For now, put aside the blundering and bigotry at the borders, the daily diet of lies, the billionaire president’s financial secrets and conflicts of interest, and even the scary signs that the leader of the free world is a mentally unstable man.
Put that all aside for today. Because the Russians interfered in our presidential election, and now we learn that Russian intelligence agents had extensive contacts with Team Trump during the campaign, while they were cheating on his behalf.
We need every shred of information about those contacts – with a special focus on what President Trump knew and when.
For those who see his impeachment as America’s best hope to survive this dangerous moment, it is time to inch up to the edge of your seats and get ready to protest. If Congress doesn’t put together an investigation that is credible and tough, and bipartisan in spirit, then it’s time to get back to the streets in force, and to plan a campaign of civil disobedience.
The resignation of Michael Flynn, the national security advisor, after less than a month in office does not end this matter. It should be regarded as a starting gun, a moment when the lid is pulled off a barrel of snakes that now must be untangled and sorted.
Let’s start with the least offensive piece of this, and work our way up to the most outrageous.
Trump campaign had contact with Russia before election: report
Flynn may have broken a 1799 law that prohibits private players from meddling in the conduct of America’s foreign policy. That came about six weeks after the election when President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia over its meddling, and Flynn signaled to the Russian ambassador that the Trump administration might lift them. No doubt, that explains why Vladimir Putin didn’t retaliate.
It’s routine, and useful, for senior appointees of an incoming administration to make contact with foreign leaders during the transition. That’s why the anachronistic 1799 Logan Act has never been used.
But why would Flynn signal that Russian meddling in our election would go unpunished? When a hostile power sends an army across our border, we go to war. Why look the other way when a hostile power attacks the integrity of our democracy?
Flynn then lied about it, saying he didn’t discuss sanctions. And that lie was repeated by Vice President Mike Pence and other senior members of the Trump team. So add misleading the American public to the list of sins. And was Flynn the only liar, or did others know?
It gets worse. Flynn’s lie was discovered by American intelligence, reportedly through electronic monitoring of the Russian ambassador’s phone. The Justice Department informed the White House, and yet nothing was done. The FBI had concluded that the lie made Flynn vulnerable to Russian blackmail, yet he continued to manage the nation’s security for weeks, and even sat in during President Trump’s phone call with Vladimir Putin.
Days before that phone call, Trump had been told about Flynn’s discussion with the Russian ambassador on sanctions. So were the two men trying to soothe the Russian leader’s nerves, and signal to him that our election system is his toy to play with – as long as his thumb is placed on the right side of the scale?
You wonder: How long would this have gone on if the Washington Post hadn’t broken this story open? Would Trump have ever revealed that Pence was peddling a false story about the sanctions — weeks after the FBI made that clear to the White House counsel?
And when Trump was asked whether Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russians, why did he suggest he knew nothing about it, saying he hadn’t read the Post story? He was informed on Jan. 26, when the FBI alerted the White House counsel.
Wait, though, because the story gets still worse. This barrel of snakes has a real stink to it.
On Tuesday night, the New York Times reported that Flynn’s contact with the Russians was part of a larger conversation between several members of Trump’s team and Russian intelligence operatives during the campaign, according to four current and former American officials.
So the big question, and the one that could bring on impeachment, it this: Was there collusion? Did Trump or members of his team work with the Russians to subvert the election?
So far, according to the Times, those four officials had seen no evidence of that. But Trump’s fawning over the Russian leader, his blindness to Putin’s brutality and aggression, raises suspicions. This is a budding friendship with a poisonous viper that would make Ronald Reagan’s head explode if he were alive today.
Several Republicans have pointed to the leaks that revealed this as the biggest problem. Investigate the leaks, yes. But it is beyond bizarre to miss the larger point about the integrity of our elections and the potential for treason. Is there no limit to the partisan exertions of these small people, no sense of patriotism that can wake them from their stupor?
Trump’s first month in office has been exhausting and frightening, which is what happens when we elect a president who is stubbornly ignorant, and blind to the most important values that bind together the nation.
America will survive this. Whether Trump will is another question.
More: Tom Moran columns