Not 100 days into the Trump presidency, one thing is abundantly clear: it is completely unsustainable as it is operating today.There are even rumblings in the seams of Washington that Trump may not last the summer, including Republican consultant Michael Steele, the former RNC chairman, reportedly telling clients to prepare for President Pence.
Indeed, something fundamental seemed to shift in the zeitgeist this week with General Michael Flynn’s Hail Mary offer to testify about Russiagate in exchange for immunity. The Senate intelligence community has already turned down Flynn’s offer, and it’s hard to imagine the House committee, led by the thoroughly compromised Devin Nunes, having the political capital to say yes. For the FBI to agree, Flynn would have to offer up someone bigger than him to make it worth the agency’s while. One wonders who that could be: Paul Manafort? He’s been around the political block much longer than Flynn and knows where more bodies are buried. Wouldn’t he be a better immunity target if you’re an elected Republican? Donald Trump? What would Flynn claim Trump personally did to advance Russia’s interference in our election, other than dutifully repeat Kremlin talking points, which we already know? Does he have some proof that Trump took a bribe? Broke a law? Made an incriminating phone call?
And if he doesn’t, what would be the point of merely hearing the “story he has to tell.”
Flynn is in trouble, by his own admission. He, of the “lock her up chants,” has said in the past that seeking immunity means you probably committed a crime. And while that’s not true in a legal sense, in a moral sense it applies to him.
Here is a man who was forced out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 for his apparent belligerence, rashness, and fondness for crank conspiracy theories. He then sought income from Russian state-run TV and the Turkish government, where according to the former head of the CIA, Jim Woolsey, he took a meeting to discuss illegally renditioning a U.S. green-card holder who the Turkish autocrat would very much like to have sent to him.
Flynn is known to have communicated with the Russian ambassador, and to have lied about it. If his name showed up unmasked in the monitored communications of foreign entities, that could well be because he was the subject of a FISA warrant, and a national security probe. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, told the White House, including Vice President Pence, that Flynn was at risk of being blackmailed by the Russians. It was his former staffer at DIA who was among the two, or perhaps three people, including a former Nunes staffer said to have rummaged around in the sensitive files he had access to as a top National Security Council staffer to try and find backup for Trump’s false claims about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower.
Meanwhile, Flynn is not the administration’s only liability. Trump Tower tenant Manafort remains out there too, and is reportedly under investigation by the Treasury department and the FBI for various business dealings. And that’s just for recent stuff—not Manafort’s long history of flacking for the world’s worst despots.
Occam’s Razor is the logical principle that the simplest explanation is usually the best. And the notion that Trump’s inner circle is so laden with Russian nationals, Russian mob figures and people affiliated with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin by accident is a hell of a stretch. Even his chief TV flak, Boris Ephstein, is a Russian émigré, who entered Trumpworld through his collegiate friendship with Trump’s son Eric. Ephstein was recently let go from the White House without explanation, and sorry but it’s hard to believe that it was because of his bullying personality in TV greenrooms, which has been Boris’ M.O. since he popped up on cable news in 2010.
Can all that we have heard thus far been a series of coincidences? Can it all be mere happenstance? Much simpler is the notion that members of Russia’s spy services saw an opportunity to recruit a useful idiot in Trump, given that his greed and lust for power matched that of the Russian oligarchs themselves. They had an assortment of people in Trumpworld to use as potential conduits. There was Trump’s longtime crony Roger Stone, Manafort’s old lobbying partner, who pushed Trump to favor the U.S.S.R.’s point of view over Ronald Reagan’s during the 1980s, when Vlad Putin was still a KGB agent, and has bragged about his “back channel” to WikiLeaks. There’s Flynn, for whom Russia had provided financial rescue and who was inexplicably brought into the inner sanctum of the White House despite the many clouds swirling over him. There’s Donald Jr., Trump’s son and namesake who was eager to ink condo deals with Russian buyers. And of course, there’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a sort of mini-Trump whose morally promiscuous business dealings include canoodling with a sanctioned Russian bank.
We know that Russian media outlets and their cutouts fed Trump conspiracy theories and fake news about Hillary Clinton to repeat and retweet. We know that Carter Page went to Russia last July just before the first WikiLeaks oppo dumps. We know that Stone had an uncanny ability to predict the oppo dumps before they happened. J.D. Gordon by his own admission was dispatched to Cleveland to flip the Ukraine plank at the RNC. And we know that Flynn brought his people with him to the National Security Council (for awhile, including his conspiracy theory-loving namesake son). And when he was forced out, he left that former DIA aide, Ezra Cohen Watnick, behind, over the objections of his successor.
Will this series of inferences ever be conclusively proved? Who knows. But the Trump presidency is permanently tainted by the implications of their clear use of Russian propaganda to batter Hillary Clinton and her campaign. Trump’s legitimacy will forever be questioned because of his personal enthusiasm for WikiLeaks’ peddling of Russia-hacked emails.
Even if he survives, Trump’s leadership in Washington is in tatters. The Freedom Caucus doesn’t fear him. What’s left of the Republican moderates don’t respect him. The Democrats will have nothing to do with him. And his fair weather friend, Paul Ryan, is a disaster as speaker of the House who is fighting harder for tax cuts for the top one percent than for anything in the Trump campaign agenda and making enemies of the Breitbartians in the process. The Senate Intelligence Committee is showing signs of conducting a real investigation into Trumpgate, and there are fewer and fewer Devin Nunes’ professing a willingness to destroy themselves on Trump’s behalf. Republican partisans are openly advising the GOP-led Senate to cram through their Supreme Court nominee and then wash their hands of Donald J. Trump forever.
Barring some dramatic change—and we should seriously worry about what Trump and Bannon might cook up in that regard—this only goes in one direction, and that’s further downhill.