A Scandal Update: That Very Big Something & The Coming Disaster In Washington
Allowing that at the end of the day Donald Trump is stupid in addition to being narcissistic, mean spirited and a pathological liar, there can be only one explanation as to why he has gone to such extraordinary lengths to try to block the Russia scandal investigations while continuing to insist that the whole affair is “fake” news. There is something very big that must remain hidden at all costs. And because a function of Trump’s stupidity is that he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, he still believes at this late date that he can get away with that. But in order to get away with that, he needs his confederates to remain silent about that very big thing.
This latest and greatest of Trumpian showdowns between fantasy and reality — as in repeatedly claiming he is innocent of any complicity in successful Russian efforts to hand the 2016 presidential election to him while repeatedly saying and doing things that only make sense if he’s guilty — is occurring at a pivotal time in his presidency.
As I am fond of saying and you are no doubt tired of reading, the Russia scandal has grown from a lot of smoke to a nasty fire and on to a general-alarm conflagration as Trump still refuses to express the slightest concern about the greatest assault on American democracy since Soviet spies stole atomic bomb secrets after World War II, something that Attorney General Jeff Sessions inadvertently reinforced in testimony on Tuesday afternoon in making the damning statement that he “did not recall” a single instance in which Trump even broached the subject.
The smell of disaster is in the air with bipartisan approval in Congress for strengthening sanctions against Russia likely later this week, the possibility of there being a secret White House taping system that could be used to blackmail fired FBI Director James Comey turning out to be yet another Trump lie wrapped in a threat, Trump’s credibility ebbing to the dimensions of a mosquito-infested mud puddle among even Republican congressfolk, his disapproval rating smashing the 60 percent barrier in a Gallup poll, and a Trump surrogate making grunting noises about him firing special counsel Robert Mueller.
As Charles Pierce notes at Esquire:
“Washington these days is stuck in a kind of Cassandra Syndrome. Everyone knows the disaster is coming but nobody knows how to stop it, and too many people don’t want to because they figure they can get rich selling off the ruins. But everybody knows the disaster is coming. People talk about it matter-of-factly, the way they talk about rain when the dark clouds gather over the monuments by the river. They also talk about it in whispers while every institution of democratic government screams for help. The government of the United States is in the hands of feckless time-severs and coat-holders at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and in the hands of an unpredictable and perilous clown show at the other. It is an altogether remarkable, if terrifying, place to be as summer comes on.
“Jesus, won’t somebody get a net?”
Enter Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and the need for Trump’s confederates to keep secret that very big something if the mother of all stonewalls is going to hold.
Sessions is a prototypical late 20th century Southern politician of the caucasian persuasion. Although he piously claims otherwise, he is a racist and bigot, a hardliner on anything that compassionate people support like a humanitarian immigration policy for refugees or medical marijuana, and he oozes — like syrup from an Aunt Jemima bottle — an oleaginous insincerity.
An opportunist in the finest tradition of the smoke-filled room, Sessions climbed on Trump’s bandwagon not because he saw him as a transformative figure, but as a meal ticket, in this case being named attorney general in return for carrying out the president’s draconian diktats. He also is a coward, because behind that colonnaded plantation facade of a Selma drawl is an acutely tuned survival instinct.
While lacking the drama of Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last Thursday, the very big thing was lurking just beneath the surface during Sessions’ contentious turn in the hot seat on Tuesday afternoon.
Predictably, Sessions called any suggestion that he colluded with Russians during the campaign an “appalling lie,” denied he had met with Sergey Kislyak a third time — it was an “encounter . . . not a formal meeting” — having lied under oath during his confirmation hearings in January that he had not met with any Russians at all any place anytime, and then later grudgingly admitted to two meetings with the ambassador, who is widely considered to be a spy in diplomat’s clothing.
Five months later, the shameless Sessions had the temerity to say those lies actually were his words being taken out of context.
Pressed on what he and Trump had discussed in the run-up to Comey’s firing, Sessions fell back on what already was public and when that didn’t sit well with some committee members, fell further back on executive privilege, as in protecting Trump’s right to assert privilege in the future. Speaking of “appalling,” and despite being a two-term senator himself, Sessions fell even further back in claiming Congress has no Executive Branch oversight role.
When not dissembling, Sessions kept contradicting himself. Avoiding the truth has a way of making one do that.
Among his whoppers was saying the letter he wrote to Trump supporting the FBI director’s dismissal was based on Comey’s goof-ups in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, a transparent lie that Trump himself quickly discarded. Besides which, Sessions had been lavish in his praise of Comey until Trump signaled it was time to turn on him.
Sessions categorically refused to say if he has discussed the FBI investigation with Trump and was forthcoming only when talking about prosecuting leakers of classified information to the news media, which is the Republicans’ favorite way of trying to change the subject.
Despite having recused himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation but then having his hands all over Comey’s firing, Sessions also said he would not re-recuse himself and will continue to oversee Justice.
All that noted, I continue to believe that the attention being paid to the Kislyak-Sessions encounters is a big, fat distraction. So does Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, who wrote as Sessions was speaking that:
“There were lots and lots of warning signs about Trump’s relationship with Russia (both policy subservience and business ties) before what we now think of as the centerpiece of the story even happened. The possible quid pro quo of policy subservience in exchange for business opportunities and cash was right there in the open before Russia began a massive campaign of more or less open interventions on Trump’s behalf.
” . . . What happened stretches way back to the earliest days of the race and likely, in key respects, long before. The meetings and events that are now the focus are more like the fruition of whatever was afoot. They are far from the whole story.”
To which I can only add, the key to Sessions’ role is to what extent he was privy of that very big something.
It is difficult to believe Sessions was out of the loop because he has kept resorting to taking big bites out of the perjury apple. Even given that he is someone for whom lying has become reflexive over a long career in Republican politics, what he has continued to lie about is figuratively at the heart of the scandal and literally a heartbeat from that very big something.
Finally, back to the report that Trump is contemplating firing Mueller.
Some pundits say he has no intention of doing so. They note that NewsMax Media boss Christopher Ruddy, the friend who floated the possibility, actually thinks it is a lousy idea. He knew Trump was unlikely to take his advice when he visited the White House on Monday, but because Trump is so consumed by television news so he can see who is being naughty and who is being nice, Ruddy knew he would pay attention to what he said on the boob tube later that night.
Other pundits say Trump’s nothing-if-not-erratic personality and disrespect for political norms makes firing Mueller for the same reason he fired Comey (and New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara before him) a real possibility. They note that Trump cannot help but act on his impulses, sees the special counsel as a huge threat to unearthing that very big thing, and it becomes more difficult for him to repress his knee-jerk “Off with his head!” impulse every time Mueller’s name comes up.
Like I said, amazing, eh?