Trump, Flynn, and Pence: Shiny Objects versus the Arc of the Story

Well, finally. With General Michael Flynn’s resignation, the network of Talking Heads are finally placing the links between Donald Trump and the Russian hacking of the presidential election on the front burner, where it belongs. Finally, the press, the Democrats, and even a few Republicans (and just a few) are asking seriously what compromising information Vladimir Putin and Russia have on our American president. Finally, there are signs of determination in reviewing WHY a candidate and president who routinely insults our closest allies and security packs repeatedly turns a blind eye to the evils of — no, actually continuously expresses admiration for — Vladimir Putin. “WHY?” is the question. WHY? WHY? WHY?

It is giving Trump and his administration too much credit to suggest that he has purposefully thrown out a trail of shiny objects — like the crowd-count at his inauguration, accusations that there were three million illegal votes during the election, or his war with judges and the courts — to distract the press and the public from the underlying story of Russian subterfuge and a stolen election. These are simply the product of Trump’s childish and narcissistic temperament and the actions of an incompetent White House. But there is no forgiving the news industry for its failure to double-down on the real story: the obvious subterfuge that undermined the 2016 Presidential election, which installed an administration with frighteningly authoritarian/totalitarian impulses.

Happily, Republicans notwithstanding, it is no longer widely being universally assumed that General Flynn acted on his own when he telephoned the Russian ambassador to undermine President Obama’s imposition of additional sanctions in response to the Russian hacking of the election. The conventional storyline is now moving towards who else in the white house also knew, even may have approved, the Flynn contact with the Russians. Even today, the day of Flynn’s “resignation,” Republicans blithely assert that “Flynn lied to the President,” ignoring the likelihood that President Trump and his inner circle were in on the plot. Trump and his cadre will strive to assure that Flynn himself becomes the latest shiny object for the press to chase lest the larger picture be revealed.

Most commentators seem to be lazily buying into the storyline that Flynn lied to vice-president Michael Pence and Kellyanne Conway, who then asserted publicly that no discussion of sanctions occurred during the Flynn phone call with the Russian ambassador. Perhaps that is the case. But it is also known that the Department of Justice on January 26 warned the White House about Flynn’s actions, eleven days before Pence and Conway defended him. The White House narrative, which most commentators (even those who are normally most alert) seem to be buying, is that the DOJ and the inner White House team kept this information from Pence. Really? WHY?

Which brings us back to Pence and Conway. In corroborating Donald Trump’s serial lies during the presidential campaign and on into the White House, they themselves each earned the title of “deputy serial liar.” We cannot blindly assume that the Flynn lie occurred between Flynn and Pence/Conway rather than between them and the public.

How can it possibly have taken so long to exhaustively explore the likelihood of a collusion between Russian intelligence and the Trump presidential campaign? On November 10th — over three months ago and only two days after the election — The Washington Post printed an article titled “Moscow had contact with Trump team during campaign, Russian Diplomat says.” It reported that Russian deputy secretary Sergei Ryabkov had acknowledged contacts between Russian operatives and Trump campaign before the election.

• According to the Post, “the statement came from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who said in an interview with the Interfax news agency that ‘there were contacts’ with the Trump team. Obviously we know most of the people from his entourage, Ryabkov said.” The Post went on to say that “Ryabkov provided no further details, and his remarks drew a swift denial from Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who said the campaign had ‘no contact with Russian officials’ before Tuesday’s election.”

If Trump and company were “in touch with” the Russians throughout the campaign, is it not, therefore, likely that there was an active collusion in process? The obvious one-sided nature of the Russian hacking has been evident from the start. Example of Trump’s trickery in promoting his own interest are legendary, and it is not by any means a stretch to presume that collusion with Putin during the election was simply an extension of his past behavior.

Now that the press and the world at large are finally turning their attention to the entire arc of the Trump/Putin story, beginning in the campaign and continuing to the present, it is also time to revisit the Comey affair, which is almost as important as the Russian caper. The prospect of this Republican Congress following through on a promised investigation of the Comey surprise of October 28th (when the FBI Director James Comey announced that he was “reopening” the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails) has, not surprisingly, disappeared into the ether. Already forgotten is Rudy Giuliani’s chilling appearance interview with Martha MacCallum on Fox News on the morning of October 26th — two days before the release of Comey’s letter to Congressional committee heads, all of whom were Republican — that a big event in Trump’s favor was about to hit. As noted in my January posting, the dialog of that discussion is both creepy and telling: Giuliani, who is well known to have close contacts in the New York office of the FBI, interrupted as MacCallum was attempting to go to a commercial:

Giuliani: (referring to Trump) And then he’s got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean … I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprise.
MacCallum: Yeah, I heard you say that this morning. What do you mean?
Giuliani: You’ll see (laughs)

MacCallum again tried to go to commercial, but Giuliani broke in once more before letting the session end to say “We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around . . . in a way that even the liberal pollsters will get to see it.”

OK, so Rudy Giuliani and, therefore, the Trump campaign, knew two days before the Comey Surprise what Comey was about to do — an action that abruptly reversed what at that juncture had been Hillary Clinton’s wide and growing lead over Trump in the election. Please, folks: if the Trump campaign knew in advance (at least by two days and quite possibly more) of Comey’s intent, is it not likely that they colluded with Comey and/or his staff on this course of action? Fourth estate: where are you? The Giuliani videotape, which is a strong starting point for the Comey/collusion case, has been out there for nearly four months now.

In the end, the Presidential election of 2016 was indeed “rigged,” as Donald Trump suggested it would be — but by Trump himself, not the opposing party. The election was, in fact, stolen by illicit means. This is not Democratic whining: it is factual, and the facts are coming out. The subterfuge practiced by the Trump forces during and since the 2016 Presidential election make the “dirty tricks” undertaken by the Nixon administration seem absolutely quaint and puerile. How painful it is to hear even some Democrats say that Trump won it “fair and square,” and must thus be given a fair shake.

Looking forward, Trump very likely will be brought down by his ongoing ignorance, narcissitic behavior, and disrespect for truth. And it doesn’t take too much imagination to posit that conventional (I resist the temptation to put that in quotation marks) Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan eagerly anticipate the day when a President Pence assumes primacy, and Trump’s unfulfillable promises on The Wall, infrastructure, and Republican-designed heath care for all fade away. Republicans may then return to the status quo ante, moving the party away from Trump’s increasingly totalitarian instincts — something we may all wish for — and back toward its safer, traditionally-less-overt appeals to racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and the (wink-wink) assertion that if you cut taxes on the wealthy, it will provide jobs for the lower and middle class. While Donald Trump put the Republican Party in the driver’s seat for the next four years, the solid possibility of his departure for any number of possible reasons — scandal, impeachment, boredom, better business opportunities elsewhere — will leave the Republicans in control as never before. In the end, Donald Trump and the subterfuge he visited upon the 2016 Presidential election may merely turn out to be a vehicle for Republicans to return to business as usual. Sadly, under the circumstances, that may be the best Americans can hope for.