Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A TrumpWorld Grab-Bag with Everything Russia Wants

As the departed comedian Joan Rivers used to say, "Can we talk?" Because it looks like Russia crooks its little finger and the Trump Administration is thinking of giving their spy facilities back. (Who knows what Trump is planning regarding other sanctions against Russia?) Just as with the bizarre exchange Trump had in the Oval Office where he shared classified intelligence and kvetched about what a nutjob former FBI Director Jim Comey was, it just looks really freaking weird. It's like, can Trump & Co. just not act like they really are Russian puppets for a minute?

I dunno. Maybe they can't. There is a problem with the tendency that Trump Administration officials have had towards withholding disclosure: it rapidly becomes difficult to determine what is true, and starts to prejudice opinion against assuming good intent. Take the story that AG Jeff Sessions may have failed to disclose yet another meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. If he failed to disclose one meeting, what prevents him from having failed again? If he did so multiple times, doesn't it look more like he's intentionally leaving those things out? And if he did so, the reasonable question then would be: "Why?" As with Gen. Michael Flynn's shortcomings in making the appropriate disclosures regarding his acceptance of foreign payments, and his history of meetings (presumably about ending sanctions) with Russian officials, and Jared Kushner's repeated failures to disclose his meetings with Russian officials and financial arrangements, it just starts looking like there's a pattern of not wanting people to know things. And that secrecy makes people ask: "Why?"

Take Donald Trump's very own attorney, Michael Cohen. He has been issued a subpoena (along with some other folks) to turn over docs and answer some questions by the House Russia probe. This happened in part because he did not want to comply with an initial request he considered over-broad. This might have a little bit to do with his being implicated in delivering a plan to end the Russian sanctions to Gen. Flynn. (Also up for questioning by the House: Boris Epshteyn. Don't know why, but notice he has Russian connections and is a banker, so...following the money. The mystery fellow of the Trump campaign foreign policy team, Carter page, got a shout-out from Trump on Twitter. Another money guy.)

See that? The thing where we can see an actor in the Trump orbit working to do something the Russians wanted, and then not being totally upfront about it? That's the sort of thing driving this investigation--the weird confluence of the campaign obviously getting help from Russia, apparently making plans to return the favor, and then acting like they'd greatly prefer no one know what was going on. For folks who demand proof of collusion, I have to ask: "Really?" Because while it makes sense to wait on proof of fire, you can't not notice all the smoke, and know that smoke itself is not normal.

In other interesting news on the Russian probe front, Special counsel Robert Mueller has brought on Justice Department fraud chief Andrew Weissmann and Jeannie Rhee, who is familiar with the White House Office of Legal Counsel. The team will likely be "following the money" and considering what defensive maneuvers are open to a Chief Executive under investigation. (Following this sort of thing is exactly my flavor of nerd.) Also, Mueller has cleared Comey to testify to the Senate, and it's expected he will be detailing the President's overtures to him to end the investigation. (Must-see tv?)

I have previously explained that sometimes "things look bad because they are bad". When I look at the direction the House, Senate, FBI, and Special counsel probes are going, it's getting harder not to figure there is a "there" there. Contra Trump, this isn't a witch hunt, but a search for a clear explanation for why it certainly looked like the Russians did him some favors. And whether, Godfather like, someday, there might be a favor he does them in return. And truly, the quid and the quo are already pretty established! (But casting uncertainty over the US commitment to NATO article 5, badmouthing allies, possibly disrupting the Paris accords? In some ways, Trump is like the gift that keeps on giving.)

UPDATE: Let me just sneak in here this story about how in Trump World, rank hath its privileges, but is still rank as all hell. A load of leeway is one way to earn loyalty. And the fear of getting it retracted, too.

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