We already know that Trump deserves impeachment. He has admitted to obstruction of justice involving a known Russian crime that his top advisors and family members are guilty of being accessories to. Done. That is worse than the stain on the blue dress that got Clinton impeached. There is hard evidence for this already. Furthermore, there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that much worse is to come. Why else would Trump spend so much political capital trying to help Russia and stop the investigation.
We know that the Russians have been spending millions of dollars on a multi-pronged effort to support Trump’s presidency. We know that the Russians illegally broke into Democratic Party computers and stole emails which they published through Wikileaks with strategic timing to help Trump win the presidency. We know that high-level members of the Trump campaign including Trump’s family members met with the Russians about getting illegal help with the campaign. We don’t know what help they got (maybe none), but Trump’s son-in-law was secretly trying to set up a backchannel communication with the Russians for Trump that could be hidden from Americans intelligence. Then Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and admitted that his motivation was obstructing Comey’s investigation into Russian collusion. Trump has also been repeatedly pressuring the FBI and Justice Department leaders to let go of the investigation. Plus, Trump’s Republican allies in the House and Senate have been attacking the Justice Department, the FBI (which has never had a Democrat at its head), and the Mueller probe to try to delegitimize them. Why would they be so afraid of the investigation if there were nothing more there? Why has Trump spent so much effort denying the evidence that Russians have been trying to subvert American democracy?
[Trump] thinks that a good relationship with Putin would be “an asset, not a liability” for the United States. And he was more than willing to discount intelligence reports to the contrary even before he won the Republican nomination.
When news broke in June 2016 that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked and opposition research on Donald Trump leaked, most likely by Russian hackersworking with members of the Russian intelligence establishment, Trump’s first response was to accuse the DNC of hacking itself. He said in a statement, “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.”
He would repeat that sentiment on RT America (a Kremlin-backed television station) in September 2016, saying “I think it’s probably unlikely” that Russia was behind the DNC hack. “I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows? But I think that it’s pretty unlikely. But, you know, who knows?” And during the second and third presidential debates, he would again argue that “maybe there was no hacking” and even if there was, “our country has no idea” who is behind it.
In an interview with Time magazine on November 28 following the election, Trump said again that he didn’t believe Russia interfered in the election in any way. “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say, ‘Oh, Russia interfered.'”
When the Washington Post reported on December 9 that the CIA concluded Russia intervened in the election to support Trump, Trump responded with a statement saying, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”
The denials continued into 2017. In February 2017, Trump said in a press conference, “The whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse. That’s a ruse.” After firing FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, Trump told NBC News’s Lester Holt, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
In November 2017, Trump said he believed Putin’s assertions that his government did not meddle in the 2016 election, telling reporters aboard Air Force One, “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Why has Trump spent so much effort pushing a pro-Russia agenda that is politically costly and was unpopular in both parties? Jane Coaston explains:
Trump’s attitudes on Russia have made him an enemy of his own party
In office, Trump’s stance on Russia and Russian electoral interference has stalled the government’s ability to react to it.
His administration still refuses to put in place major sanctions against the Russian government, despite the fact that they passed Congress nearly unanimously last year as a direct response to Russia’s actions in the 2016 presidential race, with broad support from conservative lawmakers.
To be sure, Trump’s national security apparatus has taken a stance on Russia that some conservatives have deemed to be far stronger and tougher than Obama’s. That’s because, as Rolling Stone’s Zach Dorfman has noted, Trump’s friendly perspective on Russia is not shared by either his Cabinet or Republican members of Congress. As a result, his administration has ordered the Pentagon to be far more aggressive in its efforts to deter Russia from using nuclear weapons in Europe.
And in August 2017, the Trump administration closed the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, a major Russian diplomatic facility (and allegedly also a base for spying). And it was Trump who approved the sale of $41 million worth of arms to Ukraine’s government in December as it continues to fight pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east.
Trump’s national security adviser says “the evidence” of Russian involvement in the 2016 election “is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain,” and other members of the administration have talked tough on nuclear weapons proliferation and closing consulates. Still, Trump himself has taken Putin’s word over those of his own intelligence agencies, his hand-picked national security officers, and his own government.
Matthew Yglesias noted that Trump has been quick to defend Russian atrocities even to the point of implying that America is just as bad (not “innocent” of a lot of killing) and Trump has consistently defended Russia despite constant pushback from the press, other Republicans, and even his own cabinet.
For years Trump bragged about his relationship with Putin. Lately Trump has claimed they never even met.
Trump spent a good deal of time acting as a Putin spokesperson in the American press:
- In an October 13, 2015, interview with the Guardian, Trump defended Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, arguing that Putin is “going to want to bomb ISIS because he doesn’t want ISIS going into Russia and so he’s going to want to bomb ISIS.”
- When Joe Scarborough asked about Putin’s habit of murdering critical journalists on December 18, 2015, Trump replied with a weird form of whataboutism: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing going on, a lot of stupidity.”
- “I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters,” Trump said in a December 20 interview with The Week on ABC.
- “Have they found him guilty?” Trump asked rhetorically when Fox Business News’ Maria Bartiromo pressed him about Litvinenko’s murder in a January 26, 2016, interview. “I don’t think they’ve found him guilty.”
- “There are a lot of killers,” Trump said during a Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly in February 2016. “Do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country is so innocent?…
“There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly,” he said in a July 27, 2016, news conference…
Later that day at a campaign rally, Trump said, “wouldn’t it be a great thing if we could get along with Putin?” During the October 9 presidential debate, Trump returned to the theme that “I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example.”
Shortly before Inauguration Day, on January 11, 2017, Trump said, “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. Russia can help us fight ISIS.”
Trump’s early personnel and policy moves matched up with this desire.
He quickly tapped retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, known as an outlier among American military and intelligence professionals for his pro-Russian views, to serve as his national security adviser. And he bypassed the entire range of conventionally qualified candidates to serve as secretary of state in favor of Exxon executive Rex Tillerson, a former recipient of Russia’s Order of Friendship award. Early in his administration, Trump aimed to relax sanctions on Russia, only to back down in the face of congressional opposition….
Perhaps most shockingly, Trump’s own team of advisers had to drag him kicking and screaming into affirming America’s commitment to upholding [NATO]. …It was a bizarre thing to do, it clearly benefitted Russian foreign policy objectives, and it offered nothing but political downside for Trump.
…the big picture here is that Trump remains stubbornly unwilling to break with Putin and the Kremlin. The president used to regularly brag about his contacts with the leaders of the Russian government. The president won the election with the helping hand of the Russian government. The president repeatedly expressed his desire to change US foreign policy in a more pro-Russian direction. And though the president has, so far, been largely stymied in his efforts to do this seems to be straining against constraints imposed by the leadership of his own party and his own foreign policy team.
Trump’s efforts have been scarily effective at getting the Republican base to flip its opinion away from it’s nearly century-long tradition of thinking Russia is America’s adversary and an authoritarian enemy of freedom, to thinking that Russia is an ally in the struggle to make America great again.
Matt Yglesias also argues that the Trump’s administration has been amazingly successful at keeping secrets. For example, no administration since well before Nixon has succeeded at keep income tax records secret. Nixon tried to keep his taxes secret, but we all know how that worked out for him.
We don’t know why Trump decided to fire Flynn (the stated reason that he “lied to Mike Pence” doesn’t pass the laugh test), whether he was told of the domestic abuse allegations against then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, what’s on the Apprentice outtake footage that producer Mark Burnett is keeping locked up, why exactly Trump handed some choice Israeli intelligence to the Russian foreign minister, who financed the hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, or any of a dozen other major questions about Trump.
The reality is that Trump was the least transparent candidate of all time and is running one of the least transparent administrations on record. It’s a White House where even whether the president is golfing on any given weekend is the subject of dissembling and fabrication.
Plus, Trump has kept past scandals from catching up with him like how he got “himself out of bankruptcy [to]make his big Atlantic City comeback” and how he “for years, used lawyer Michael Cohen and a relationship with a major tabloid conglomerate to keep affairs hushed up and manipulate the public’s image of him.”
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux posted an infogram showing that “the Russia investigation is moving really freaking fast.”
In contrast, one year into Nixon’s administration, he seemed like a fairly honest president except that, like Trump, he kept his income tax returns secret. They were finally leaked just before Watergate blew up and in defense against Nixon’s obvious reasons for hiding his tax returns, Nixon made the famous quote, “I am not a crook.” It took six years before Nixon’s scandals took him down and that is about average length of the above investigations. Several of the above investigations even continued after the president left office!
You’ll note that this chart of investigations left off numerous Obama-administration investigations like Benghazi-gate, Solyndra-gate, I.R.S.-gate, Fast and Furious, but that is probably because they wrapped up relatively rapidly without indicting anyone, much less implicating the president.
Trump’s administration has a historic number of extremely high-level indictments after only one year and the momentum is only increasing so far. And this is only looking at one facet of possible corruption, the Russia connections. Trump has an unprecedented lack of transparency in his finances despite much more obvious conflicts of interest than any other president in living memory. And then there is the parade of Trump’s sexual scandals and hush money.
At this point the choice is already clear. It is either three more years of more corruption and risks with Trump or we turn to President Pence in 2018.