“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” tweeted President Trump this morning, doubling down on his firing of Comey as F.B.I. Director and insulting him as a “showboat.”
This tactic — which is sending shockwaves throughout the U.S. government — will be utterly familiar to Kremlin watchers like National Security Agency veteran John Schindler. The tactic is called kompromat and it’s a technique perfected by Russian spies since the days of the Cheka to gain compliance from a target. Kompromat played a critical role in Russian president and KGB veteran Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. When a prosecutor began investigating corruption by his then-boss Boris Yeltsin, Putin produced a sex tape involving the prosecutor and the investigation ground to a halt.
Trump’s attempt to end the Russia investigation by firing the man overseeing is like putting out one fire by starting dozens of other fires. Threatening the ousted F.B.I. director (who remains very popular with the agency’s rank-and-file) with kompromat on top of that is suicidal.