As technology advances, the means for, perhaps accidental, confession change. President Donald Trump is walking down a familiar path to students of history. The president’s tweet on Sunday is all but an admission to a crime. In this case, it is receiving something of value from foreigners during an election. This is likely the tip of an ugly iceberg. It throws the many dissembling stories on the June 26, 2016 Trump Tower meeting into disarray. It paints the Administration as one led by a liar, if we needed more evidence. After all, the Washington Post maintains a database of these, and by the time this story is posted, the list will be already obsolete.
In the Tweet the president said that he was not worried about that Trump Tower meeting. Never mind that it solicited dirt on a political opponent, which, according to the Tweet is done all the time. And here is the kicker, a man who was involved in every aspect of the campaign, did not know of this meeting happening in Trump Tower.
The actual Tweet has been magnified elsewhere, so there is no need to do such here.
If his son Donald Trump Jr and son and law Jared Kushner met with American citizens it would be the case. Getting dirt on opponents is done all the time. This is true. There are companies that specialize in this sleazy corner of American politics. However, his aides were not meeting with Americans. The meeting was with Russians, who may or may not be tied to the Russian intelligence establishment.
We know that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya does have close links to the Kremlin. The New York Times reported:
But newly released emails show that in at least one instance two years earlier, the lawyer, Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, worked hand in glove with Russia’s chief legal office to thwart a Justice Department civil fraud case against a well-connected Russian firm.
Ms. Veselnitskaya also appears to have recanted her earlier denials of Russian government ties. During an interview to be broadcast Friday by NBC News, she acknowledged that she was not merely a private lawyer but a source of information for a top Kremlin official, Yuri Y. Chaika, the prosecutor general.
“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she said. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”
The rest of the cast of characters included Akhmetshin who is a registered foreign agent in Washington. He is seeking to overturn the Magnitsky sanctions, which have hurt the Russian economy. He is well known to the DC establishment. We assume, he was also known to Paul Mannafort, who was also present at the meeting. We know that Manafort had contacts to Ukrainian oligarchs, supported by the Kremlin. He also failed to register as a foreign agent. At the time, he was serving as Chair for the Trump campaign.
Remember, the first of many dissembling excuses was that this meeting was about adoptions. Perhaps this explains the presence of this particular Russian emigre. However, that story, the original cover story, fell apart soon after. When Trump Junior released his email exchange, the true reason was laid bare.
Rob Goldstone wrote this in the initial email of June 3, 2016:
Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.
What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.
He was excited that they were offering dirt on his father’s opponent. The precise words he used in response were “if it’s what you say I love it” It was the president that helped his son draft the first excuse for the meeting aboard Air Force One. This is where the first hints of obstruction took shape. This is why this meeting is of interest to the Robert Mueller investigation. You can find the full exchange here.
We also know that at least Mark Corallo, spokesperson for Trump’s legal team quit because they saw that letter as evidence of obstruction.
The fact that the president admitted to the true goal of the meeting is significant. It is the end of the road to the dissembling.
I am not the only one to interpret this Tweet as an admission of guilt. Yet, I am going to take it a step further and look at it though the lens of history. I have said in the past that there are parallels to the Watergate scandal. On June 22, 1974 the smoking gun tape came out. Nixon, in the depth of his paranoia, ordered his Oval Office conversations taped. He expected people to stab him in the back. So to protect himself, he taped everything. And when the tapes existence was revealed, he went to the Supreme Court to prevent their release. He likely knew they were explosive.
He was correct. Those tapes proved consequential and were the moment denial started to give way to a new reality for is party and loyalists. Soon after his supporters and defenders started to peel off.
There is one element from those years that, for the moment, is missing. This is a Congress that wishes to investigate the president, and perhaps open impeachment proceedings. One reason is that for the moment Congress is in Republican hands. However, most Americans do not remember that until the tapes were released, (and John Dean’s testimony, ) Republicans did not want to hold Nixon accountable. Simply put, a party does not do that to their president. It took an incredible level of proof for Republicans to turn on Nixon. Moreover, while the Founders conceived of impeachment as a means to control a rogue president, in truth it is a political act. Why it was abused with the Bill Clinton impeachment.
Back to this Tweet, which might be as consequential as that tape. It is potentially a smoking gun, legally speaking. This is why Trump’s aides are begging him to stay away from the Twitter. They will likely fail. Trump, like Nixon, knows better than his lawyers. And to be fair, unlike Nixon, Trump is not paranoid enough. If he was, he would not be tweeting, let lone doing it on potential legal matters. He would be an easier client to defend as well. Nor is this the first time that he is asked to stop.
There is more to this. This tweet is the last of many shifting stories that change after each falls apart. Why? The media is doing its job. His defenders now have turned to a new, if even more toxic argument: Soliciting information from a hostile foreign power is fine. This will become part of the legal arguments in moths to come. However, like the smoking gun tape, this final tweet might become a point of inflection. Some of his defenders might finally give up.
Moreover, the shifting story lines are exactly that, trying to clean up previews misstatements that add to the potential cover up.
Lies are hard to keep straight. Nixon found that as well.
We are in the midst of a midterm election. Republicans do not want to do the final deed and investigate the president. They prefer Democrats carry out the impeachment proceedings, even if they run trying to bring out Trump loyalists with that as a threat.
It is a good question if Democrats will do that, since their party is divided on this very question. Democrats are also timid to the core. They refused to hold George W Bush responsible for the lies that led to the Second Iraq War. They bungled that job, even when the United States tortured prisoners. Never mind that many voters did vote blue believing they would. If Republicans want the Democrats to carry out the hearings they refuse to do, it is a sad statement on their core values.
That is the nice view of this. Republicans want Democrats to pull the trigger. Ergo, they’d prefer to lose the House, even though they will not admit it publicly. Some who have left the party have though. Among them George Will and James Comey.
This Onion story from 2004 has become a real life call to action. Who said the Onion did not write prophecy? And from the point of view of 2004 that story is good satire. None expected it to become reality.
Then there is a real dark possibility. One that has to be considered given the behavior of some members of Congress. This includes the leadership that continues to protect the president. It is not just the presidency that was compromised. We know that Trump is likely seriously compromised by the Russians. Why he has placed the interests of Russia ahead of those of the United States multiple times. For example, he was subservient in Helsinki.
Likely multiple members of Congress are endangered as well. Whether we are talking of Dana Rohrabacher, representing CA 48, or Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky, to give two examples.
The FBI warned the former that he was a Russian target. The latter spent the weekend in Russia talking to his counterparts in the Duma. He invited them to Washington. When asked if Russian intervention ever came out, he dodged and weaved. Let’s be clear, having conversations is not the problem. Not answering a straight question on something the intelligence community agrees happened is. None should accept this from a United States senator.
It gets far worse, After all, the who’s who of the party leadership may have been compromised:
Donald Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain accepted $7.35 million in contributions from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank.
Marco Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC and his Florida First Project received $1.5 million through Blavatnik’s two holding companies. Other high dollar recipients of funding from Blavatnik were PACS representing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at $1.1 million, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham at $800,000, Ohio Governor John Kasich at $250,000 and Arizona Senator John McCain at $200,000.
So it makes sense that Republicans may not want to dig too deep. After all, if we know this, how deep those that hole go?
There is irony in this. The Republican Party portrays itself as the party of national security. Yet, it may have been captured by a foreign power. It is ignoring evidence to protect a president, likely themselves. There is more to this obstruction pattern. Devin Núñez did all he could to prevent a solid investigation. The speaker, Paul Ryan, never pressured him to do his job or resign the chairmanship. In the end we had two reports come out of his congressional committee. The Republicans all but exonerated the President. It is worst than that.
The Chair may have also coordinated with the White House in the drafting of a memo that went after Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. This would expose him to legal hazard. Essentially, it could be obstruction. Perhaps even conspiracy. This came out in the New York Times opinion piece. It was authored by Norman L. Eisen, Caroline Fredrickson and Laurence H. Tribe:
Such conduct could expose Mr. Nunes and his staff to liability for conspiracy to obstruct justice. According to press accounts, the Nunes memo may be designed at least in part to provide the president an excuse for firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the individual with supervisory authority over Mr. Mueller, the special counsel in charge of the investigation. The purported scheme: clear a path to install a Trump-friendly replacement who would either fire Mr. Mueller or otherwise defang the investigation. Indeed, after the memo was released the president did nothing to quell these suspicions, ominously responding “you figure that one out” when asked if the memo made him more likely to fire Mr. Rosenstein. The double standard applied by the president in refusing the immediate release of a rebuttal memo offered by the minority is hardly reassuring as to his good intentions.
As far as the Democrats, they were not happy. They expected more dirt to come, proving this investigation was put to bed too early. However, Democrats knew more was coming and this would embarrass the institution. They were (and are) not that concerned about the president. At least not on the campaign trail. Why I say that, is that his actions are not on the docket for the midterms, and in some ways that is a good thing. They know the House has a terrible reputation with the American people already. This will not help. (And I am not even going into their actions, or lack off during the Barack Obama years.)
Then there is Maria Butina, the National Riffle Association (NRA) and Russia. She’s been indicted of acting as a foreign agent. She never registered, and could be seen as an actual spy. It is a good question wether her actions will rise to that level. However, her handler, Alexander Torchin is very well connected to the Kremlin. The NRA also got money from Russia and it funneled it to American candidates. They claim they did not, but questions abound on this.
The amount might be as high as $30 million. And some, among others Vanity Fair, have wondered if this money was funneled via the NRA to the Trump campaign? We must be clear. In political races costing upwards of $1 billion, this is chump change, but it is still not legal for foreign actors to play a role in an American election. It does not matter how high the office is.
The question brings us back to that tweet. It is an admission. It likely is a smoking gun. When added to things like Trump’s request to Russia to hack Secretary Hillary Clinton it should be damning. Will Republicans act? Or at least some Republicans who are not compromised by Russia as well?
Incidentally, what we are seeing fits the definition of hybrid warfare. We are still trying to come to grips with it. However, that tweet by the president might finally start to make a dent in the denial from his supporters. However, don’t expect anything significant from Republicans before the midterms are over. And yes, at least some Republicans hope Democrats win in November and break the 2006 precedent. There is a lot at stake. It may even involve the future of a major American political party that looks like a captured entity. The term useful idiots does come to mind, strongly.