Twelve Books

Russian Roulette is a compelling and deftly written compilation of what we already know about the Trump-Russia affair. Outside of a few gems, the book—written by veteran investigative reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn—contains many of the names and vignettes any hardcore viewer of MSNBC will already be familiar with. Still, it is the most complete look yet at all the pieces at play on Putin’s chessboard, and it frequently sizzles with intensity.

Perhaps most impressively, Isikoff and Corn blend their work together seamlessly—it’s impossible to tell who wrote which part. What carefully emerges is a reasoned march from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant through Trump’s first meeting with Putin as president. Corn himself was the first to break the Steele Dossier news in the pages of Mother Jones (minus the scandalous alleged golden shower material).

Readers will smack their foreheads as they read about the many chances our government had to alert the public to the crimes as they were being committed. For a host of reasons, alarm bells were drowned out, and one might blame the partisan divide that’s paralyzed our statecraft. In truth, we found ourselves under attack in a way we had never expected. And we reacted slowly and incompetently to that attack.

Even when Russian Roulette spells out fragments that have been well-covered in the press, the entire tale still has the whiff of fiction. How could our nation find itself in a situation this ridiculous? Corn and Isikoff walk the reader through the whole implausible course. Still, the book feels half-written. The authors had little access to the West Wing, so Russian Roulette circles around the edges of it. And for a book about Russia, there’s only passing mention of the oligarchs who seem to be at the shadowy center of this controversy. There’s no mention of the secret meeting in the Seychelles. And why was Jared Kushner so overly concerned with creating secret back channels to the Kremlin? We will have to wait for Corn and Isikoff’s next installment to find out.

Reports can only report what’s reportable. It feels like these writers didn’t sell their soul (or burn their sources) to get their story the way that Michael Wolff may have. While Russian Roulette is a little less juicy than Fire and Fury, it does more work to explain the story’s intricacies. Isikoff and Corn even cast doubt on the odds of a pee tape. It feels like more shoes have yet to drop, and we’ll count on the reporters to sort out the rest until then.

Russian Roulette
by Michael Isikoff and David Corn
(Twelve Books)