“They just thought they were going to bloody Clinton’s nose,” explains The Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe, as video plays of Russians triumphantly exulting over Donald Trump’s election.
Putin is also portrayed as a master manipulator. It’s explained, for example, that he leveraged knowledge about President George W. Bush’s religious convictions to bond with him in their private meeting, prompting Bush’s comment — eliciting grimaces from aides — that he was “able to get a sense of his soul.”
Kirk incorporates clips that provide reminders of Trump’s shifting stories about his interactions with Putin as a private citizen, as well how Obama’s team, including then-Secretary of State Clinton, fed Putin’s apprehensions that the U.S. was encouraging Russian opposition, threatening his hold on power.
Putin, in other words, wasn’t strictly lashing out at America in some inexplicable reprise of the Cold War but rather saw a degree of self-preservation in his maneuvers, to go with the paranoia and payback.
The documentary also crisply recounts the bizarre confluence of events that occurred weeks prior to the election, with the Obama administration’s measured warning about Russian interference eclipsed by the “Access Hollywood” tape, exposing Trump’s comments about women; and the orchestrated release of data by WikiLeaks, stoking discord among the Democrats.
James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, describes the hacking operation as “the most aggressive and the most direct” the Russians ever mounted — a new frontier, the narration notes, which allowed Putin to “strike at the heart of American democracy.”
The long-term severity of that wound remains to be seen. But “Putin’s Revenge” makes clear that it worked beyond even its mastermind’s wildest dreams.
Frontline’s “Putin’s Revenge” will air Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 at 10 p.m. on PBS.