Let’s be clear on what’s happening in our politics right now. President Trump and his media allies are currently creating a vast, multi-tentacled, largely-fictional alternate media reality that casts large swaths of our government as irredeemably corrupt — with the explicitly declared purpose of laying the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or close down the Russia probe, should he deem either necessary.
We often hear that Trump and his allies are trying to “distract” from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s intensifying investigation. That’s true, but this characterization inadequately casts this in terms ordinarily applied to conventional politics. Instead, Trump’s trafficking in this stuff should be seen as another sign of his fundamental unfitness to serve as president. Similar efforts by his media allies should be labeled as a deliberate effort to goad Trump into sliding into full-blown authoritarianism, and to provide the air cover for him if he does do so.
That's a hefty charge to throw, but Sargent makes his case pretty solid.
The Associated Press reports that people who have spoken to Trump say that he has recently revisited the idea of trying to remove Mueller, now that Mueller appears to be digging into Trump’s finances. Meanwhile, CNN reports that former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon is privately urging Trump to try to get Republicans to defund Mueller’s probe.
Last night, Sean Hannity delivered perhaps the most perfect expression yet of efforts to create the rationale for such moves. Hannity dismissed the news of major allegations against Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort and the cooperation adviser George Papadopoulos as big nothingburgers. He also hit all the high points of the new Trump/media campaign. Those include reviving the made-up scandal that Hillary Clinton approved a deal for a Russian nuclear agency to gain access to U.S. uranium extraction rights in exchange for kickbacks, and the absurdly exaggerated claim that the Clinton campaign, having paid through various intermediaries for research that ultimately led to the “Steele Dossier,” actually colluded with Russia to interfere in the election. These have been extensively fact checked and debunked.
In an important new piece, Post fact checker Glenn Kessler blows another big hole in one of this campaign’s key story lines. Kessler notes that multiple Trump media allies are repeating the claim that Clinton gave away “20 percent” of our uranium capacity to Russia. And he shows that, for various technical reasons, this figure is itself absurdly inflated, and the description of this as a Clinton giveaway has no relation to reality.
But the real point of Hannity’s presentation came when he flatly accused Mueller of trying to “change the narrative to distract from the real Russia collusion and massive cover-ups.” Hannity added that Mueller “is clearly complicit in the Uranium One scandal.” This is a reference to the fact that Mueller headed the FBI when the uranium deal happened. Reports that the FBI was investigating a Russian energy official at the time have led to GOP questions about why the Obama administration green-lighted the deal anyway. But this is also absurd, as Kessler explains, since the deal went through an extensive multi-agency process and no evidence has been presented that this process improperly skirted any FBI probe.
Regardless, Hannity concluded: “We are at a real crisis point in America tonight.” Trump has tweeted in support of many of these allegations. And as Jonathan Chait details, other Trump media allies have explicitly cited these and other similar story-lines (Mueller’s investigators are Dem donors!) in support of the notion that Mueller should resign or that Trump should close down the Russia probe.
Don't count on GOP leaders in Congress to lift a finger on stopping Trump should he fire Mueller. Some are making noises that Mueller should be "allowed to continue" for now, but that's as far as they are willing to go.
But it's going to be an untenable position. Fox News state media is screaming for the blood of Democrats and if Trump doesn't deliver, there will be hell to pay. We all know how easily Trump is manipulated, so the question remains how long will it take (and how many additional Mueller indictments) before Trump orders him gone and for Jeff Sessions to drop those cases?
Will Sessions comply if he does order it? Will Republicans do anything if he does? What happens then, when we get into Constitutional crisis territory (not that we're actually far off now)?
John Schindler takes a look at what happens now. The bottom line is that Trump's mental and emotional unfitness for office is only matched by his criminal unfitness.
Above all, this case proves that President Trump’s months of tweeting angrily that the Russian investigation is “fake news” and there’s “no collusion” between himself and Moscow are simply a lie. This morning, the president took to Twitter, as is his custom, and ranted that “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.” This is yet another lie, as there’s a picture of the March 31, 2016 campaign national security meeting in Washington, where Papadopoulos is seated just a few feet from Trump. Moreover, the notion that a young campaign staffer would conduct personal diplomacy with Russian spies on behalf of Team Trump without getting go-ahead from his superiors is laughable.
For months, President Trump has insisted that the entire Mueller inquiry is a fraud, and that his campaign had no ties to Russia whatsoever. Now, we know that’s simply untrue. Things are about to get much worse for the White House, especially since the FBI has admitted that Papadopoulos has been cooperating with the Bureau and Team Mueller in their investigation into illicit Russian influence in our nation’s capital.
In particular, his arrest and plea deal were concealed for months so that the FBI could protect Papadopoulos’ role as a “proactive cooperator” for the Bureau. That’s spook-speak for his use as a witting tool of the investigation. Anyone affiliated with the Trump White House who’s talked or met with George Papadopoulos since late July should be aware that whatever was said has been communicated to the FBI—indeed, Papadopoulos was likely wearing a wire that recorded the conversation.
Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump and his Kremlin linkages entered a new phase yesterday, one from which there will be no return for the White House. Day One of this new phase delivered genuine bombshells, but many more are yet to come. Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos represent a small piece of a much larger counterintelligence puzzle that the public will learn about in coming months.
Stay tuned. November could be a pivotal month in American history. It will mark one of two things: the beginning of the end of the Trump regime, or the beginning of the end of America.
Still not sure which.