|HAU DINH / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
The Russia scandal has entered a new phase with the new year. Let's call it Push Comes to Shove.
Donald Trump continues to deny that Russia even interfered in the 2016 election and insists he is not under investigation as evidence of interference piles up and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller tells the president's lawyers he probably will want to interview him. Congressional Republicans, other Trump surrogates and Fox News and Breitbart News continue to mount an aggressive offensive on behalf of the increasingly deranged Trump in a series of diversionary attacks on Mueller, dossier author Christopher Steele and, of course, Hillary Clinton.
While the rest of us are questioning Trump's fitness for office, the only people who could be a check on him are scrambling to put him above the law.
The unashamedly authoritarian nature of the Republican attacks, including their refusal to release transcripts of testimony by the Fusion GPS founder that would put the lie to their Steele dossier contentions, can only mean that investigators are getting uncomfortably close to the truth and the Trump sycophancy must do anything it can to try to hide that truth.
That truth is that the Trump campaign, probably with the president's knowledge and approval, colluded with Moscow. There is substantial, unambiguous and growing evidence of collusion -- or conspiracy in legalspeak -- that no amount of pushing and shoving by the Conways, Kelleys and Kushners and the Grassleys, Grahams and Gingriches will be able to contain in the long run.
Josh Marshall describes what I am calling the Push Comes to Shove phase as "the end of the beginning" of the scandal in a penetrating essay at Talking Points Memo.
The most important question is what happened during the campaign – in legal terms, in democratic terms, in national security terms. But in many ways the biggest question, the most fascinating and hardest to figure is . . . how does Trump's heavy dependence on Russian money and employees with deep ties to Russia and Ukraine and the criminal underworlds in those countries connect to the very pro-Russia line he took during the campaign and his campaign's willingness to work with and conspire with the Russian disruption campaign in 2016? Sure they must be related. But how? I don’t think we really know that yet.My best guess is that people around Putin knew Trump was crooked and dependent on Russian money and that he was likely to be friendly and up for -- well, up for anything. So they went to work trying to make friends and found willing partners. He was up for anything.At the apex of the Push Comes to Shove phase is Mueller informing Trump's criminal lawyers that they may be asked to produce their client for an interview.
This has to have thrown them into a panic because, I suspect, they have been less than candid with the president about the jeopardy he is in because any truth-telling on their part triggers a tantrum, and they have hewed to the fiction that Mueller is wrapping up his investigation, which seems highly unlikely since it has produced a mere four indictments from a large field of potential perps.
Trump has said he would be comfortable with being interviewed because he believes it would put to rest nagging questions, but on Wednesday he reversed field and said he would not commit to an interview because the investigation is "a Democratic hoax."
His lawyers certainly don't know what he might blurt out in the course of an interview and as a result are faced with two lousy choices -- reject an interview request, which would further enhance the view that Trump is hiding stuff and might prompt Mueller to have his grand jury issue a subpoena for him (which he, as with the case of Bill Clinton and a certain White House intern, is within his legal bounds to do) or set strict limits on a sit-down that Mueller is likely to reject.
There is a third choice -- answering written questions as did Ronald Reagan in the case of the Iran-contra investigation.
If you were a Trump lawyer, would you want him to submit to an interview with the special counsel considering the lie-filled gibberish he has been spouting such as this word salad response in a recent New York Times interview?
Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up. If you look at what's going on — and in fact, what it's done is, it's really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it's ever been. Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion.Every question that Mueller might pose to Trump is a potential trap because of evidence that the president has indeed lied with abandon, as well as obstructed justice.
These questions include:
What was the purpose of telling your White House counsel, the attorney general and director of national intelligence to ask the FBI director to go easy on your former national security adviser?
Why did you provide a false rationale for firing the FBI director and then acknowledge that it was because he would not obey you and curtail his Russia investigation?
Did you tell your national security adviser what to say to the Russian ambassador about sanctions? Did you know he had lied about that when you fired him?
Why did you draft your son's misleading response on his meeting with a Russian government representative who promised your campaign dirt of Clinton?
There were over 30 instances, including many face-to-face meetings, where campaign officials communicated with Russians. Did you ever direct anyone in your campaign to do so?In the meantime. Democrats are well advised to cool their jets.
Kudos to Diane Feinstein, the ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat, to do an end run and unilaterally release the Fusion GPS transcripts herself on Tuesday. And for Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to issue a sweeping report on Wednesday on Vladimir Putin's global electoral meddling. But the White House already is in a greater uproar than usual over publication of Michael Wolff's damning Fire and Fury, questions about the very stable genius's mental health have been thrust to the forefront, and I sense that Mueller may be about to drop another shoe or three.
Push has come to shove, and better to allow this new phase to take its own course -- to let pernicious Republican claims that the Russia investigation is an abuse of power to collapse under their own weight -- than shout into the night about impeachment and other not-ready-for-prime-time abstractions.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.