It was a weird weekend in the world of politics, one in which Donald Trump seemed slightly more unhinged than usual, but also one in which Trump’s unhinged tweets didn’t gain a tremendous amount of traction. The government shutdown has had the effect of overshadowing Trump’s own attempts to control the narrative — he’s owned himself. His racist Elizabeth Warren tweets this weekend elicited little more than eyerolls, while his attempts to blame the shutdown on the Democrats only got the usual, perfunctory responses.
Trump may be particularly keyed up this weekend because of two new reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times, which — in total — reveal that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump after he fired Comey to see if he was working at the behest of Russians. Also, Trump reportedly ripped up notes taken by his translator during meetings between Putin and Trump and told his translator he couldn’t speak about the conversations.
Honestly, there’s just not a lot of innocent explanations for the way that Trump has behaved with regard to Vladimir Putin, and every new revelation only seems to confirm another element of the Steele dossier. The House Democrats are poised to open an investigation into Trump’s behavior toward Putin, while Carl Bernstein says that he’s been told that part of the Mueller report will focus on how Trump helped Russia destabilize America in the 2016 election.
“From a point of view of strength… rather, he has done what appears to be Putin’s goals. He has helped Putin destabilize the United States and interfere in the election, no matter whether it was purposeful or not,” the journalist added. He then explained that he knew from his own high-level sources that Mueller’s report would discuss this assessment.
“And that is part of what the draft of Mueller’s report, I’m told, is to be about,” he said. “We know there has been collusion by [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn. We know there has been collusion of some sort by [Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul] Manafort. The question is, yes, what did the president know and when did he know it?”
Trump’s relationship with Russia and Putin has been a topic of political conversation now for over two-and-a-half years, but what’s not as often discussed is the role of the GOP Representatives and Senators who have supported and provided cover with Trump. In a Medium Article, Leanne Watt and Richard Painter — the chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration — provided ample evidence to suggest that certain leaders have been under the influence of Russians, as well, in an article entitled, “Hidden Motives behind Key GOP Leaders’ Cooperation with Trump & Russia: An Evidence-based Examination of Irrational Behaviors & the Republican Congress Members Who Exhibit Them.’”
It’s a lengthy piece, and I’m not going to go through it point by point, but it’s fairly damning, calling out Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and especially Lindsay Graham, pointing to how their policy behavior and their behavior toward Trump seemed to turn almost overnight and attributing at least some of the reversal on the 10 years of emails the Russians stole when they hacked into the GOP servers (emails that have not yet been released).
Here’s the section on Graham, for instance:
Lindsey Graham is also on our roster of Congress members behaving in an unreasonable fashion. Most striking is the senator’s dramatic reversal in tone and words regarding the president, coupled with his unprecedented characterologic shift. Graham’s remarkable pivot is especially noteworthy, because the senator has been long known for his predictable, principled and independent character style; these traits were all on display in his May 2016 remarks, when he stated that he would not be voting for Trump in the general election, asserting that the Republican Party had been “conned.” For many years, Graham was one of Donald Trump’s harshest critics. In 2015, he described Donald Trump as a “race-baiting xenophobic bigot.” In 2016, Graham said of Trump: “I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.” During the first eight months of Trump’s presidency, Graham continued to criticize Trump: On July 27th, 2017, Graham stated that there would be “holy hell to pay” if Trump were to fire Jeff Sessions; the senator added that if the president fired Sessions in order to thwart Robert Mueller’s investigation, this act would mark the “beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”
Graham’s striking U-turn took place later in 2017, when he suddenly became one of the president’s staunchest allies and almost overnight. In October of 2017, Graham played golf with Trump for the first time — and twice in the same week. During their week of golf dates, the LA Times reports that “…other senators have said Trump and Graham now talk so frequently it’s as if they are on speed-dial with one another.” Based upon the timing of his dramatic shift and their golf games, we assume that the conversations Senator Graham had with Trump on the golf course played a role in his sharp reversal.
Following their October 2017 tête-à-tête, Graham began to contradict himself in a way that was totally out of character for him. In November of 2017, the senator repudiated his earlier remarks on Trump’s character, stating: “What concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label [Trump] as some kind of kook, not fit to be President.” And Graham now claims that he has “never heard him (Trump) make a single racist statement.” And in August of 2018, Senator Graham defended Trump’s desire to fire Jeff Sessions, insisting that the president is “entitled to an attorney general he has faith in.”
Also noteworthy is Graham’s echoing of the president’s deceptive words. In August of 2018, The senator mirrored Trump’s “no collusion” fabrication on Fox & Friends, stating: “A lot of people try to convict President Trump. Don’t be so fast. I have seen no evidence of collusion after two years.” Graham has replicated Trump’s unsupported claims regarding the DOJ asserting: “Plenty of corruption at the DOJ and the FBI. Should be stunning” and has recommended investigations into these two agencies. Graham also attempted to cast doubt around the Steele dossier, mimicking Trump’s narrative that Putin was trying to help Hillary Clinton, rather than Donald Trump. Today Graham practically finishes Trump’s sentences for him, so keenly aligned with Donald Trump’s incongruous thought process.
We know that Senator Graham’s emails were stolen by the Russians, based upon his own admission in a December of 2016 interview. Most of Graham’s hacked emails have not been released, so it is reasonable to consider the possibility that many of his emails are still in play, according to Authoritarian scholar, Sarah Kendzior; she observes, based upon Graham’s behavioral changes and purloined emails, that “there’s a pretty good chance that either voluntarily or involuntarily Senator Graham has gotten mixed up in the situation and cannot be an objective observer” when it comes to discussing Trump and his relationship to Russia. We contend that it is possible that the senator’s uncharacteristic twin-ship with the president could be rooted in fear or some other, non-policy motivation, rather than an organic or principled shift.
It’s nothing that we didn’t already know, but to have it all cataloged in one piece is striking, and I suspect the Mueller Memo will eventually do the same for Trump’s relationship with Russia. However, if you want the highlights of that in 140 seconds, check this out:
Folks, the whole collusion story over three and a half years. All in 140 seconds. We watched it unfold. Remind yourself what we all saw. Watch/Retweet. pic.twitter.com/VAnA0Y0Jzl— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) January 13, 2019
The question is: Will it matter? Thirty-five percent of the populace doesn’t give a shit, and no amount of evidence is going to change their minds, while it appears that at least some Congressional leaders are also in the pocket of Russians. Mueller’s job is more than collecting the evidence — it’s convincing people who don’t want to be convinced that the Russians are probably using leverage to control Trump and the Republican party.