Back in March 2017 I wrote a post titled “Why the Trump-Russian Connection Is a Big Deal (and It’s Not the Election).” I speculated, based on circumstantial evidence, that the real issue was that Trump was being controlled, possibly blackmailed, by Putin, and that Russian influence is steering Trump’s nonsensical foreign policy. To this day I find people, including lefties, who are certain the whole collusion thing is just Hillary Clinton’s excuse for losing the 2016 election, but we’ve moved beyond the election a long time ago.
So now the New York Times is reporting that after Trump fired James Comey, the FBI initiated an investigation into whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia. It makes interesting reading but it tells us little we didn’t already know, except for the investigation itself. At Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes writes an intellligent analysis asking “What if the obstruction is the collusion?” In other words, the obstruction case and the collusion case are all tangled up together and are not two separate things. Which is what I’ve believed all along.
It’s frustrating because Wittes’s piece is essentially a giant mea culpa– on behalf of himself and on behalf of the media in general. It’s at once a recognition and an apology for having gone about the analysis of the Russia investigation the wrong way from the beginning. Its basic insight is that the Russia investigation has never really been bifurcated into collusion and obstruction of justice components, but has all along been primarily a counterintelligence investigation with criminal components. To go just a bit deeper, Wittes seems to be realizing for the first time that Trump’s efforts to obstruct the investigation may be little more than an element of the underlying problem, which is that Trump has been working on the behalf of Russian interests all along. For this reason, his obstruction is just as much about protecting Russia as it is about protecting himself. Or, in other words, the Obstruction Was the Collusion.
To be sure, there is some genuine news in the New York Times piece. We learn about specific events at specific points in time. We learn how investigatory decisions were made and what prompted them. But the central revelation, as shocking as it may be, really should not come as a surprise. The American intelligence community suspects that Donald Trump is compromised by the Russians.
Seriously. Is that so hard? I realize the smart people who get listened to may have to be more cautious about making accusations than I do, but to act as if this is the first time he’d thought of it is kind of shocking.
See also Aaron Blake at WaPo:
The Times outlined a number of other events that played into the obstruction case and could have fed further suspicions about Trump’s motivations, including his pro-Russia and pro-Putin campaign-trail rhetoric and his public request that Russia try to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails. The GOP also altered its platform on Ukraine in a more pro-Russia direction.
What hasn’t been outlined, though, are the proposed back channels between the Trump team and Russia.
A month before Comey was fired, The Washington Post reported that Trump ally and Blackwater founder Erik Prince had proposed a secret channel of communication between Trump and Moscow at a Jan. 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with a Putin representative. The FBI was also presumably aware at the time (because it monitors the calls of Russian officials on U.S. soil) that then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had told his superiors in Moscow that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had proposed a back channel during the transition period. (The Post reported this shortly after Comey’s firing.) …
…For similar reasons, Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki last year has also raised eyebrows. He met privately with Putin for two hours, with nobody but interpreters present, and apparently nobody in the American government really knows what they discussed. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats even seemed to express concern about the lack of information. “I’m not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki,” Coats said afterward. Why Trump would need to keep things so under wraps has always been curious.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Trump is innocent but too stupid to avoid stumbling around and doing things that make him look guilty.