It’s rarely recalled now, but back in May 2017, The Washington Post published the transcript of a conversation from June 2016 among the House Republican leadership, in which House majority leader Kevin McCarthy made clear that he was aware “the Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp research that they had on Trump” and speculated “there’s two people, I think, that Putin pays: [Representative Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump.” Amid laughter, House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted that the conversation remain off the record, adding, “What’s said in the family stays in the family.” Ryan would later claim he and McCarthy were joking.
The point here isn’t necessarily that Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California, solicited illegally obtained documents from Russian officials. There are other plausible candidates who might have done that. The point is that Russiagate, which is widely understood to be a scandal surrounding Donald Trump’s close associates like Paul Manafort, may go wider and deeper, and could implicate at least one member of Congress.
Moreover, it seems that the Republican leadership was at the very least aware of this possibility, amused by it, and did nothing whatsoever to alert the public or any relevant authorities. They were happy to enjoy the benefits of Russian interference and said so openly among themselves. Similarly, as the Post reported, when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was informed of Russian interference in September 2016 in a meeting with President Obama and other senior officials, he threatened to cast any public announcement of the threat as partisan politics. It’s not a stretch to say McConnell deliberately undermined national security for partisan advantage, a decision that has paid off with the signing of a massive tax cut for the wealthy and the looming establishment of a durable right-wing majority on the Supreme Court.
In other words, Russiagate isn’t just the narrow story of a few corrupt officials. It isn’t even the story of a corrupt president. It’s the story of a corrupt political party, the one currently holding all the levers of power in Washington. After Trump groveled before Putin in Helsinki, many Republicans in Washington proclaimed their solemn concern, just as they did when the president expressed his sympathy for the white supremacists in Charlottesville last year. But all of them are fully aware that they are abetting a criminal conspiracy, and probably more than one.
I can't stress this enough. While it's still reasonable to argue whether or not Trump is a willing Russian ally or compromised asset (or both), there's no question that the rest of the GOP is covering for him out of fear of legal consequences and the toxic base that dredged them all out of the swamp and put them in charge of the country.
Shortly after the Trump-Putin press conference, federal prosecutors announced the indictment of Maria Butina, a Russian national in Washington, DC, who, unlike the 25 Russians the special counsel has so far indicted, was arrested over the weekend. Butina, who in 2016 attempted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, is accused of operating as a foreign agent to gain influence in Republican political circles and advance the interests of the Russian Federation. Working on behalf of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank, she appears to have brokered ties with the National Rifle Association and conservative religious organizations, which she herself accurately identified as the financial backbones of the Republican Party in Congress.
Butina is a colorful example of an increasingly common phenomenon in Washington: foreign nationals, not only from Russia but from dozens of other countries, who blur the line between lobbying and spying until it’s imperceptible. This is what the evisceration of campaign-finance laws has yielded: a capital where American corporations and foreign governments see every official as being for sale.
Mueller, who knows more than anyone in the media about the extent of the Russiagate scandal and never leaks, isn’t telling us that Trump colluded and obstructed justice—we already know that, because we literally saw Trump request on camera, in the summer of 2016, that Russia hack the Clinton campaign, just as we later saw him bluntly admit to the world that he fired James Comey to end the Russia investigation.
Instead, we are being told something much more frightening: that Russiagate doesn’t end with Trump and his inner circle, that some members of Congress may be implicated, and that the Republican leadership therefore has a personal stake in preventing anyone beyond Manafort and a few other flunkies from being held accountable. Mueller and the FBI are giving everyone a glimpse at the scale of official corruption in Washington, and they’re warning us that they aren’t going to be able to rein it in all by themselves.
As I've said, there will be no legal solution to Trump. There may not even be a viable Constitutional solution. It will be 100% political. The GOP that created Trump as its avatar has to be shattered and its power along with it, and until that happens, we are all in dire trouble.