A basic admonition for success in a variety of sports such as baseball, golf and many others, is to keep your eye on the ball and follow through. The same is true for politics. Distractions come easily and it is easy to lose track of the original issue. Such seems to be the case with the fireworks surrounding the knowledge that Russia interfered with our 2016 presidential election.
In a rare show of unanimity, last fall and again in January this year, the U.S. intelligence community briefed the outgoing and incoming presidents on the Russian meddling. Much of the information is highly classified, but we as citizens can be sure that it happened, otherwise, we can trust nothing that our professionals in intelligence and highly respected leaders tell us. They do not make such accusations lightly or without serious and deep consideration as to the facts and the repercussions. As a result of their findings, President Obama in September 2016, in a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, told him to “cut it out” with regards to Russian cyber attacks and hacking — notably before the election. Claims that he did so to create a “ruse” because the Democrats are “sore losers” holds no validity when the warning came before the election. In October, again before the election, President Obama used the “red phone” — used to avert nuclear attacks between the two nations — to again warn Mr. Putin about the continued interference in the election. In late December President Obama implemented additional sanctions against Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats accused of spying within the United States because of the Russian attempts at meddling. These are facts.
In and of itself, every American should be outraged that there is incontrovertible evidence that the Russians attempted to interfere with our most sacred ritual as a nation — the election of our president. This outrage should supersede any sense of Republican, Democrat, Independent, liberal, conservative or any other political category one can imagine. America was under attack. This seemed to be forgotten as our new president initially, and for a lengthy amount of time, refused to acknowledge these facts. Facts that should outrage any serious leader of our nation. Instead in a news conference on 11 January 2017 he attacked our intelligence community and compared them to “Nazis.” He only reluctantly concluded that “as far as the hacking, I think it was Russia” before adding “it could have been others also.”
For whatever reason — ego, appealing to his base, purposely trying to create chaos for some political objective, or trying to cover up the truth — President Trump continues to deny that the Russians had any significant effect or were in fact trying to influence, if not to change, the election. This continued denial, along with accusing the intelligence community of trying to undermine him and all the other shenanigans now coming out of the White House must stop. Enough! This is not a serious presidency if this is the way that they will conduct themselves over the next four years. It is amateur hour.
The current brouhaha surrounds who did or did not meet with representatives and agents of the Russian government and for what reasons. This is where the obfuscation continues. While we argue over whether then Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) met with the Russian Ambassador in his role as a Senator or as a member of the Trump campaign and oh by the way Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) ate donuts with the Ambassador in 1992 is beside the point. Way beside the point. One could argue, on purpose beside the point. Deliberate distractions to keep our eyes off the ball.
Now Attorney General. Mr. Sessions says he “misspoke” about his contact with the Ambassador. Perhaps so. The problem is that in both oral and written testimony during his confirmation hearing he claimed that he had no contact with any member of the Russian government. Just as former (remember he got fired) National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn said nearly the same thing. Just as more and more members of the Trump campaign claimed that they never had contact with any representatives of the Russian government and it is becoming clear that in fact, they did have contact.
Focusing on all of those individual circumstances may or may not have significance. We simply do not know. Here is what we do know. Starting with the first reports of the hacking of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Mr. John Podesta’s emails (an event seemingly predicted by one of Mr. Trump’s then advisers Mr. Roger Stone before they were released by Wikileaks), Mr. Trump and his staff continually denied that any, repeat any, contact with the Russians simply did not happen. For example, in November 2016 the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded to a press question about contacts with the Trump campaign and said that “there were contacts” with influential people in Trump’s circle. “I don’t say that all of them, but a whole array of them supported contacts with Russian representatives.” In response, Trump campaign spokesperson Ms. Hope Hicks said, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” This is one of at least twenty separate official denials that there had been any contact with the Russians. Assertions we now know to be false.
Remember that this is an administration that deals in “alternative facts.”
Still, I think all of this who-talked-to-who-and-when is beside the point. It indicates that there is probably some “there” there, but in and of itself is inconclusive. Any single or even series of contacts could have multiple explanations, some of which are benign. What is concerning to me, when taken as a whole, is that so many of them occurred and that the campaign and now the administration, continues to cover up and deny that anything at all took place, even in the face of video and audio that refutes their claims.
What are they so anxiously trying to cover up?
Today was the last straw. One might say that President Trump deployed the metaphorical nuclear option this morning when he tweeted out that President Obama broke the law. More specifically, in a series of tweets this morning he said:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!–President Trump tweet 6:35 AM 4 Mar 2017I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!–President Trump tweet 6:52 AM 4 Mar 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
–President Trump tweet 7:02 4 Mar 2017
Actual quotes from the President of the United States! Unconscionable! Statements such as these are unreasonable and can easily be interpreted to be a calculated effort to create turmoil and unrest in our nation.
There is so much that is wrong with his latest undisciplined reactions it is hard to know where to start. (And it is particularly interesting, or appalling depending on one’s view, that Mr. Trump’s in-your-face style was cultivated by his long time mentor, Mr. Roy Cohn, who was Senator Joe McCarthy’s primary adviser when the McCarthy witch hunt was in full bloom. I suppose that the circle stays unbroken.) Keeping our eyes on the ball, there are a few facts involved with possible underpinnings in the law — unlike the tweets from President Trump who has offered no evidence or other substantiation of his claims. This tweet storm is merely intended to divert attention and to change the narrative. His usual, now predictable, tactic. When under siege, attack. (And exactly why do you think you are under siege Mr. President? Something to hide?)
It is outrageous for a current president to call his predecessor “bad” and it is especially outrageous to call him “sick.” Perhaps if the shoe fits….
But again, this is a diversionary tactic. The facts tell a different story. For example, the president cannot order wire taps on his opponents. It is against the law and only the most screwball, or clinically paranoid, opponents of President Obama would think that he would blatantly break the law by ordering wire taps.
The most inconvenient fact of all for President Trump is this. Should it be true that taps of some sort were placed on Trump Tower, they can only be done when a federal judge under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is presented with probable cause that “foreign powers” or “agents of foreign powers” — which may include U.S. citizens or permanent residents — are suspected of terrorism, colluding with agents of foreign governments against the interests of the U.S., or espionage. When presented with evidence, the judge may approve physical and electronic surveillance of those individuals and their likely places of operation for espionage or other nefarious purposes.
If the FISA statute was implemented by the FBI and NSA through the Department of Justice, utilizing the provisions of the law through the proper court, then President Trump does indeed have reason to distract us from the real problem.
The president may be out of his league. It may turn out that he is not so “big league” (often transcribed as “bigly”) as he assumes. He is up against the full power and strength of the national government and the national press, sworn and determined, respectively, to uphold and protect the Constitution.
President Trump will no doubt continue to make wild, baseless and counter-factual claims. Sad! We need to keep our eye on the ball and follow through.