Trump’s Russian Quagmire
Paul Revere would have it easy today. Instead of a wild midnight ride to alert his countrymen, he could simply post on social media:
"The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! One if by land, two if by sea – and three if via the Oval Office."
But admittedly, there’s a key difference.
The Brits were unwelcome. Yet for some reason, this White House feels compelled to roll out the red carpet for the Ruskies. And not only do they get the royal treatment, but, courtesy of President Trump, they also get classified secrets. Only in Amerika!
We’ve said it here before: You can’t make this stuff up. From the president’s insane accusations about being wiretapped, to off-the-wall tweets, to this latest doozy – betraying some of America’s most trusted allies and jeopardizing the lives of intelligence assets – the presidency of Donald Trump has become farcical.
And the lack of results bears that out.
Despite enjoying Republican majorities in Congress, the president has accomplished virtually nothing; in fact, he has conceded to Democrats on a host of issues. Yes, Congress must bear some blame, but responsibility for such failure ultimately rests with President Trump himself. And things are only getting worse, as his un-presidential antics and lack of discipline keeps the White House mired in crisis mode, to the detriment of his policy agenda. As his approval rating continues to plummet – the result of no victories – an increasing number of Republicans are openly moving away from him, wary of association as next year’s elections creep closer.
Here’s a look at the major developments of Mr. Trump’s first four months in office – and his self-inflicted failures:
1) Obstruction of Justice? In what could prove the most stunning development to date, a memo has surfaced from former FBI Director James Comey, written after a February meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office. In the memo, Director Comey stated that the president asked him to drop the Bureau’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
While more facts will undoubtedly emerge, a president asking the FBI to kill a high-level investigation would seem to fall into the obstruction of justice category. For it that doesn’t meet the definition of obstruction, what does?
2) The classified information giveaway: Was it within Mr. Trump’s purview to share highly-sensitive information with the Russians, obtained from sources close to ISIS? Sure. But his cluelessness to the ramifications was bewildering. The Russians are smart cookies, and will undoubtedly figure out the source. So given that betrayal of trust, and the president adamantly defending his decision, why would other intelligence assets still take America at its word? Why continue to incur grave liability to themselves and their networks after Mr. Trump acted with such recklessness? They won’t – so our fight against terrorists just got that much harder.
Let’s get this straight: You share classified information with the Russians, give them a free pass for meddling in our election, get nothing in return – and somehow that’s a win? Makes you wonder if Putin is really that smart, or if President Trump is just that politically challenged.
3) Firing FBI Director Comey: The decision by President Trump to fire Jim Comey is just as baffling. Should Comey have been canned? Absolutely, as this column pointed out a year ago. By becoming a political pawn and injecting himself into the election, Comey impugned the reputation of the bureau and destroyed his own credibility.
Comey should have been fired on Day One, but instead, the president slapped his back and repeatedly sang his praises, as recently as last month. So what changed? What was the president’s epiphany that made him suddenly realize that Mr. Comey wasn’t up to snuff?
Was it that Comey refused to pledge his loyalty to the president? Or that the director, that very week, had sought additional resources in the FBI’s Russia-Trump collusion investigation? Or was it that "Russia" was on the president’s mind, as he freely admits?
Regardless of the reason, it should’ve been a no-brainer to put away the ax until the Russia investigations were concluded. How did the president not know that firing Comey right in the middle of those investigations would generate comparisons to Nixon firing the special prosecutor investigating Watergate? In politics, perception is reality, and President Trump just cemented the perception that he is trying to quash something ominous. Being identified alongside a crooked president who set the standard for paranoia is not helpful.
But the crème-de-la-crème was the president tweeting a warning to Comey that he not leak "tapes" of their conversations, which immediately prompted members of both parties to state that subpoenas would likely be issued if any such tapes exist.
Firing Jim Comey at the worst possible time: dumb. Canning him in the belief that Democrats would support the decision: really dumb. Not foreseeing that confirmation hearings for the new FBI Director will dredge up every aspect of the Russia investigations Mr. Trump has been desperately trying to avoid? Mindbogglingly obtuse.
But tweeting Nixonian-like statements about secret tapes? Insane.
4) No one home: The Trump Administration has been wholly incompetent in installing a functioning executive branch of the government. The president’s transition – slowest in history – is so inept that GOP senators are begging for nominees. Trump diehards love to say that Democrats are to blame by blocking nominations, but that’s ridiculous for two reasons: A) nominees only need 51 votes, and there are 52 Republican senators, and B) there are virtually no nominees. As of today, no nominees have been submitted for 479 out of 557 "key" administration positions. Since it’s going on seven months, it’s fair to ask what the hell they’ve been doing.
5) Derailed Agenda: Donald Trump has created a vicious circle. He acts like a horse’s patoot, causing his approval rating to sink. Then he tries to achieve policy victories, but fails – due to his low approval rating. Paradoxically, the only way to raise his approval – and thus his effectiveness – is to achieve success on policy initiatives. Yet just when Congress looks amenable to that end, the president exhibits the same reckless behavior that got him into the hole in the first place. And the cycle continues.
The president’s shrinking base correctly points to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as a victory – and it is – but that was as much the Senate acting in its own self-interest as it was a Trump win. And sure, onerous regulations have been slashed, but they are behind-the-scenes executive orders that win no votes.
So where do all the other big promises stand?
No Obamacare replacement; no border wall; no withdraw of funding from sanctuary cities; no ripped up Iran nuclear deal; no re-vamped "America-first" trade deals; no withdrawing from NAFTA; no hard line with China; no tax reform; no adherence to staying out of Middle Eastern conflicts; no infrastructure package; no reduction in government spending (or size); and no voter fraud investigation.
Bottom line: the "Trump is better than Hillary" line isn’t cutting it anymore, as even some of his most ardent supporters are sounding the alarm. If things are to change, and the trajectory is to be re-directed, the Trump base must stop turning a blind eye, and understand that giving the president a free pass every time he goes off the rails is counter-productive.
No more blaming the Democrats. No more excuses that "Trump is new, so give him a chance." No more platitudes that he must first drain the swamp. And please, no more insulting arguments that Donald Trump, as master deal maker, is light years ahead of everyone else, every action of his being a carefully orchestrated chess move that will produce incredible results.
"Just wait," we’re always told.
Well, Mr. President, we’ve been waiting. And we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]