|MARK WILSON / GETTY|
And so the other shoe has dropped.
Nearly three years after the first hint that Russia was interfering in U.S. politics, 18 months after Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation of the greatest scandal since Soviet spies stole U.S. atomic bomb secrets in the late 1940s, and nearly three weeks after Democrats flipped more House seats than in any election since Watergate and vowed to push back against an unhinged president, what has long been suspected is now cold, verifiable fact -- Donald Trump and his campaign eagerly colluded with America's historic enemy to steal the 2016 presidential election.
The confirmation of collusion with Vladimir Putin's cyberwarriors -- long assumed but never telegraphed until this week by the circumspect Mueller -- emerged in court filings in which Trump was opaquely identified in legalese as "Individual No. 1."
"Individual No. 1," the filings indicated, was the central figure in key events involving Russia's election interference, a bombshell allegation underpinned by evidence that as an underdog presidential candidate, Trump was in close contact with his lieutenants as they reached out to and worked hand-in-glove with the Kremlin and WikiLeaks and then tried to conceal the extent of their activities.
"It's deeply troubling. It's not a place that anybody wants to be, or where you would want your friends or family to be," said former federal prosecutor Glen Kopp in what was something of an understatement considering the enormity of the crimes outlined in Mueller's filings. "And it's certainly not a place that you would want your president to be."
On Tuesday, a draft document revealed that Mueller and his prosecutors are closely scrutinizing Trump's interactions with longtime adviser and dirty trickster Roger Stone and his associate Jerome Corsi, who worked with WikiLeaks as it released waves of Russian-hacked Democratic emails that candidate Trump, in pronouncements and stump speeches excoriating Hillary Clinton, had sometimes mysteriously anticipated before their release and reveled in afterwords.
On Thursday, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, fresh off a new cooperation agreement with Mueller, pleaded guilty to having lied to Congress when he insisted that Trump was not pursuing plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow (photo, below) after January 2016 when in fact the planning continued into June and involved the highest levels of the Putin government.
A plan for Trump to fly to Moscow after securing the Republican nomination and gift Putin a $50 million penthouse atop the tower, which would include an Ivanka Trump-branded spa, was scotched after The Washington Post broke the first story that Russian hackers were stealing Democratic emails.
It has been a long and frustrating journey, the years of lies, obfuscations and rationalizations by Trump and his sycophancy in their ultimately futile effort to explain away the president's multiple ties with Russia, although understanding why those ties exist has been a piece of птичье молоко (That's a Russian cake.)
Beginning in in 1984, over 30 years before he ran for president, Trump began tapping into what would become an extensive network of contacts with corrupt businessmen, mobsters and money launderers from the former Soviet Union, Russia and their satellite states to make deals ranging from real-estate sales to beauty pageants sponsorships to bailing out his frequently ailing enterprises. It is tempting to say that Trump built that network himself as his business empire grew, but in reality members of the network more often used him as a convenient patsy. This has been especially true of money launderers.
In 1991, the Soviet Union fell and President Boris Yeltsin ordered the dramatic shift from a centralized economy of state ownership to a market economy, enabling cash-rich mobsters and corrupt government officials to privatize and loot state-held assets. After Putin succeeded Yeltsin, Russia's feared intelligence agencies joined forces with mobsters and oligarchs, and Putin has given them free rein so long as they help enrich him and strengthen his grip on the country.
One of the biggest questions in the Russia scandal has been whether Putin has leverage over Trump. Wrong question. Regardless of whether the infamous Pee Tape exists, there is no doubt Putin has leverage. What matters is how he has used that leverage since Trump quite obviously has been vulnerable to blackmail.
Putin, for openers, used that leverage to ensnarl a probably very frightened Trump in his cybersabotage of the 2016 campaign of his arch enemy, Lock Her Up Hillary, plunging America into a ceaseless nightmare by handing the presidency to a profoundly unqualified fool. He has used it to soften, with only some success, sanctions imposed on Russia in the last two years despite Trump. He has used it to bend Trump to his foreign policy. And he has used it because he knows the extent of the labyrinthine web of sleazy Trump-Russia business interests on which Cohen, now that he has joined the other Trump insiders that Mueller has flipped, can enlighten the special counsel.
In this context, Trump's tweet storms are even more pathetic. There are so many to choose from, but my favorite is, "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"
Mueller's court filings this week are are merely the tip of a very big collusion iceberg.
Publicly-revealed evidence alone has shown that Donald Trump Jr. eagerly agreed to meet with Russians promising dirt on Clinton and his then-candidate father approved. That son-in-law Jared Kushner asked the Russian ambassador for a "backchannel" inside the Russian embassy while Barack Obama was still president so that Trump and Putin could secretly converse at will. That Trump campaign associate Carter Page announced Rex Tillerson's appointment as secretary of state in Moscow before Trump announced it in Washington. That the National Rifle Association funneled as much as $100 million in cash, some of it from Russian interests, to the Trump campaign. That Russian agent Mariia Butina cultivated Trump campaign associates. That Erik Prince arranged a meeting in the Seychelles with a Putin rep in another effort to establish a backchannel. And so on and so forth.
Still, the vastness of the Russia scandal -- after all, just another aspect of that national nightmare -- has had a numbing effect. On Thursday, the president's personal lawyer admitted to lying to Congress about the president’s business activities with a hostile foreign power, and it barely caused a blip, let alone ended that presidency because of another scandal -- the treasonous cowardice of congressional Republicans.
Even with the appointment of the deeply corrupt Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general in order to ride herd on Mueller, Trump has lost control of the process just as Mueller has blown past that "red line" the president warned him to not cross in revealing he was boring deeply into Trump's family and their business dealings.
As Trump jetted off to Buenos Aires to not meet with Putin, an aborted sitdown that would have capped a week of public relations disasters, German police were raiding the offices of Deutsche Bank, not coincidentally the one remaining financial institution willing to lend him money, while FBI agents raided the offices of two powerful Chicago aldermen whose law firm represented Trump in dealings involving the Trump International Hotel.
Perhaps it has been all about the money after all.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.