It used to be that a week was a long time in politics. Hah! Do you remember those days? When a week was a long time. Since Trump’s ascension to power, a day is a long time. An hour. I’m sure I’m not alone in going to sleep wondering what world we’ll find upon waking – only to wake to renewed playground spats with North Korea, or some offhand comment about “shithole countries” resounding around the world or accusations of affairs and cover-ups with former pornographic actresses. Every day brings something new to shake your head at, roll your eyes about, face palm or generally despair for humanity. Which is why the fact that Luke Harding’s latest book, Collusion (subtitled How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House) came out in November 2017 is worth pausing over. As with everything print based and Trump related, the pell mell, three year old running down a steep hill nature of his tenure, means that books have a tendency to be dated fast. Or crushed into the mud by the boot heel of whatever comes next (in this case, I suppose you could say Michael Wolff’s book Fire & Fury has somewhat stolen the thunder of Collusion – ed. and since we first published this review back in January, there has been little easing of the glut of Trump books, with Bob Woodward and Stormy Daniels being but two of the more high profile books). And obviously there’s the investigation itself into collusion, which is ongoing – only last week, there was a story in the news about the possibility of Trump himself being invited for interview. By the time you read this review he could have… – well, anything is possible.
But there’s a flip side too, and we’ll call that flipside: reason. Harding knows that of which he speaks. Not only did he serve on the Guardian’s Russia desk for a time (we get a glimpse of the office he resided in here, in Collusion), but a couple of his previous books are also pertinent: 2011’s Mafia State (subtitled Spies, surveillance and Russia’s secret wars or How one reporter became an enemy of the brutal new Russia, depending on which copy you look at) and 2016’s A Very Expensive Poison (subtitled The definitive story of the murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s war with the west). And, again, since we first published this review we’ve had more people poisoned by Russia on the streets of our country. The Trump collusion story is, in some respects, manna from Heaven for Harding. So whilst, through no fault of his own, the story continues to move ahead even as this book pauses at a specific point in the telling, Harding’s book is a great place to get a solid background. Here is a journalist who you know takes a fact, corroborates it once, twice and possibly three times and then connects that to another fact, which is in turn corroborated once, twice, three times. So when Harding tells you,
“For four decades Trump’s property empire effectively functioned as a laundromat for Moscow money. Funds from the former Soviet Union poured into condominiums and Trump apartments… A Reuters investigation found that at least sixty-three individuals with Russian passports or addresses bought $98.4 million worth of property from seven Trump-branded towers in Florida.”
you can take it as a fact. And not a fake fact or an alternative fact but an actual, old fashioned, what we used to use as the basis for truth kind of a fact.
Similarly, when Harding relates the torturous and complex ways in which all of the people around Trump (Cohen, Manafort, Page etc) have ties to Russia, when Harding relates the tales of vast sums of money being exchanged for former Trump properties by Russian oligarchs Trump alleges never to have met, when we hear the ways in which various Trump designates lie about what certain meetings with Russia were about, you can’t help but be reminded of the old expression: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck. Now, obviously, the fact that the investigation is ongoing (the team involved ‘following the money’), we know that we’re probably at the quacking like a duck stage (and Harding has already come in for some stick at the hands of Paste Magazine who think that a book called Collusion should basically be a clickbait-y list of the various ways in which Trump definitely colluded, only to be disappointed by the fact that, you know, it’s actually a little bit complicated).
But it is complicated – and there are certainly times when, to this reader’s ear, the profusion of Russian names becomes somewhat confusing (it can’t be helped, and just means that occasionally you have to flick back and forth to remind yourself who’s who). Not only that, some of the questions themselves – such as why Deutsche Bank would continue to lend to someone who was legitimately labelled a credit risk on a grand scale – are themselves dark and occluded. Collusion can be a bit of a lidless jigsaw at times. The hope is that the darker areas of the jigsaw get more light shed on them at some point.
All told, it’s one of those books you should just read because. We live in dark and dangerous times (just see what happens to all of the Russian diplomats who die of heart attacks or, you know, accidentally fall off roofs in the wake of details of collusion escaping over the course of the last year), and anything that equips you with the facts to have a legitimate opinion (ie anything that flies in the face of Russian bots firing misinformation out into the universe) is on the side of good. And there’s precious enough of that around.
Any Cop?: Harding is a robust account keeper and Collusion is sturdy and compelling enough to send this reader off in search of his other books.