The case against Trump

An at­tor­ney ac­cuses his pres­i­dent

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Books - Re­view by Harry McGrath

Proof Of Col­lu­sion: How Trump Be­trayed Amer­ica

Seth Abram­son

Si­mon and Schus­ter £20

Seth Abram­son is a mem­ber of the “re­sis­tance”, a group of anti-Trump ac­tivists who use Twit­ter to con­front their bête noir. Abram­son brings an un­usual skill set to the task. He is a for­mer de­fence at­tor­ney and a prizewin­ning poet who cur­rently teaches dig­i­tal jour­nal­ism, le­gal ad­vo­cacy and cul­tural the­ory at the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire. If Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump di­vides opin­ion, Abram­son sub­di­vides it. He has been called ev­ery­thing from a con­spir­acy the­o­rist to a “di­ar­rhoea tweeter” to some­one who uses other peo­ple’s work with­out their per­mis­sion. The crit­i­cism em­anates from all po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions and none.

Abram­son cur­rently has 572,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers. His no­to­ri­ety orig­i­nates, in the main, from a so-called mega-thread at­tached to a tweet he wrote in March, 2017. It read: “The plot to sell Amer­ica’s for­eign pol­icy for for­eign oil_and_steal an elec­tion in the bar­gain be­gan at the Mayflower Ho­tel.” This is a ref­er­ence to Trump’s first for­eign pol­icy speech which took place in DC’s Mayflower, af­ter a late venue change from the Na­tional Press Club.

Abram­son sub­se­quently claimed that the of­fi­cial rea­son for the change – a larger room – was spe­cious and that the real rea­son was to pro­vide a place where the sale of stock in Rus­sian oil giant Ros­neft could be dis­cussed in pri­vate. From there he went on a tear: tweet­ing and retweet­ing about ev­ery ac­tual and po­ten­tial Trump scan­dal in­clud­ing his con­duct at the 2013 Miss Uni­verse pageant in Moscow, the pro­jected Trump Tower in the same city and the var­i­ous scan­dals sur­round­ing his po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees and acolytes.

In au­tumn 2018, Abram­son de­cided to “book­ify” his Twit­ter feed, which sounds like some­thing Trump him­self might say. The process of book­i­fi­ca­tion was not a long one and a mere three months later, Proof Of Col­lu­sion ap­peared. In fact, he did not book­ify his Twit­ter feed; a dread­ful prospect that would at least have had the ben­e­fit of be­ing some­thing new.

In­stead he “ag­gre­gates and cu­rates” in­for­ma­tion that is al­ready out there, much of it from stan­dard me­dia sources. De­spite be­ing ex­tremely repet­i­tive the book gives an im­pres­sion of rigour with more than 100 pages of end­notes and in­nu­mer­able ci­ta­tions.

This kind of syn­the­sis is noth­ing new and has been long favoured by his­to­ri­ans with no ideas of their own. Abram­son, how­ever, gives the process a new name. “Cu­ra­to­rial jour­nal­ism” is sold here as a pub­lic ser­vice, col­lect­ing the out­put of re­porters and com­men­ta­tors and “fill­ing in gaps”.

Specif­i­cally, it is for “Amer­i­cans” who oth­er­wise “are likely to stay in the dark for months” or are in­ca­pable of un­der­stand­ing the com­plex is­sues at stake.

His “the­ory of the case” is that “Don­ald Trump and a core group of about 10 to 20 aides, as­so­ci­ates and al­lies con­spired with a hos­tile for­eign power to sell that power con­trol over Amer­ica’s for­eign pol­icy in ex­change for fi­nan­cial award and – even­tu­ally – covert elec­tion as­sis­tance”.

At the time of writ­ing, Abram­son’s pinned tweet boasts that Proof of Col­lu­sion is “the book that keeps you AHEAD of Trump-Rus­sia news”. The use of dra­matic cap­i­tal let­ters is, again, rem­i­nis­cent of Trump’s own style, but the tweet raises the is­sue of how a fin­ity of print can keep you ahead (or even AHEAD) of an ever-evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion.

The truth is, of course, that it can’t. Abram­son may not have book­i­fied his Twit­ter feed but, if he had, the re­sult would have been slighter than this

col­la­tion but not dis­sim­i­lar to it. The same sit­u­a­tions and char­ac­ters that pop­u­late his Twit­ter feed, fea­ture again in the book: sundry Rus­sians with pu­ta­tive ties to Putin, Hi­lary Clin­ton and her emails, Flynn, Pa­padopou­los, Trump Jr, Kush­ner and all the rest of them. The most re­cent in­for­ma­tion that the book con­tains on any of them is from two months or so be­fore it was pub­lished.

That is not to say that Col­lu­sion is with­out in­ter­est. It has the car crash qual­ity that al­ways at­taches it­self to Trump and the pil­ing on that Abram­son or­ches­trates makes the con­di­tion of the Amer­i­can pres­i­dency seem all the more ap­palling.

What it doesn’t do is prove any­thing de­spite Abram­son’s in­sis­tence in the in­tro­duc­tion that “proof of col­lu­sion in the Trump-Rus­sia case is in plain sight”. Amassed the­o­ries and sug­ges­tive jux­ta­po­si­tions not­with­stand­ing, we end up with some­thing closer to the Scot­tish “not proven” ver­dict with its unique mix of moral con­vic­tion of guilt and in­abil­ity to con­clu­sively prove the case.

This is not to say that it will be this way for much longer. Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller doesn’t have a Twit­ter ac­count and has op­er­ated un­der the radar to such an ex­tent that his in­ves­ti­ga­tions force Abram­son to spec­u­late even more in­tensely that usual.

Things are mov­ing so quickly that the book al­ready re­quires a sec­ond vol­ume, which it­self would be out of date by the time it was printed. Since the first sen­tence of this re­view was penned, Trump’s char­ity foun­da­tion closed down amid al­le­ga­tions that funds were used for pri­vate and po­lit­i­cal gain and Abram­son’s pinned tweet changed to: “Hi ev­ery­one: I’m go­ing to be away for bit. I will be back. Stay strong.”

What that means is any­body’s guess but it’s not be­yond the bounds of pos­si­bil­ity that his ad­ver­sary will tweet some­thing sim­i­lar in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture.

‘If Don­ald Trump di­vides opin­ion, Seth Abram­son sub­di­vides it’

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