Last Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Michael Flynn had discussed sanctions with Russia the day after President Obama ordered them and subsequently lied about it to the American public and to officials in the White House, specifically Mike Pence. Four days later, Michael Flynn was forced out.
Several Republicans tried to suggest that was the end of it, and that we should move on (Rand Paul and Jason Chaffetz need to be remembered for their inaction during what will probably end up being a crucial time period when they come up for reelection). Questions continued to swirl throughout Tuesday concerning how far this went up the chain. Did Donald Trump order Michael Flynn to talk to the Russians about sanctions? What did Pence really know? Did Trump and his campaign collude with the Russians to hack into the DNC and Hillary’s email account to fix the election?
We don’t have clear answers on that yet, but the NYTimes dropped a bombshell last night, revealing that Donald Trump aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence during the campaign, despite Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s denials.
On Jan. 15, shortly before Trump took office, Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly said on television that there were zero contacts between the campaign and Russian officials.
“Just to button up one question, did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson asked.
“Of course not,” Pence replied.
Pence also answered “of course not” when asked a similar question that day by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, adding, “All the contact by the Trump campaign and associates were with the American people.”
Trump himself also denied these interactions, according to NBC News on Jan. 11:
Trump did not specifically address questions regarding whether members of his staff were in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. When NBC News repeated that question to Trump afterwards as the president-elect approached the elevator to exit the room, he answered “No.”
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemed to stand by those earlier denials.
“There’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period,” Spicer said.
From the NYTimes:
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
The officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump. On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the government outside of the intelligence services, they said.
What does this mean? Well, for one, it means that both Donald Trump and Mike Pence lied. There is a cover-up. Second, it certainly suggests some kind of collusion with the Russian government. Why else would campaign officials and other associates of Donald Trump talk repeatedly with Russian intelligence if not to coordinate? Can anyone offer a single non-impeachable reason? We already know from the intelligence community that the Russians interfered with our election to benefit Donald Trump, so knowing — instead of suspecting, as we have all along — that Trump and his campaign were in repeated contact with Russia certainly suggests that Trump was in on it. At the very least, it’s worth an investigation by an independent special prosecutor.
And Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager — who we know has close ties to a pro-Russian Ukrainian entity — offered the weak, almost laughable denial, asking how would he know if he spoke to Russian intelligence officials? “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer,’” he said. In other words, he’s saying, “Well, yeah. I talked to some people, but how was I supposed to know they were intelligence officers?”
All of this reporting really brings us to the most crucial question: Did Trump order Flynn to talk to the Russians about sanctions? According to reporting by Politico, there’s no realistic scenario in which Flynn goes rogue and calls the Russian embassy five times in one day while he’s on vacation. He wasn’t the type. Russia wasn’t his thing (Islamophobia was his thing). Flynn may have had previous ties to Russia, but he certainly has never expressed the affection for Russia that Trump has.
Remember, too, that during the campaign, Trump was spreading Russian disinformation — he at one point in October repeated a lie from the Russian propaganda outfit, Sputnik, to a rally in Pennsylvania, information he could not have gotten here in America. And just re-examine all the flattery Trump showered on Putin via Twitter in the last few years.
Again, the fact that Trump’s campaign official had contacts with Russian intelligence doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us. The NYTimes is merely offering proof of what we could already surmise based on common sense. But that proof also reveals a number of lies that the Trump administration has been caught in, not least of which is the fact that Donald Trump knew for weeks about Flynn’s contacts with Russia and did nothing until The Washington Post outed him.
The question now is whether Congress will investigate. Democrats are insisting upon it, and a scant few Republicans are starting to come around on it, but most of them are dragging their feet, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t seem to want to recuse himself. It appears that the media — primarily the “failing” NYTimes and The Washington Post — are going to have to do all the investigative work themselves along with the intelligence community until they can prove what seems so obvious to anyone who has been following this (and what Hillary Clinton was saying all along): Trump and his campaign coordinated with the Russians during the election. That’s treason. That is worthy of impeachment. That is worthy of imprisonment.
In the meantime, thanks to all of these scandals, Donald Trump has been able to accomplish virtually nothing during his first three and a half weeks in office. That’s something to be thankful for, as well. We’re one-fourth of the way through the first 100 days — the most active time of any Presidential administration — and despite all the bluster, all the talk, and all the executive orders, Trump has passed no actual legislation nor really followed through on any of his promises.