Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Only Russia Scandal Question Left Unanswered: Isn't Time For Trump To Go?

There will be no single smoking gun that will bring down this White House. It will be death by firing squad . . . as the whole story inexorably pours out of the administration’s smoldering ruins. ~ FRANK RICH 
From the outset of what became known as the Russia scandal, three big questions have predominated.  Did the Russian government interfere in the 2016 presidential election to try help elect Donald Trump?  Did the Trump campaign collude with Russia in that effort? And did candidate Trump himself know of the interference and collusion?   
The first question was answered definitively a year ago.  Yes, there was a Vladimir Putin-directed cyber conspiracy to sabotage Hillary Clinton because Trump was seen as being considerably more sympathetic to Russia's global interests. 
The second question was answered definitively over the weekend.  Yes, the Trump campaign's inner circle, including family members Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner, enthusiastically colluded with Putin's surrogates. 
The third question has not yet been answered definitively, but soon will be.  Yes, Donald Trump actively encouraged the collusion while claiming the interference was "fake news" and subsequent investigations a "witch hunt."
All that, in turn, raises a fourth question: Isn't it time for Trump to go?  Of course it is, but not so fast there, kemosabe. 
The Republican-controlled House is a temple of stunning amorality.  That is where impeachment proceedings would be initiated, but its despicable (there's that word again) members can't even vote on a measure passed by an overwhelming 98-2 margin in the Senate to toughen Russian sanctions as punishment for Moscow's election interference.  This, however, did not prevent Congressman Brad Sherman, a Southern California Democrat and answer to a future trivia question, from introducing House Resolution 438 this week.   
It reads, in part:
Resolved, That Donald John Trump, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors . . .
In his conduct while President of the United States, Donald John Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice during a federal investigation . . . [into] possible criminal law violations of his former National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn.
The bill was dead on arrival. 
Oh, and by the way, how much do Republicans really love their country? 
How would Russian hackers know to target women, and African-American women in particular, with a blitz of fake news stories on Hillary Clinton in certain districts in the swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin where the Trump campaign's digital team and Republican operatives had spotted unexpected weakness in support for Clinton?
Because they were directed by digital campaign operatives, according to an intriguing line of inquiry being pursued by investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate and House intelligence committees. 
An arm of Russia's operation to interfere in the election used computer commands known as "bots" to collect and dramatically heighten the reach of negative or fabricated news about Clinton, including an especially vicious story in the final days of the campaign accusing her of running a pedophile ring at a Washington pizzeria. 
Ace reporters at the McClatchy News Service's Washington Bureau are following the data and not just the money.  In a story on the operation, they quote a source who is familiar with Mueller's probe who says investigators are skeptical that Russian operatives controlling the cyber commands that fetched and distributed these  stories could have independently "known where to specifically target . . . to which high-impact states and districts in those states." 
Clinton lost Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,744 votes out of 13.9 million ballots cast.  She would have won the Electoral College by a 275-248 electoral vote margin if 5,353 Trump voters had gone for her instead in Michigan, 11,375 voters in Wisconsin and 22,147 voters in Pennsylvania. 
The extent to which the Russian attack on the bedrock of American democracy helped hand the presidency to a monster will be debated for years to come. 
There certainly were other factors in the defeat of the eminently qualified if flawed Clinton, including voter suppression, racial anxiety, sexism and James Comey's 11th-hour reopening of the FBI's email investigation.  But to assume -- as do House Republicans and some otherwise intelligent people -- that Trump campaign-aided Russian interference was not the deciding factor takes the meaning of willful naiveté to a new level. 
By the way, who was the head of the Trump campaign's digital operation?   
Jared Kushner.   
The whirlwind of Russia scandal developments has been a great opportunity to brush up on recent American presidential history, while there have been Watergate comparisons aplenty, including the old saw the it's not the crime, it's the coverup.  Which actually doesn't apply here because the scandal is a case of it's not being the crime, it's the coverup -- except when the coverup is actually a crime. 
Oft cited in recent days as the West Wing has devolved into fear and loathing and no amount of lying can keep Team Trump intact, are references to a drunk Richard Nixon talking to the pictures on the White House walls during the final days of his presidency.  Which recalls to mind my favorite Watergate quote. 
Nixon, realizing that the resignations of top aides John Ehrlichman and H.R, Haldeman had done nothing to slow the Watergate investigation, confided in Henry Kissinger that: 
I cut off two arms and then they went after the body.
Then there is this: 
In May 1960, the Soviet Union offered to support John F. Kennedy's campaign against Nixon, who was a sworn enemy of the Kremlin.  Kennedy rebuffed the offer. 
In September 2000, the Al Gore campaign received a confidential briefing book belonging to the George W. Bush campaign.  It immediately called in the FBI. 
In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. was told he was welcome to dirt on Clinton gathered through a Russian government scheme to help elect his father.  He responded with an emphatic "I love it!" 
"I love it!"

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

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