Almost every day, Trump pushes out a simple (and dishonest) narrative via tweets and public remarks: The Russia investigation is a…well, you know, a witch hunt. Or a hoax. Or fake news. He blasts out the same exclamations daily: Witch hunt, hoax! Hoax, witch hunt! That’s his mantra. His synopsis is easy to follow. It encompasses (even if by ignoring) every new fact and revelation. It connects all the inaccurate and false dots Trump and his partisans toss out: Unmasking! Obama wiretapped Trump! The FBI improperly obtained warrants to conduct surveillance on his campaign advisers! And so on. He’s the victim. The bad guys are the Dems, libs, prosecutors, and deep staters pursuing this huge nothing-burger for nothing but political gain. The Russia story, in Trump’s telling, is a black-and-white tale of evildoers persecuting a great man—him. Sad. And this bully uses his pulpit (and smartphone) to transmit this simple message nonstop. The other side—the accurate perspective—isn’t that complicated. In 2016, Vladimir Putin’s regime mounted information warfare against the United States, in part to help Trump become president. While this attack was underway, the Trump crew tried to collude covertly with Moscow, sought to set up a secret communications channel with Putin’s office, and repeatedly denied in public that this assault was happening, providing cover to the Russian operation. Trump and his lieutenants aligned themselves with and assisted a foreign adversary, as it was attacking the United States. The evidence is rock-solid: They committed a profound act of betrayal. That is the scandal.
But how often do you hear or see this fundamental point being made? The media coverage of the Trump-Russia scandal—which has merged with Cohen’s pay-to-play scandal, the Stormy Daniels scandal, and a wider foreign-intervention-in-
the-2016-campaign scandal—has yielded a flood of revelations. Yet the news reporting tends to focus on specific components of an unwieldy and ever-expanding story: a Trump Tower meeting between Trump aides and a Kremlin emissary; what special counsel Robert Mueller may or may not be doing; the alleged money-laundering and tax-evasion skullduggery of Paul Manafort; a secret get-together in the Seychelles between former Blackwater owner Erik Prince and a Russian financier; the Kremlin’s clandestine exploitation of social media; Russian hackers penetrating state election systems; Michael Flynn’s shady lobbying activities; Trump’s attempted interference in the investigation; and so much more. It is hard to hold on to all these pieces and place them into one big picture. In the face of Trump’s fact-free denials, who is reminding the public of the basics—that Russia attacked, and that Trump aided and abetted the operation? If you watch cable news or are addicted to Twitter, you can see Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the Republicans and the forces of Fox News over the Russia probe on practically a daily basis. A few other Democratic members of his committee join the fray when the news cycle permits. But Sen. Mark Warner, (D-Va.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, prefers maintaining a lower profile. And there are no other Democratic bigwigs who have assumed the task of addressing the beyond-cable audience and fiercely reiterating and emphasizing the core narrative. When it comes to framing the overarching story, Trump practically has a monopoly. Trump and his amen chorus have been claiming there is no Russia scandal—and insisting the real scandal is the existence of a secret FBI plot against him. They have promoted a perverted version of reality at a volume of 11. By merely forcing a debate over whether the Russia scandal truly exists, Trump clouds a tremendously important matter and scores at least a partial win. He has succeeded in diverting attention from his campaign actions that benefited Putin.
The Russia scandal is the most important scandal in the history of the United States. President Andrew Johnson was impeached (but not convicted) because he violated an act of Congress to remove a secretary of war. In the Teapot Dome scandal, the secretary of the interior in Warren Harding’s administration leased federal lands at low rates to private oil companies, presumably in return for bribes. In Watergate, a president and his aides engaged in political skulduggery against political foes. President Bill Clinton lied about a sexual affair he had with a subordinate in the White House. All these scandals raised serious questions about integrity in government. But at the heart of the Russia scandal is the most fundamental issue for a democracy: the sanctity of elections. An overseas enemy struck at the core of the republic—and it succeeded. Trump and his minions helped and encouraged this attack by engaging in secret contacts with Moscow and publicly insisting no such assault was happening. This is far bigger than a bribe, a break-in, or a blow job. And, worse, the United States remains vulnerable to such a strike. Yet the full impact of this scandal does not resonate in the daily coverage and discourse. In many ways, the media presents the Russia scandal mostly as a political threat to Trump, not as a serious threat to the nation. And many Americans, thanks to Trump and his allies, view it as a charade. All this shows how easy it is for disinformation and demagoguery to distort reality. That is a tragedy for the United States. For Trump—and Putin—that is victory.
Richard Nixon is back — now more than ever! Admittedly, he never quite went away, thanks in part to President Trump, who has argued that an FBI counterintelligence investigation into his associates should be re-branded “SPYGATE,” and constitutes a scandal “bigger than Watergate.” (It does, at least, come in all caps.) But let’s review. Last spring, when Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, we had a chance to review such enduring Nixon tropes as the untimely exit of special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the famous search for a “smoking gun.” This week, the New York Times published a January 2018 letter that Trump’s legal team sent to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, arguing that — well, many believe we can summarize the argument using Nixon’s infamous comment to interviewer David Frost in the spring of 1977: “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” As if these claims weren’t enough, presidential adviser Rudolph W. Giuliani added that Trump — unless first impeached and removed from office — could not be criminally indicted, even if he hadn’t just fired Comey but had killed him. The president himself declared, “I have the absolute right to pardon myself.” (That wasn’t an entirely new claim; in July 2017, he said, “All agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon.” Not all agree, as I wrote here then.)
Among the most ridiculous arguments trying to claim the prez is above the law is this notion he can pardon himself. This blurb is the opening to the article
Republican lawmakers on Monday pushed back at President Trump’s claim that he has the power to pardon himself. Trump’s assertion sparked a new round of Republican angst with the White House. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) when asked about Trump’s statements. “I certainly don’t think it would be a welcome strategy.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told CNN, “If I were president of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer.”
Several Republican senators said on Monday that a president could obstruct justice, breaking with an argument put forth by President Trump‘s legal team. GOP Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) told reporters that it’s “entirely possible for a president to obstruct justice.” “I will tell you my own view is it is entirely possible for a president to obstruct justice. If a president committed perjury to lie to or mislead investigators, if he encouraged others [to], if he destroyed evidence,” Toomey said. While the Pennsylvania senator declined to comment directly on the recent letter from Trump’s lawyers, he added that he could think “of lots of ways a president could obstruct justice.” GOP Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) recommended reporters talk to an attorney about the legal argument being pushed by Trump’s lawyers but added, “I don’t think anybody in our system can obstruct justice.”
Other Republican senators noted that the Senate previously tried to convict President Clinton of obstruction of justice as part of his impeachment trial. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), asked if a president could obstruct justice, pointed to the 1999 vote, saying, “There’s a precedent there, obviously.” “I’ve always said I didn’t think anybody is above or below the law,” Shelby added. Shelby is one of several GOP senators still in office who voted in 1999 that Clinton was guilty of obstructing justice. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the House impeachment managers, added that obstructing justice could be an impeachable offense. “Well you can be impeached for obstructing justice, that’s what we did with Clinton.
Manafort allegedly took action that would not only be a serious felony to add to the long list of charges but also would present powerful evidence of a guilty mind in the other crimes for which he has been indicted. Needless to say, innocent people don’t ordinarily resort to falsifying evidence to prove their innocence. Come to think of it, neither do they draft exculpatory statements falsely explaining a meeting before the election with a Kremlin-linked lawyer and their son, son-in-law and campaign chairman. And yet, multiple denials that the president had anything to do with such a statement (explaining the purpose of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting) are now inoperative, we learn. The official story is that Trump did draft the untrue statement — during an FBI investigation, an investigation into Russian collusion. Manafort is not alone in his recklessness, it seems.
Thanks to Manafort and to the president’s assertion that he cannot obstruct justice (and to boot can pardon himself), we now have public attention focused on the crime of obstruction of justice, which is serious for any private individual and a fatal breach of the president’s oath to “take care” that the laws are faithfully executed. Even Republicans are fessing up that obstruction is a really big deal, whether a president can be prosecuted in office (or after office) or “merely” impeached. If Mueller does have credible proof of obstruction, how would Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) wriggle out of voting to convict after telling us: “I will tell you my own view is it is entirely possible for a president to obstruct justice. If a president committed perjury to lie to or mislead investigators, if he encouraged others [to], if he destroyed evidence.” Uh-oh.
Likewise, how would Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who voted to remove President Bill Clinton on obstruction of justice, get around voting to convict Trump, if the facts were sufficient? Indeed, a whole bunch of Republicans currently in the Senate voted to remove Clinton on obstruction grounds — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sens. Mike Crapo (Idaho), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.). (Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Orrin Hatch of Utah, who will be retiring after this year, also voted for impeachment.) Oh, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) was a House floor manager for the impeachment vote.
Trump badly misplayed this in another respect. If he plans on battling in court over a subpoena, you can bet that judges will be reluctant to give even a smidgen of credence to his delusions that he is above the law. Trump revealed where he is headed with these arguments — to criminality without consequences. The federal courts have every reason to stop an executive power grab that would deprive the judiciary of any power over the president or ex-president. Trump therefore managed to rouse Republicans and, more important, the courts, where his effort to evade testifying might eventually be heard.
More Russian News
Here’s an article explaining how Trump whines like a baby: donald-trumps-witch-hunt-has-
I never quite got around to writing about this, but it’s worth highlighting just how baldly and relentlessly Donald Trump has lied about Don Jr.’s meeting with a Russian attorney at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. Here’s an abbreviated timeline:
June 2016: Don Jr. meets secretly at Trump Tower with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, a “trusted insider” of the Putin regime who has promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
A year passes…
July 7, 2017: The New York Times, which has learned about the meeting, calls the White House for comment.
July 7, evening: President Trump meets in private—totally in private—with Russian president Valdimir Putin. Trump later explains that they talked about “adoptions.”
July 8: The White House releases a statement from aboard Air Force One explaining that the Trump Tower meeting was a big nothingburger that included no discussions of any substance. It was just about adoptions.
July 20: Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, quits because he’s afraid the statement amounts to obstruction of justice.
Rest of 2017: Various Trump spokespeople insist over and over that Trump himself had only recently learned about Don Jr.’s meeting and had nothing to do with the statement issued from Air Force One.
January 2018: Trump’s lawyers admit privately in a memo to Robert Mueller that Trump was not only involved in the statement, he dictated it.
June 2: The New York Times publishes the memo to Mueller, making Trump’s repeated lies public.
In other Russian News, perjury is also part of the lexicon: mueller-schiff-perjury. Things keep looking worse & worse for Manafort: the-paul-manafort-witness-tamp
In the Summer case, a judge ruled Trump can be deposed for a defamation lawsuit. Summer Zervos has accused Trump of sexual harassment, so see reports on this story in judge-rules-trump-must-sit-for
And wrapping things up here in part 1, we have the strange case of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. With all the departures from the White House, strangely this guy still remains, even though even Joni Ernst referred to him as swampy as you get. He’s already the subject of more than a dozen investigations. But as I always say, Trump corrupts everyone around him. Here are some recent articles about Pruitt: