One of the more interesting (and depressing) aspects of the increasingly pointed investigation into the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship to the Russian Federation has been watching the “concern” emanate from some of those on the left who consider the inquiry a ”distraction.”
I don’t know, but the spectacle of an American president lying repeatedly about his connection to a nuclear-armed, hostile, secretive and thoroughly corrupt foreign government with an established track record of subverting Western Democracies seems to warrant just about any degree of investigation imaginable, no matter how all-consuming, meticulous or “distracting” that inquiry turns out to be. After all, we are looking at potential treason here. And the penalties for treason are rather unforgiving.
That’s why, considering the magnitude of the potential offense, and the likely consequences, it would seem appropriate for someone who considered himself a target of such an investigation to take more than special care with what he says.
Shortly after Donald Trump was inaugurated, he gave a press conference in which he addressed subjects including the probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Americans should go back and reflect on the remarks that he delivered. They constitute a betrayal of leadership more serious than most realized at the time.
At that time the FBI’s probe into what exactly happened involving Russia’s deliberate leak of hacked Clinton campaign emails through its proxy, Julian Assange’s, Wikileaks, was already well underway. An extension of the same probe is now underway under the direction of Robert Mueller. The subject was the integrity of the American electoral process, about as serious a matter as could be imagined.
At that February 2017 press conference, Trump was asked what he knew about his campaign’s contacts with Russia:
“During your campaign,” a reporter asked Trump last February, “did anyone from your team communicate with members of the Russian government or Russian intelligence? And if so, what was the nature of those conversations?”
He replied, “Russia is fake news. This is fake news put out by the media.”
But the reporters weren’t finished yet:
A reporter followed up, “Can you say definitively that nobody on your campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign?” Trump said, “I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything.”
But the reporters still weren’t quite done:
That produced another follow-up: “I was just hoping that we could get a yes or no answer on these questions involving Russia. Can you say if you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?”
And here was Trump’s response:
“Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t.
I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. And he called me on the inauguration, a few days ago … I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does. Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia. I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine, or people that—whoever.”
We now know that the above three statements were bald-faced lies.
In fact, we knew they they were lies before. Trump’s son spoke in Paris to a pro-Russia group three weeks before election day, and some of Trump’s closest advisors were partying with the Russian ambassador at the GOP convention. That same Russian ambassador received an exclusive entree to an invitation-only Trump campaign event as well.
But maybe Trump just forgot. And really, those were little lies anyway. Okay.
But now, as Conor Friedersdorf, writing forThe Atlantic, points out, we know a hell of a lot more:
Thanks to Robert Mueller’s efforts, we know that George Papadopoulos, a foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign, was offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton by Russians he believed to have Kremlin connections.
And he was in repeated contact with senior Trump campaign officials about his efforts to connect the campaign with the Kremlin. In fact, Papadopoulos stipulated this to the FBI: that he attended a meeting with Trump and his foreign-policy team on March 31, 2016, where he introduced himself to the group and stated, “in sum and substance,” that “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”
And of course we know his campaign manager Paul Manafort was up to his neck in Russian intrigue.
So when Trump was asked about Russia, it’s really very strange that he didn’t bring that up.
What he did instead, was lie:
… I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.
And now we have Trump’s close advisor Carter Page telling Jeff Sessions he is going to Russia in July 2016. Are we supposed to believe that Jeff Sessions never told Trump, his boss, about that trip?
And we know that Trump’s spoiled brat son and spoiled brat son-in-law met in Trump tower with a comely Russian attorney offering to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton … for a small price. Are we supposed to believe they didn’t run and tell Daddy about the good thing they did?
Trump lied at that February 2017 news conference. He lied knowingly and willingly, fully aware of the implications of what he was lying about.
People lie for a reason. Public figures lie to hide the fact that they’ve done something wrong. When that “something” involves a hostile foreign power, anyone with a pretense of representing this nation owes it to the American people not to lie about it, no matter what that “something” is.
So the only remain question is:
What is so terrible that Trump would risk his presidency just to keep the American people from knowing it?