As Pulitzer Prize-caliber blockbusters go, The Washington Post‘s takeout on Barack Obama’s secret struggles to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election with the aid and abetment of Donald Trump is a brilliant letdown. It is brilliant because it is investigative reporting at its finest and a letdown because it confirmed in excruciating detail what I have long suspected — that Obama choked in handling the greatest crisis of his fraught presidency and what can now be fairly called the crime of the century.

Even giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, and Post reporters Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous are scrupulously fair, the president and his closest aides, and to a great extent the U.S. intelligence community, failed to grasp that the very foundation of American democracy had been assaulted.

Perversely, this failure-to-grasp has continued well beyond Election Day. The overlapping investigations and attendant minutiae — how many times did Attorney General Sessions met with Ambassador Kislyak? — have had the effect of obscuring the enormity of what Vladimir Putin wrought with an assist from Trump and his confederates.

Even when the success of Putin’s assault had become glaringly obvious, The Post makes a compelling case that Obama and the key players still fumbled and stumbled.

In the end, fears that the White House would be accused of trying to influence the election, which of course is exactly what Putin and Trump did, as well as the overconfident view that Hillary Clinton would be the walk-off winner of the ferociously contested election, enabled a profoundly unqualified nut who never seriously thought he would win to wrest the keys to the national car from an eminently qualified if problematic opponent.

Obama and his aides considered dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, according to The Post in its June 23 blockbuster. These included cyberattacks on Russia’s infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin, and sanctions so tough that officials said they could “crater” the Russian economy.

While Obama’s back-channel warnings to Moscow to cease and desist as the election played out may have prompted it to abandon plans to escalate its attacks even further, including sabotaging U.S. voting systems, in the end Russia got off with a laughably negligible toughening of existing Obama-imposed sanctions that when placed in the overall context of the scandal was profoundly inadequate.

This weak-kneed response — the expulsion of a mere 35 diplomats and closure of two Russian compounds — was an open invitation for the Kremlin to work future mischief against the world’s sole remaining superpower, which it surely will, and advance Putin’s dream of returning the former Soviet Union to its Cold War glory, which it is well on its way to doing as it seeks to outmaneuver Trump. He may be making less headway in European countries, as The Post reports in a separate story, because of the kind of bold tactics and tools they are using to expose Russian attempts to sway voters.

The Post‘s blockbuster is a first draft of history writ large and indelibly tarnishes the legacy of an otherwise damned fine president whose trademark dispassion and caution ultimately failed him.

It also makes even more important the ongoing work of special counsel Robert Mueller and other investigators in what Trump still claims is a “witch hunt” (and now disingenuously blames the Obama administration for not stopping the Russians in an an apparent change of strategy on view this weekend) even if impeachment by a Republican-controlled Congress remains an abstraction.

If The Post piece has a shortcoming, it is giving short shrift to the desolate political landscape through which Obama trekked over the months of deliberations on how to respond.

While Obama did not exactly go it alone, few of his Democratic allies in Congress understood the gravity of the situation. Exceptions included Senators Harry Reid and Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff, three ranking Democratic members of Congress who were members of what is colloquially known Gang of Eight, which is a legacy of the George W. Bush NSA warrantless surveillance scandal who by law are to be briefed on important intelligence matters.

Meanwhile, Republicans with exceptions hardly worthy noting, remained smugly in denial, and no one more so than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as eminent a personification of evil to slither through the halls of the Capitol in ages. The Soviet Union and later Russia may have been the Republican Party’s go-to bogeyman for decades, but their lapel-pin patriotism ended where the shameless expedient of kissing Trump’s ring to get their agenda passed began.

There is an opposing view of Obama’s handling of the crime of the century that has merit.

It goes something like this: There was nothing Obama could have done to keep Trump from winning. His immediate responsibility was to preserve the U.S., not engage in confrontations with Russia once the election had been sabotaged. The thinking was that there would be “ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures,” according to one Obama insider interviewed by The Post.

According to this opposing view, the longer term responsibility to deal with Russia falls to Trump and Congress, and ultimately voters to elect a new president and other legislators if they don’t like the response of either.

Where this view collapses, of course, is that Trump is morally bankrupt and determined to ditch sanctions. And while the Senate has shown a willingness to strengthen sanctions, Congress as a whole will never fulfill its constitution duties while remaining in the oleaginous grip of the Republican Party.

Treason, it seems, has never had it better.


Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.

Shaun Mullen
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