A few things we know
The president and his supporters are variously calling the investigation into Russian influence in the election and his campaign’s possible cooperation with that influence, a “witch hunt” or a “nothingburger.” It is anything but.
One thing we’re all going to have to learn is some patience. Compare the timeline to Watergate. From the time of the original burglary of the Watergate Hotel to Nixon’s resignation was over two years. During that time, most in Nixon’s party continued to support him, right through all the corruption, evidence, and interference in the investigation.
It is similar interference that may undo Trump. We don’t currently know what will be found regarding his and his campaign’s activities during the election, but his repeated attempts to shut down the investigation suggests he is worried and could prove more criminal than the election activities themselves.
So, Trump supporters who are hoping the president will be exonerated or who will not believe any evidence against him, are going to have to wait this out. It’s going to take a while. The same can be said of his opponents who cannot wait to see him leave office.
The original FBI investigation, which has now been turned over to Robert Mueller and a team he is compiling, was focused on how much Russia interfered in our election process, and, as a corollary, the extent to which, if at all, the Trump campaign cooperated in that interference. That Russia did interfere is beyond question. Our intelligence agencies are convinced that they were involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. There is some doubt about this, on the political right and left, in part because the firsthand evidence of it is not public, but the intelligence agencies are unanimous.
What’s more, that wasn’t the only interference. Russians also pushed “fake news” attacking Secretary Clinton and their online bots swept the web with comments on online articles and social media posts. The actual impact of this is difficult to measure. It is also the case that Russians weren’t the only ones with bots and there are some fake news sites on both sides of the political spectrum. But right or left, it should be investigated.
Another thing we know is that not one, but several members of the Trump campaign seem to have forgotten to include contacts with Russia during the campaign on their required disclosure forms. If this were one person, one instance, one might chalk it up to an oversight, but it is many already.
Leading the way is Michael Flynn, who lasted only 24 days as the president’s National Security Advisor. Flynn led the chants of “Lock Her Up” at the Republican convention and tweeted out fake news, including one expressing anti-semitism. During the campaign, he was working for the government of Turkey, but had not registered as a foreign agent. After the campaign, he discussed sanctions with Russians who were being monitored by US intelligence agencies, but lied about it publicly.
The president was warned about Flynn by acting attorney general Sally Yates, who he later fired, and by President Obama, just after the election. He ignored these warnings.
After asking, but not receiving, a pledge of loyalty from FBI Director Comey, the president asked all others to leave the room and asked Comey to back off the Flynn investigation. It’s hard to imagine a more clear cut case of obstruction of justice.
Then Trump fired Comey, who along with Yates, and Preet Bharara, makes at least three people he has fired who were involved in investigating him or his administration.
As for whether there is collusion with the Russians, it is clear there was. Emails released by the president’s son confirm that he and other leaders of the campaign agreed to a meeting with Russians which was set up on the basis of the Russian government’s desire to help the Trump campaign.
The immediate line among the president’s supporters was to move the goalposts. Now, despite months of denials it suddenly didn’t matter that the campaign clearly colluded with Russia. They just say it isn’t illegal. And if you want to guess at how worried they are, consider that they are now attacking Mueller and his team, attempting to undermine his credibility.
I’ll leave questions of legality to the investigators and lawyers. Space does not permit a more complete detailing of what we already know. And Mueller’s team has a wide latitude, and is expected to examine anything that may come up in connection with their original mandate. It may be that financial crimes are the biggest result.
But, what we do know is that this “nothingburger” is chock full of meat. And, we’re just getting started.