Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America

Seth Abramson

Simon and Schuster £20

Review by Harry McGrath

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 prize winning poet who currently teaches digital journalism, legal advocacy and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. If President Donald Trump divides opinion, Abramson sub divides 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 572k Twitter followers. His notoriety originates, in the main, from a so-called megathread 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 over 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 ten to twenty 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 bookifyed 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 is 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.