Russian Roulette cover

Russian Roulette - Book Summary

The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

Duration: 32:55
Release Date: November 29, 2023
Book Authors: Michael Isikoff and David Corn
Category: Politics
Duration: 32:55
Release Date: November 29, 2023
Book Authors: Michael Isikoff and David Corn
Category: Politics

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we delve into the intricate and alarming world of international espionage and political intrigue with "Russian Roulette." Authored by veteran investigative journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn, this incisive book provides an in-depth look into the Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.

Exploring beyond the headlines, Isikoff and Corn trace Donald Trump's murky business dealings with Russia, examine the web of Russian connections within his campaign team, and unveil the multifaceted cyber tactics used by Russia to disrupt the American political process. From the clandestine hacking of Democratic institutions to the calculated spread of disinformation via social media platforms, "Russian Roulette" paints a comprehensive picture of a modern electoral battleground.

Moreover, the book sheds light on the American intelligence community's response and the actions taken by the Obama administration against this unprecedented cyber onslaught. For those interested in the severity and scope of global cyber warfare and the implications on democratic institutions, "Russian Roulette" stands as a sobering chronicle.

Michael Isikoff, with his extensive background working with prominent news outlets and authoring New York Times bestsellers, alongside David Corn, the insightful Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones and a New York Times bestselling author himself, bring credibility and a wealth of experience to this narrative.

"Russian Roulette" is tailored for news enthusiasts eager to understand the intricacies of the 2016 US presidential election, citizens concerned about Trump's connections to Russia, and political science students seeking to unravel the complexities behind Trump's victory. Join us as we condense the essence of this vital account into 20 minutes of enlightening summary.

Discover the hidden threads connecting Russia to the 2016 Trump campaign

When the race to the White House in 2016 took off, few could predict the scandalous narrative that would unfold — a tale of concealed dealings, cyber intrigue, and Russia's shadow looming over the American electoral stage. Michael Isikoff and David Corn, seasoned investigative journalists, unravel this complex story, exposing the covert operation that sought to sway one of the most shocking elections in US history.

Absorb the intricate details of how Donald Trump's visit to Moscow, his ambition to erect a Trump Tower there, and the notorious New York Trump Tower meeting between his campaign officials and Russian operatives are interlinked. Discover the conspicuous silence of the Trump camp and their failure to alert authorities as they realized the extent of Russia's meddling in the democratic process.

Prepare to delve into the depths of a political drama that continues to stir American politics and resonate on the global stage.

In a fascinating twist of event chains, the spotlight falls on an unlikely figure: a Russian pop star. How did this entertainer become a key player in the tangled web of the 2016 presidential campaign? Prepare to explore the peculiar connections that wove together pop culture, international business ambitions, and the political machinery of two world powers.

It sounds like the plot of a gripping spy novel — a Scottish professor mysteriously emerges as a central character in the clandestine relationship between Trump and Russia. Yet this was the reality behind the scenes of the 2016 presidential battle, where academics and espionage intertwined, leading to revelations that would send shockwaves through the political corridors of the United States.

The G20 summit often marks a convergence of global economies and diplomatic relations, but during the 2016 event, there was a different kind of negotiations at play. Here, President Obama and President Putin engaged in a high-stakes exchange that would carry significant implications for the 2016 election. Uncover what transpired during this pivotal moment and how it influenced the course of America's electoral showdown.

Embark on this journey of political discovery as we pull back the curtain on a narrative so potent it continues to shape the discourse around democracy, cybersecurity, and international affairs years later.

Trump's ambition and admiration entangle with Moscow's approval

The glitzy ambiance of Moscow's Crocus City Hall echoed with preparations for an event that was far more than a spectacle of grace and beauty. For Donald Trump, the Miss Universe pageant on November 9, 2013, was a stepping stone into Russian markets — he envisioned a Trump Tower gracing the Moscow skyline. However, amidst the glitter, Trump's true aspiration was an audience with one man: Vladimir Putin. The Russian president's patronage was crucial for Trump's entrepreneurial dreams in this foreign land.

This choice to court Russian favor wasn't without its challenges. Human rights groups were clamoring in protest, outraged by Russia's stringent anti-gay laws that sought to purge what it called "gay propaganda." Despite the uproar and demands to shift the pageant elsewhere, Trump had his eyes set firmly on the prize; his business venture with Russia had reached a point where turning back was no longer an option.

Trump's quest for Russian approval didn't solely rest on Putin — another figure loomed important: Emin Agalarov. A rising Azerbaijani pop sensation, Emin was set to perform at the pageant. Yet, his celebrity profile was secondary to his lineage; Emin was the heir to Aras Agalarov, a business tycoon versed in navigating the swirling currents of Russian bureaucracy. Trump's interest was piqued, and soon enough, the Trump Organization and Agalarov's firm drafted an intent to collaborate on the prestigious Trump Tower Moscow project.

Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Trump took to social media, lavishing Putin with effusive praise, hoping to charm the Russian leader into endorsing his ambitious plans. The strategy appeared to bear fruit — upon arriving in Moscow, Trump was greeted with a message, purportedly from Putin, teasing a potential rendezvous. But fate intervened. Putin was caught in a traffic snarl, leaving Trump's much-anticipated meeting an unfulfilled promise — a brush with power that was so close, yet so far.

A reset in relations fizzles, and with it, Trump's Moscow dream dims

The near encounter with Putin at the Miss Universe event had left Trump yearning for a connection, yet the much-desired meeting dissolved into nothing more than a 'what if' as Putin failed to make an appearance. But it wasn't just the disappointment of the evening that stymied Trump's real estate aspirations; broader international currents were shifting, currents that would ultimately freeze Trump's Moscow Tower ambitions in their tracks.

Back during President Obama's initial term, the White House had harbored visions of warming US-Russian relations, a sentiment encapsulated in the so-called "reset" policy. This warming was more than sheer idealism; it found a foothold in the leadership of Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's then-president, whose cordial approach toward the West promised a thaw in the perennially frosty rapport between the two nuclear superpowers. Hope crystallized into commitment with the signing of the New Start Treaty, symbolizing a mutual resolve to pare down atomic arsenals — diplomacy was in full bloom.

Then, the winds of fortune shifted. By late 2011, as allegations of electoral malpractice swirled around Putin's reelection, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's vocal skepticism over the vote's legitimacy chilled the air. Putin, incensed, cast blame on Clinton for fueling the fervor of anti-corruption demonstrations unfurling across Russia, a gesture that reversed any gains in diplomacy. The chill deepened as simmering protests in Ukraine in 2013, and Putin's subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014, propelled the US and EU to draw a hard line with economic sanctions.

The tightening noose of sanctions rattled Russia's economy — and rocked Trump's plans. The towering vision of a Trump-branded skyscraper in Moscow now stood against the stark backdrop of international censure; diplomacy's breakdown had inadvertently waylaid Trump's foray into Russian markets. With fiscal constraints strangling opportunity, the once-sparkling prospect of a Trump Tower on the Moscow horizon faded into a dim dream, a casualty of shifting geopolitical tides.

Russian cyber warfare escalates as Trump revisits Moscow real estate ambitions

Vladimir Putin's ire for the Obama administration and particularly Hillary Clinton was no secret. His vision for Russia: a powerful nation unfettered by what he perceived as the West's meddling hands. As the tension between the United States and Russia simmered, a digital Cold War brewed — social media became the modern battleground.

An invisible army of internet trolls worked tirelessly, operating behind a veil of fabricated identities. Their mission was clear: elevate Putin's profile, undermine his opponents, and especially, cast aspersions on Obama and Clinton. This digital deception campaign was but one prong of Putin's broader offensive; Russian hackers were on the march, aiming at the very heart of American politics.

The alarms went off at the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 when the FBI unveiled a cyber intrusion. But the DNC wasn't alone; it stood among a constellation of American organizations — governmental, political, and academic — that Russian hackers had in their crosshairs. Traces led back to the notorious APT 28, a group believed to be tethered to the Russian military's GRU, suggesting a calculated assault sanctioned at the highest levels.

Fast forward to March 2016, the plot thickens as the GRU-backed hackers bait John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, with a counterfeit email. With one misguided click, Podesta unknowingly granted these digital adversaries a window into the strategic heart of Clinton's bid for the presidency.

Amidst this shadowy conflict, Trump's presidential campaign gained momentum and coincidentally — or not — so did his aspirations to erect a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump's intermediary, Felix Sater, pursued Russian stamps of approval, but such dealings, especially for someone eyeing the Oval Office, flirted dangerously with ethical red lines.

When an Associated Press inquiry put the spotlight on Felix Sater, Trump's denial of any meaningful recollection clashed with reality. This line of questioning perhaps illuminated the extent of the quandary: the Moscow project was a ticking time bomb of political liability.

Sensing the peril, by January 2016, Trump's attorney Michael Cohen officially pulled the plug on the hush-hush endeavor, citing "business reasons." Yet, the timing and the context painted a more complex picture of a presidential hopeful entwined with contentious international dealings, under the lengthening shadow of a resurging cyber Cold War.

Trump's circle includes figures with deep Russian connections

In the bustling vortex of Trump's campaign, individuals with intricate Russian links pivoted into pivotal roles. Paul Manafort stood out among these — he arrived on the scene in May 2016 as Trump's campaign chairman and chief strategist, bringing with him decades of Republican political consulting prowess. Having steered the campaigns of former presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, Manafort's Republican pedigree was without question. Yet, it was his claimed distance from Washington's political circuits — an outsider status — that resonated with Trump.

Behind the scenes, though, Manafort was carrying a suitcase full of "Russian baggage." His footprints were embedded in the political landscapes of Russia and Ukraine, particularly as a consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian leader whose actions sparked the volatile Maidan protests in 2014. His roster of clients included Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and an ally of Putin—with whom relations had soured after an unfortunate monetary dispute.

Manafort's motive for joining Trump's campaign wasn't just political; it was personal. He saw it as a chance to mend his ruptured ties with Deripaska, to potentially reconcile and settle their hostile past.

Yet Manafort was not alone. Carter Page and George Papadopoulos entered the Trump campaign orbit as foreign policy advisers near the beginnings of Spring 2016. Both contributed their own Russian cachets.

Page, with a history of dealings in Moscow through Merrill Lynch and as an adviser for Gazprom, held favorable Russian connections so strong that he was granted the privilege to address an audience from a lectern in Moscow, a place overseen by the deputy prime minister himself.

Papadopoulos, although newer to the Russian scene, swiftly connected with those who claimed close relations with Russian authorities. His most consequential encounter was with Joseph Mifsud, a Scottish professor brimming with connections to Russian elites, who confided in Papadopoulos that Russia possessed compromising materials on Hillary Clinton.

In the tangled web of the 2016 campaign, these figures — Manafort, Page, and Papadopoulos — wove a complex tapestry of associations between Trump's push for the presidency and Russia's geopolitical aspirations. Their involvement suggested an agenda far beyond typical campaign policy discussions, potentially seeking to undo the sanctions on Russia and fostering a symbiotic bond between two mighty nations.

Trump campaign's silence as Russian support surfaces

In a crucial turn of events for the 2016 Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr., the candidate's own progeny, found himself ensnared by an email of potentially seismic implications. The sender was Rob Goldstone, a publicist with ties to the Trump Tower Moscow endeavors — this wasn't just any business correspondence, though; it was a promise of clandestine support from the upper echelons of Russian power.

Goldstone conveyed a message from Emin Agalarov, son of the influential Moscow developer Aras Agalarov, indicating that Putin himself was poised to bolster Trump's bid for the White House. What's more, Yury Chaika, a steadfast Putin cohort and Russia's Prosecutor General, purportedly had damaging material on Hillary Clinton, ready to be deployed. Trump Jr. could barely contain his excitement, replying with eager anticipation to the prospect of such potent ammunition.

A high-stakes meeting was soon fixed for June 9, uniting Trump Jr. with campaign powerhouses Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner to meet the Moscow emissaries. Yet, the encounter fell short of expectations — the dirt on Clinton failed to materialize. Nevertheless, the delegates left one thing unmistakable: the Russian government's readiness to throw its shadowy weight behind Trump's presidential crusade.

As the scandal of the DNC hack unfurled, pointing fingers at Russian hackers, the Trump campaign's silence was deafening. Not a word of the overtures made by Russian operatives was conveyed to the FBI or any law enforcement agency. Instead, faced with allegations of Russian electoral tampering to Trump's benefit, the campaign deflected, branding the DNC's outcry as nothing more than a distracting ruse.

This reticence to alert authorities — to acknowledge potential foreign interference — sat squarely against the escalating uproar, casting a shadow of doubt over the Trump campaign's actions, or lack thereof. It presented a stark juxtaposition: a campaign advocating for critical electoral issues yet seemingly unmoved by the integrity of the very electoral process it sought to triumph in.

FBI's spotlight shifts from Clinton's emails to Trump's Russian connections

As the balmy breezes of July 2016 swept through the nation's capital, FBI Director James Comey approached the podium with the world's eyes upon him. He was poised to disclose the findings of an inquiry that had riveted the public discourse — the examination into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State. Comey's statement set the stage: while Clinton's email practices were deemed "extremely careless," the Bureau would not pursue charges, a moment of reprieve for the Clinton camp.

But as one investigation receded, another beckoned, casting a new shadow, this time over the Trump campaign. The DNC, spurred by the hack and its implications, had engaged the services of Fusion GPS, helmed by Glenn Simpson, for some oppositional sleuthing. With a mandate to probe the interstices of Trump's campaign and the dark web of Russian interference, Simpson turned to Christopher David Steele, a British investigator with a past in MI6 and a prowess in unearthing kompromat — the art of leveraging compromising material.

Steele's inquiries ferreted him deep into Russia's underbelly, leading to a source with claims of the FSB obtaining footage that could be lethally embarrassing for Trump — if released. The allegations, tucked within the pages of a dossier Steele filed on June 20, were explosive enough to prick up Simpson's ears and, at Steele's urging, to catch the attention of the FBI.

Before long, Steele's dossier ricocheted through the FBI's corridors, its contents too severe to ignore. The dossier painted a portrait of not just a presidential candidate with potentially scandalous personal indiscretions but one susceptible to the manipulations of a hostile foreign power. The gravity of the situation was not lost on the Bureau; the specter of blackmail over a potential leader of the free world necessitated an urgent and thorough investigation.

Wikileaks' release of DNC emails heightens government concerns

As the heat of summer blazed on, Wikileaks prepared its own bombshell. Julian Assange, the notorious founder of the organization, took to Twitter with a promise — a deluge of 20,000 emails pilfered from the DNC servers was about to rain down. And the timing of Assange's announcement couldn’t have been more charged: the eve of the Democratic National Convention, where Clinton would be crowned the party's standard-bearer.

Revelations within the leaked emails stirred the pot of political discord, exposing a Democratic establishment apparently biased against Bernie Sanders — much to the indignation of his fervent supporters gathering in Philadelphia. Wikileaks, it seemed, was fanning the flames that already threatened to fracture the Democratic base.

As the DNC pointed fingers at Russian cyber operatives for using Wikileaks as a pawn to prop up Trump, skepticism bubbled amongst journalists who suspected a convenient deflection from internal Democratic disarray. Meanwhile, Trump's camp remained dismissive, branding the DNC's indictment as smokescreens, even against the backdrop of the campaign's documented meetings with Russian dignitaries.

But within the halls of power, the situation was gravely sober. President Obama was clued into the mounting evidence of a Russian espionage crusade poised to undermine the electoral process. Yet, despite mounting pressure — Clinton's camp included — for a presidential denouncement, Obama was checkmated by due process. An overt proclamation could be misconstrued as politicizing intelligence, a move that risked tipping the scales of public opinion.

As autumn loomed, so did a watershed moment for American intelligence agencies. A confidential counterintelligence probe by the FBI commenced, delving into the connective tissue between the Trump camp and Russian authorities. Concurrently, a joint CIA and NSA task force marshaled its resources to decouple the intricate narrative of the Kremlin's machinations. Quietly, decisively, they embarked on a mission to unravel one of the most consequential puzzles in modern American politics.

Obama's discreet confrontation with Putin and the intelligence release dilemma

In the waning summer of 2016, President Obama found himself seized by a pivotal moment. The looming G20 Summit in China afforded him a stage for a private ballet of diplomacy with none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin. This encounter would play out quietly, away from the public gaze — diplomats might call it a "sideline meeting," but the stakes were anything but peripheral.

Amidst the grandeur of the summit, Obama and Putin met, each flanked only by their translators. For ninety minutes, Obama pressed the Russian leader, his message as clear as it was stern: the United States knew that Russia was tampering with the democratic process and such actions would not go unchallenged. Penalties, Obama warned, would be harsh. Yet, despite the gravity in those closed quarters, publicly, Putin remained steadfast in his denials.

Back on the campaign trail, despite a private FBI briefing about the DNC breach and its Russian roots, Trump's camp stood firm in their repudiation of the hacking allegations.

Obama's strategic play transcended Moscow's mischief. He proposed an impartial, bipartisan declaration from the halls of Congress, conveying the gravity of Russia's intrusion into the election. Such a statement from unified congressional leadership would alert American voters without favoring either side — a fair warning about the undercurrents in their democracy.

But the landscape was fraught; Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, balked. Siding with the initiative, they feared, would cast a cloud over their party's candidate and tilt the electoral balance. So partisan lines held firm, and the burden to light the beacon of truth fell on the intelligence community.

Two principal actors, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, rose to the challenge. Their statement was carefully crafted, attributing the hack to Russia's machinations. However, the declaration stopped short of attributing motives, leaving unspoken the suggestion of Kremlin partisanship towards Trump.

This critical intelligence statement was teed up for an October 7 release, a month ahead of the electoral decision day, but the political theater had yet more acts to unfurl, more unforeseen narratives to challenge the very notion of an unblemished election.

Intelligence community's bombshell overshadowed by hurricanes, scandals, and email probes

On October 7, 2016, those tracking the pulse of the news braced for a storm of disclosures, none anticipating the whirlwind that the day would indeed become. The intelligence community prepared to cast a historic shadow with a groundbreaking announcement: formal allegations against Russia for its clandestine infiltration of the US election process, an unprecedented move.

Nature, however, had a different curtain-raiser — Hurricane Matthew, a tempest of fury, had wreaked havoc across the Caribbean. As the nation fixated on the ongoing disaster, a different kind of storm brewed courtesy of the Washington Post. They were about to broadcast unseen footage from an "Access Hollywood" tape, capturing Trump in an unguarded moment laced with lewd comments that sent shockwaves across the socio-political landscape. Suddenly, the intelligence community's momentous revelation was nudged from the limelight.

Yet the day was far from over. Before the political pundits could even digest the fallout from Trump's hot mic fiasco, Wikileaks commandeered the stage. At 4:32 PM, the whistle-blowing entity unleashed a trove of John Podesta's emails, stirring suspicions within the Clinton camp of a timed offensive meant to deflect from Trump's Access Hollywood scandal. The Clinton team had long since yearned for government corroboration on the Russian intrusion, and just as silence broke, the cacophony of scandals muffled the message.

The last leg of the presidential race took a toll on the Clinton campaign, each revelation and allegation chipping away at their resilience. Yet Trump, seemingly weatherproof against the turbulent Access Hollywood aftermath, sailed on undeterred.

Then, mere days before the election — eleven to be precise — another twist in the narrative emerged. FBI Director James Comey heralded a sudden reactivation of the Clinton email investigation, injecting a vein of uncertainty. In the political thriller that was the 2016 election, not even the most acute observers could have foreseen the staggering sequence of October 7, a day when the news itself seemed to spin out of control.

Russian intervention shadow looms as Trump ascends to presidency

As the ballots were tallied on November 8, 2016, much of the electorate was oblivious to the extent of the Russian digital siege upon American sensibilities. Despite the FBI's keen awareness and ongoing inquiries regarding an alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, the Bureau withheld its findings from public discourse.

In the wake of the incendiary election season, the Democratic Party reeled under a barrage of perceived injustices. Merely two days before the election, the FBI resurfaced to announce the re-closure of the Clinton email investigation, absolving Clinton of legal wrongs, yet the timed turmoil of that affair had inflicted irreversible electoral harm.

As the final votes were cast and the results crystallized, the ascent of Donald Trump to the presidency stunned the establishment, leaving the Obama administration and many others to grapple with the specter of foreign influence — had they failed to safeguard the nation adequately?

Far afield, the Russian parliament received news of Trump's election with a rousing ovation, the triumph echoing within the Kremlin. Trump himself acknowledged a warm communique from Putin, and shortly thereafter the two leaders indulged in a congenial telephonic exchange, pondering a reset in Russian-American relations.

Yet, an uneasy fog persisted. The covert intricacies of Russia's electoral tampering remained enshrouded from American citizenry, a mystery lingering beyond the campaign's conclusion.

In response, the Obama administration heralded a comprehensive review of the Russian interference in December 2016, aiming to illuminate the shadow that had settled over the election. The following month, Buzzfeed would unsheathe the full Steele dossier — with its salacious allegations of sordid acts and potential Kremlin leverage over Trump.

As Trump embraced his role as the 45th President and vowed allegiance to American primacy, the questions over his campaign's intimacies with Russian interests stood unanswered, a narrative punctuated with more ellipses than periods. With his hand upon the Bible, Trump looked outward to a new era defined by his "America first" creed, while the reckonings of the past campaign trailed closely behind — the rumblings of Russia never too distant.

Unveiling the Russian maneuvers in the 2016 US election odyssey

In the labyrinthine narrative of the 2016 US presidential election, investigations by Michael Isikoff and David Corn unearth a surreptitious plot orchestrated by the Russian government to disrupt the democratic process. Their meticulous unraveling of events exposes a campaign of chaos, crafted to discredit Hillary Clinton's candidacy and propel Donald Trump to the presidency.

The multifaceted strategy deployed by Russia comprised not only the cyber infiltration of Democratic organizations but also pervasive disinformation flooding social media platforms. The story is further complicated by the shadowy Russian connections of Trump campaign associates, whose interactions remained murky but suggestive of a deeper intrigue.

Trump's unexpected victory left many questions in its wake, but the aftermath has slowly peeled back the layers of Russia's extensive meddling. The audacious scope and impact of this covert operation have only become more apparent with time, leaving an indelible mark on American political discourse and international relations.

Russian Roulette Quotes by Michael Isikoff and David Corn

Similar Books

The Dying Citizen
Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
The 1619 Project
What’s Our Problem?
Putin's People
Profit Over People