So the winky-winky in Helsinki is history. Donald Trump dutifully asked dear friend Vladimir Putin if he meddled in our election (wink). Putin did his best Alfred E. Neuman: What, me meddle? (wink-wink) Trump refused to say whether he believed Putin. (wink-wink-wink)
What the duo’s knowing dance around the truth missed, of course, is that Trump could have done plenty more, starting with calling out Putin’s lie. Three U.S. intelligence agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee (led by Trump’s own party) all confirm that Russia tried to influence the balloting. Thirty-two people have been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller, including 25 Russian nationals alleged to have hacked Democratic emails in 2016 or spread online election propaganda.
So why didn’t the man who swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution say any of this in Helsinki, rather than call the thug from Moscow magnanimous in inviting U.S. investigators to Russia? Might it be because those 32 indictees include four former Trump aides, three of whom pleaded guilty?
Ah, but those pleas and charges didn’t involve collusion, the MAGA crowd will crow. They involved matters such as lying to the FBI about Russian contacts and working with a Ukraine political party tied to Russia.
All true; no one has proved direct collusion by Trump or his campaign. But honest observers note that we’re armpit-deep in circumstantial evidence thereof. Herewith, we interrupt this bromance for a collusion update.
If Trump didn’t collude with Putin’s election shenanigans, he certainly encouraged them, calling on Russia during the campaign to hack Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
He simultaneously praised Putin, to the point of shrugging off that the Russian is a murderer.
Despite almost two dozen denials from Trump and others during the campaign of any contacts between his people and Russians, we know that there were literally scores, including, famously, the tête-à-tête at Trump Tower with Trump’s son, son-in-law, and Russians offfering mud for slinging at Clinton.
There’s also the email in which Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, an indictee who has pleaded not guilty, asked how his campaign role might make him “whole” with a Russian oligarch to whom he was deeply in debt.
Finally, Mueller’s dozen-Russians indictment “alleges that Americans — including at least one individual who was closely connected to the Trump campaign — had contact with the charged conspirators,” the blog Lawfare notes. “Whether they did so with sufficient knowledge or criminal intent … is simply not addressed in this indictment,” but they certainly weren’t swapping borscht recipes with the Russians.
Again, none of this is proof of collusion. But it is enough to make a sap of anyone who swallows Trump’s braying about a “witch hunt.” Nor is it ancient history. Our intelligence warns the Russians plan to interfere in this year’s midterms.
That point leads to something else Trump should have told Putin at their summit: Dare an encore of 2016 and we’ll make the sanctions currently on you look like a toddler’s timeout. In particular, some experts say that cutting off Russia’s access to SWIFT, the service by which banks transfer cash internationally to each other, would cripple the nation’s already stagnant economy.
It’s true that bad people — and Trump is an affirmatively bad person, even if he’s not a criminal one — sometimes do guilty-looking things without being guilty. Vox uses Saddam Hussein (it’s sad we can mention him and the American president in the same paragraph) as an example: The late dictator “was acting like a man who was covering up a secret nuclear weapons arsenal because he didn’t want the world to know how weak his defenses really were.”
Perhaps Trump and his flunkies act like people who colluded with Russia because they don’t want the world to know how unsavory their non-political dealings with Putin’s mafia really were. If so, the question would become whether absence of outright criminality is the qualifying bar for president. Honest character matters as well.
We await Mueller’s final verdict on collusion. Meanwhile, rational people will take squawking about witch hunts and toss it with the garbage.