|ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP-GETTY IMAGES|
Let's revisit The New York Times blockbuster of Friday last that revealed the FBI, after cautious and pained deliberations, opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether Donald Trump was a Kremlin asset after he fired James Comey. Because there is so much to consider, as well as the possibility that a story too important to give short shrift could be left in the dust at any moment by yet another Russia scandal blockbuster.
The first thing you need to know, beyond mild surprise that the FBI actually was doing its job (thank you, Rod Rosenstein, I think), is that there is nothing remotely surprising about The Times story. In fact, Adam Goldman, one of the reporters, said "My concern with this story is that it felt, to some extent, like it was a 'duh' story. What does the public think Mueller is doing?"
Indeed, we have gone so far down this extraordinary rabbit hole that it is now widely assumed that Trump has been doing Russia's bidding perhaps as far back as the late 1980s.
While the story refocuses our thinking insofar as it now is obvious, as Benjamin Wittes superbly articulates here, that the FBI considered Trump's efforts to obstruct justice to be part of his collusion and the story included a rich litany of people, places and things giving credence to the allegation he was a Kremlin asset, it seemed to lack actual proof.
But proof was hiding in plain sight in the ninth paragraph:
No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials.Publicly.
As notes Charles Pierce, among other pundits with their eye on the bouncing ball, the word publicly is the bomb and the sentence around it the casing. This is because The Times sources know, or at least have a pretty good idea of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller has unearthed in his 20-month investigation, which began within days of and superseded the investigation the FBI had opened targeting Trump, and what he has unearthed is actual proof. (Note that the FBI counterintelligence investigation initiated in July 2016 was separate and focused on Trump associates George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Carter Page.)
Less than 24 hours after The Times story dropped, there was, as if on cue, another blockbuster.
The Washington Post reported that Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On at least one occasion -- a July 2017 meeting in Hamburg -- he took possession of the notes of his own translator and instructed the translator to not discuss what had transpired during this tête-à-tête with other administration officials, while on another occasion -- a July 2018 meeting in Hamburg -- he met for two hours with Putin with no U.S. officials present, only a translator.
As a consequence, the WaPo story notes, there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the leader of America's historic post-World War II foe at the five locations where they have met over the past two years. (Barack Obama did not meet once face-to-face with Putin during the period he was Russian president. This is because Putin knew Obama was no pushover.)
Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency and happens to be in violation of a law requiring the archiving of certain presidential materials, but has the incendiary power of a general-alarm fire considering Russia's unprecedented campaign of interference in the 2016 election for the purpose of electing Trump.
Other than trying to shore up his ever deplorable base, Trump did nothing in the wake of The Times and WaPo stories to dispel the surreality of the moment, although on Saturday night he called into the Fox News show hosted by the always-friendly Jeanine Pirro.
"I'm going to ask you, are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President? Pirro asked in reference to The Times story.
Trump refused to answer directly.
"I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked," he said. "I think it's the most insulting article I’ve ever had written. And if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing."
So what is the proof?
Put simply, Trump was and remains a conspirator in a quid pro quo trading dirt and real estate deals for relief from economically-crippling sanctions and other Russia-friendly policy considerations before the election, most especially during the presidential transition when there was a palpable sense of urgency to appease Putin, and since then. This gives all the context you need to understand the efforts to set up secret backchannels between Trump and the Kremlin.
And if that's not enough, conservative commentator Max Boot, a onetime Trump supporter, lists 18 reasons Trump could be a Kremlin asset. Note further that at least 14 of Trump's associates interacted with Russians during the campaign and transition, at least some with his approval.
As thin as the ice has been, Trump skated for about three weeks on publicity over his Great Wall of America, which at $5.7 billion is about one-eighth of one percent of the total budget but has prompted the longest government shutdown in American history with no end in sight. Then the narrative switched back to Russia and the investigations newly-empowered House Democrats are undertaking.
Three Democratic committee chairmen, alarmed by statements over the weekend by Trump about the planned testimony of Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, cautioned on Sunday that any effort to discourage or influence his testimony could be construed as a crime, underscoring the legal and political peril facing the president.
Pirro had expressed sympathy for the battles Trump is waging all by his pitiful lonesome in the shutdown-darkened West Wing of the White House.
"You’ve got such fight in you, it's unbelievable," she told Trump.
"Well," he answered, "I guess I have good genes."
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is right. We need to impeach the motherfucker.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.