We are still not conclusively able to connect the dots on the question of whether there was any coordination or collusion between members of Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians who interfered in our election to benefit him, but those dots do continue to multiply at an alarming rate.
First, and we have to keep saying this because this fact keeps getting obscured in the subterfuge of deflection, misdirection and ideological finger-pointing about what has yet to be proven: It is absolutely clear that the Russians did interfere in our election. This is not a debatable issue. This is not fake news. This is not a witch hunt. This happened.
The investigations, rightly, are seeking to figure out exactly how and to what degree, and those questions obviously depend on knowing more about campaign contacts with Russian meddlers.
We continue to learn of new contacts between people in Trump’s orbit and Russians during the campaign. Last week we learned from The New York Times:
“Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators who are examining the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, according to his lawyer and a congressional official.”
In a statement, Flynn’s lawyers teased: “Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit.”
It doesn’t truly surprise me that Flynn would want immunity, although according to his own words, requests for immunity can often signal guilt. I am tantalized by this “story” he has to tell. What does that mean? It feeds the beast of speculation lurching around this administration.
Also last week The Times reported:
“A pair of White House officials helped provide Rep. Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.”
This signals another area of possible collusion – related not only to what happened during the election but also about the independence and impartiality of the investigation into what happened during the election.
There is something here, but I can’t yet put my finger on what it is.
But unlike some others, I find no glee in the prospect of something amiss.
To be sure, Donald Trump is a despicable man and an awful president who deserves whatever he gets. He is crude, a liar, a bully and a cheat. He is vainglorious and vengeful.
It is not clear to me that America – and indeed the world – can survive a full-term Trump presidency.
But there are no real winners here, regardless of what the current investigations reveal. Russia has unveiled an incredible vulnerability in our electoral process – the relatively cheap vehicles of information disclosure and propaganda advancement – and the damage that has been done to faith in the system will not only be hard to measure, but hard to erase.
The public and the press’ appetites for prurience far outweigh their appreciation of prudence.
If coordination or collusion with the Russians by anyone on the Trump campaign is revealed, just as important is the question of “What then?”
Polls continue to find a strong appetite for the ultimate remedy: Trump’s impeachment. You would get no resistance from me if it ever came to that. But I also understand the order of succession and that, too, gives me pause.
It moves from the zealot Mike Pence, to the weasel Paul Ryan, to anti-abortion crusader Orrin Hatch, to Rex “Russian Order of Friendship” Tillerson, to the former Hollywood producer Steven Mnuchin, who had to apologize last week for plugging Lego Batman, a movie on which he was an executive producer.
The list goes on and on.
Yes, an administration without Trump would be less of an international embarrassment and exceedingly more predictable, but these men have all cozied up to Trump or were picked by him, so there is little daylight among them on policy.
Then there is the brazenly political, callously calculating school of thought – which is as dangerous as it is interesting – that holds that the severe distaste for sitting-President-Trump will likely be the best liberal motivator for success in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election. Following this logic, a crippled Trump is better than a vanquished one.
At this point this is all conjecture. First we must clear the hurdle of finding out exactly what happened and who was involved. That could take months, if not years.
We must now decide how to process the mounting suggestions of impropriety.
The journalistic caution in me keeps having to write that these could all be coincidences, but the journalistic instinct has learned long ago that coincidence is the albino alligator of political reality: It exists, but is exceedingly rare.