later supported by Ms. Clinton and Democratic cash, that started all this.

So let us pray that Mr. Mueller investigates everything, all of it, all of them.

Mueller owes the republic.


It's not Putin's republic. It's ours.

And let's see if we can keep it.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His Twitter handle is @john_kass.