Thursday, July 13, 2017

Notes on a Scandal

The revelations surrounding a meeting of members of the apprentice dictator's family and campaign with a Russian government representative who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton still reverberate, as the scandal grows.  But just before this news began to surface, there was that meeting between the a.d. of the US and the actual dictator of Russia.  Here's one evaluation of it by
Molly McKew in Politico:

"Donald Trump needed to accomplish two things this week during his visits to Poland and the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. First, he needed to reassure America’s allies that he was committed to collective defense and the core set of values and principles that bind us together. Second, he needed to demonstrate that he understands that the greatest threat to that alliance, those values, and our security is the Kremlin.

Trump delivered neither of these. In very concrete terms, through speech and action, the president signaled a willingness to align the United States with Vladimir Putin’s worldview, and took steps to advance this realignment. He endorsed, nearly in its totality, the narrative the Russian leader has worked so meticulously to construct."

This is one even darker side of the scandal, that American interests will be sacrificed and Russian interests advanced, for which there was already some evidence--and there has been more since.  If anything like this had happened a decade or two ago, some prominent Republican would be making angry speeches accusing the president of selling the country out to the Russians, which this one may be doing quite literally.

Another darker side or consequence of denial is vulnerability of our election system to further Russian interference.  The alarm has again been sounded by Richard Clarke.

As to the possible cooperation between the R campaign and Russian efforts to throw the election their way, the leaking of information obtained by Russian operatives to the campaign may well violate campaign finance laws and other statutes, but the whole area is too murky for most voters to see it as a major transgression.

Something perhaps more serious and maybe even more resonating has once again surfaced in a McClatchy report that: "Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016."  This would require more detailed and continuous cooperation between elements of the campaign and Russian operatives.

As to where the scandal is leading politically, many look to the precedent of Watergate.  I suggested some context in this regard simply from my recollections, but at New York, my former editor Frank Rich has gone back and refreshed his memory with contemporaneous readings.  He wrote about it in a magazine piece, and has commented a couple of times in interview form.

As I did, Rich cautioned that it took a long time for the investigative and impeachment process and especially for the public to pay attention and see the matter as serious.  He notes that the White House then claimed loudly that media reports were the equivalent of "fake news."  In subsequent interviews he emphasized that even as he resigned, Nixon kept his core support, which was around 22%.  And because there were powerful southerners still in the Democratic party back then, the fact that the Dems controlled Congress was not so important as we might suppose.

Though some of us remember courageous Republicans, Rich says that they were mostly just as partisan and resistant to the emerging facts.  But he says that this time around,  Republicans will be looking hard at the a.d.'s support as the 2018 election season rolls around.  And even though they haven't won high profile special elections, the Dems have overperformed in them and others.  Meanwhile the Dem Senators in states that went overwhelmingly R in 2016 are all pretty popular.

Meanwhile, the scandal just gets uglier and darker.  Now there's an unnatural death--an apparent suicide in the mold of both conspiracy theories and the way the Russians are known to operate.