Russia, if you’re listening, the gig is up.
Friday nights used to be routine: throughout the week, the White House Press Office would save all of its big and controversial announcements to literally “dump” them on the public just as everyone was wrapping up for the weekend. Reporters called this practice, ‘The Friday Night Dump.’ The theory was that the news media might not catch the controversial item and even if it did, the initial response (assuming it was negative) would be diffused over the weekend. By Monday, so the theory goes, the public (and our short attention span) would have forgotten the announcement, or at worst, dulled the initial outcry.
But not in Trump’s America. Now, it is reporters who are releasing major news on Fridays. By Monday, not only has the initial response NOT been muted, it is likely that the situation has gotten worse. This new routine has become so predictable that when there is not a major revelation on Friday, some of us are a little disappointed.
Last Friday’s major news dump was in a class all on its own. At 9:00 p.m. eastern, the New York Times published a jaw-dropping, well-sourced report claiming that the FBI, shortly after the firing of Jim Comey, opened a counter-intelligence investigation into the President of the United States. Why? Because agents were concerned that the president might be working as a Russian asset and acting against American interests.
Think about that. The Times felt so comfortable in its reporting that it published a story that in its effect, accused the president of being a foreign agent. Full-stop.
Then, on Saturday the Washington Post followed up with another blockbuster headline accusing the president of purposefully keeping the details of his multiple conversations with Putin a secret. The Post cites five interactions in which his own advisors do not know what was said between the two leaders and that once, the president confiscated the translator’s notes and another time, swore one to secrecy.
Nah – not suspicious at all.
I have digital subscriptions to both the Times and the Post and every time I hear the notification sound on my phone (it’s a ‘knock’ by the way), I ask myself, “What happened now?” I was on the treadmill Friday night when the Times story reached my phone. After scanning the headline and the first paragraph, I was laughing so hard that I could not keep going.
Why laugh? Because I did not want to cry.
Of course, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether President Trump was a Russian agent acting against American interests. It’s obvious that he is.
To news-junkies like me, the idea that Trump is beholden to Vladimir Putin has been obvious from the beginning. During the campaign, the candidate besmirched his opposition and criticized American and foreign leaders alike. But never Vladimir Putin. He was always complimentary of Putin.
The first time I heard Trump gladhand the Russian autocrat was during an episode of Morning Joe. He was still “candidate Trump” and he routinely called into MSNBC’s morning program featuring Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. On the subject of Russia and President Putin, Trump defended the Russian leader’s propensity of killing journalists and stomping out competitors. “At least he’s a leader Joe. He’s better than what we have in this country,” one of many criticisms of President Obama.
On the campaign trail, we heard more of the same. And then there were the suspicious links between Russian oligarchs and the Trump Organization. The NY real estate developer had declared bankruptcy multiple times in the 90s; no legitimate bank would loan him money. He commonly stiffed his vendors and suppliers – a practice that lenders tend to view as emblematic of a high-risk applicant. Trump could not get financing for any of his projects.
But oddly, Trump continued to build out his empire, putting his face and name on buildings, golf courses, and every product imaginable. Remember Trump Steaks? One cannot do business at this level without cash or loans. Reputable banks would not lend to him – where was he getting all of his money? “Russia,” was the answer his son gave several years ago when asked by a reporter where their investment funding originated. Of course, today the Trumps deny it, but the trail is there.
In the early months of his administration, Rachel Maddow would report night after night, suspicious occurrences that might tie Russia and the Trump Organization together. Her team dug into barely reported stories about trips to Seychelles, the Christopher Steele dossier, and real estate deals, odd on their face, but nonetheless netting the new president millions of dollars. Lots of strings without a full understanding of the knot they tied.
The picture became much clearer as the months went by. Michael Flynn’s resignation led to the Comey firing. The Comey firing led to the appointment of a special counsel. And the special counsel led to……
I’m not one to brag or take the, “I told you so,” mantle. But I told you so. Trump’s refusal to fire Michael Flynn until he was forced and his hesitancy to impose sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. The firing of James Comey, ostensibly for how he handled the Clinton investigation but in reality because he would not stop the Russian inquiry (as evidenced by the Lester Holt interview). Trump’s desire to withdraw from NATO – the western alliance that defeated communism – to the ridiculous tariffs and trade wars with our allies. Even his appointment of Rex Tillerson as his first Secretary of State looked suspiciously like a nod toward Russia (word on the street was that the Ruskies preferred the former CEO of Exxon – Tillerson – over Mitt Romney because of the former’s previous ties to Moscow). All of these acts benefited the Russians, and specifically Vladimir Putin.
But it was not until the President’s off-hand comment during an hour-plus pool spray with the press that I said it out loud: the President is working for the Russians. It was during a cabinet meeting right after the holidays, that the President went on an hour-long, random stream of consciousness soliloquy about everything under the sun (reporters thought he had been lonely over the Christmas break – all alone in the White House).
The nail in the coffin moment came when the President was asked about pulling our troops out of Syria (a move that will greatly benefit the Russians) and reducing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Trump, with no sense of history or the facts on the ground, mused aloud about the difficulties in Afghanistan and that the Soviets had learned that same lesson when they invaded the remote country because terrorists used it as a base to infiltrate the Russian motherland.
No, they didn’t! When the Soviets crossed their border into Afghanistan they were on a mission to prop up the communist government in Kabul, the nation’s capital. Afghan insurgents and what would eventually become the mujahideen were fighting a gorilla war against the Marxist government – an ally of Moscow. And they were winning. Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union’s aging leader, ordered troops to invade his southern neighbor in order to save communist rule. Ten years later, the Soviets pulled out – defeated. They hobbled out in February 1989. Within months, the Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain was no more.
Putin’s government is now trying to rehabilitate the Soviet loss by changing the history books: the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to crush terrorists that had been attacking Russia. The war would no longer be deemed “a mistake.” And our President – the man who knows nothing of American history – was able to parrot the same line as the Kremlin. He went further by stating that the Soviets “were right to be there,” thus reversing what has always been seen as the last battle of the Cold War. We boycotted the 1980 Olympics for heavens sakes. No, the Soviets were not RIGHT to be there.
And then, just before Christmas – as Congress headed out of town – the Treasury Department under Steve Mnuchin announced that it would roll back sanctions on Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch knee deep in the hacking and misinformation campaign of 2016. Deripaska, (I think he is the aluminum king) has been indicted by Robert Mueller for his role in hacking the DNC and spreading half backed lies on Facebook and Twitter during the 2016 presidential campaign. I believe the charge was, “defrauding the United States of America.”
And now, we are rolling back sanctions? Last week, the House of Representatives, now under Democratic leadership, summoned Mnuchin to the Hill to give testimony about the decision. The hearing was behind closed doors but I can envision the Democrats asking him, “What the hell possessed you to lift these sanctions?” Apparently, the Treasury Secretary had no answers. Shock.
The Russkies are in the White House. Now what?
Honestly, I have no idea. Certainly, the Times and Post stories are not the equivalent of hard evidence. That will have to come from the Mueller investigation. But in the meantime, as citizens, what do we do when we have to ask the question, “Is the President making decisions that are against America’s interests?” What do we do?
Well first and foremost: pay attention. If you have not followed the twists and turns of the Trump Administration and the Mueller investigation, you need to start now. Find a few articles online that will catch you up and then monitor the news every day. When Mueller’s report does come out, it is likely to be extremely damaging to the President and his family. Get ready.
Next, call your representatives. Reopen the government. I cannot stress enough the need to get our government back up and running. Not only does the shutdown harm over 800.000 federal workers and families, but it’s also a debilitating pox on the United States. The fact that we cannot keep our government “open” leaves us weak in the eyes of our enemies. It might be the perfect time to say, invade Ukraine.
Beware of shiny objects. I would love the media to ignore the President’s tweets. They should also ignore the stupid things he says. All of these things are distractions from the existential threat facing his administration. That is, Mueller and the Russians. The more he tweets and the crazier he gets simply signal that a bombshell is coming. Watch for the bombshell and ignore the distractions.
Prepare for the worst. We are in an extremely precarious and dangerous situation. Our national government is an absolute mess. The party of Lincoln and Reagan has fallen under a spell and is beholden to the President in ways I do not recognize. Federal agencies have closed down without funding because the Commander – in – Chief needs to be able to tell FOX News personalities that he built an imaginary wall on the southern border.
Troops are being pulled out of Syria, but oh wait – no, they aren’t. Wait – the Pentagon just said the troops were leaving – but what about our allies the Kurds? The Secretary of State is on a jaunt to the middle east, ostensibly to calm fears of our allies and will most certainly meet with Crown Prince MBS of Saudi Arabia. That’s the guy who ordered the killing and dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist.
Do we even talk to Europe anymore?
I’m not sure how this book ends and to be frank, I don’t want to. This situation is bad. Really bad. Would Trump even accept the Senate’s decision to remove him from office should the House impeach him? What happens when the President barricades himself inside the Oval Office and refuses to leave? Will our Department of Justice make a deal with him? Something like, “resign, leave the grounds quietly, never give another public interview, and we will not arrest and indict you or your children.” I’m not sure Trump would agree.
2019 started with a bang and there’s no indication of anything but turbulence and chaos ahead. Buckle up.
Here’s an interesting Lawfare article to go along with the Times story. It’s a nice companion piece to help make sense of all of this.