It’s hard to keep up with a story like Trump and Russia — without context, background, and constantly updated list of characters, most people don’t have a chance unraveling what is perhaps the biggest story of the Trump Era. And given that the audiobook of the Mueller Report works better as an Ambien alternative than informative tome, it’s a good thing we have The Asset, a new podcast that breaks down the history of Trump, Russia, and how the two have become intertwined.
But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill news-explainer podcast. The host is Max Bergmann, co-founder and director of the Moscow Project, an offshoot of the nonprofit Center for American Progress Action Fund, which means he’s been living and breathing the daily investigation updates for years. Not only that, but Bergmann, who served in the Department of State from 2011 to 2017, has the natural tenor of someone explaining international policy concerns over dinner — offering metaphors, cracking the occasional joke — so the information miraculously sticks.
And Bergmann gets deep. After the first episode, which gives a rough overview of the story so far, he rewinds to the early days of the Trump empire, exploring the future president’s shady business dealings (they make a great case for Trump companies having laundered significant amounts of money) and eventual bankruptcies, showing how without his fathers vast fortune, he would have been a relic of the early 1990s (and leaving us with the question, what if Fred had just let him go to L.A. to get into the movie industry, like the Donald wanted?) From there, Bergman goes into Vladmir Putin’s past as a KGB spy, and how he parlayed that into a two-decade term as the head of Russia. He then folds the two together, explaining what it was about Trump’s bombastic persona that caught the eye of Russia’s leader — and how Trump let his ego guide him into one of the most precarious situations in presidential history.
There’s oligarchs! There’s honeypots! There’s multiple references to the pee tape! But mostly, there’s a sound and sober tale of how a greedy outer-borough businessman became — witting or unwitting — an asset to a foreign power, and how he rode a wave of questionable international support to the top of the American government. But a podcast can only offer so much — it’s how we get out of this mess that’s the question.