The request by former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn for immunity as a condition of testifying either before a Congressional committee or to the FBI instantly transforms the ongoing flap about Russian interference in the US elections into a full-blown crisis. Quite obviously, I do not have any new information about this matter, nor do I even have any opinions that have not already been expressed many times by newspaper, television, and internet commentators. Nevertheless, I do run a blog, so herewith my thoughts on the affair.
First, an historical comparison. As I have several times observed, Watergate took twenty-four months from the bungled break-in to the resignation of Nixon. In the interim, Nixon was re-elected. Trump is just ten weeks into his presidency, and revelations are coming so rapidly that “daily” fails to capture the pace of the affair. Every reporter in New York and Washington is poking about for information every waking moment, with dreams of Pulitzers, not sugar plums, in their heads. Whatever there is to be found will be found. That is now clear.
There are, I think, four distinct stories, interconnected though they may be, and I find it useful to think about them separately. Let me sketch them, in ascending order of importance.
First, and most trivial, is the bizarre and bush league effort of the White House, in collaboration with Congressman Devin Nunes of California, to dredge up and put out something, anything, to offer some confirmation, however feeble, of Trump’s ill-considered tweet that Obama wiretapped him during the campaign. This silly business has been driven by Trump’s inability to retract, to apologize, or even to simply let go of something once he has broadcast it. The most interesting element of this story is the speed with which the NY TIMES was able to get to the truth. On Monday of this week, Nunes said he would never, ever reveal who it was in the White House who gave him the information that he then made such a great show of taking back to the White House. On Thursday, the TIMES published the names of the relatively low level staffers who gave Nunes the dope. For those of us who cut our eye teeth on Watergate, that is, as many commentators have said, light speed.
The second matter, about which there is now no dispute, is Russian attempts to disrupt, influence, hack into, and otherwise muddy the waters of the U. S. election. I am aware that some readers of this blog view this as unimportant, or at least adopt the pose that they do. But I am not one of them. I view this as very serious. Why? Well, let me put it this way. We have been talking for months on this blog about the importance of generating support nation-wide for progressive candidates whose election could begin to move this country to the left. In addition, all of us are outraged by the blatant voter-suppression efforts of Republicans at the state level. Both foreign interference and voter suppression work directly against these efforts. Therefore it is bad, and a cause for concern. I do not rate this higher on my list of stories simply because thus far it does not appear that the Russian efforts have been terribly successful.
The third matter is whether Trump and members of his campaign colluded with, or tacitly encouraged, the Russian interference in the election. This is of great importance because if the answer is yes [and I think such evidence as we have makes it clear that it is], the public demonstration of that collusion will dramatically diminish Trump’s political power. Since I think everything he is trying to do is just plain awful, I view with pleasure any diminution of his political influence.
The final matter, and potentially the most explosive, is whether Trump is in the tank financially with the Russians and as a consequence under their control. This is impeachment territory. As that great American patriot, Dick Cheney, observed, this is the stuff of treason. [O.K. I have learned from hard experience that no one in the cloud has a sense of humor, so let me assure everyone that my reference to Cheney as a patriot was sarcastic.] Despite enormous amounts of evidence that Trump is deeply in hock to Russian oligarchs close to Putin, it is at this point entirely unclear whether anything rising to the level of a quid pro quo has ever occurred.
Which brings me back to Flynn. I am, Lord knows, not the first person to observe that all these investigations gain traction by getting the goods on a low-level co-conspirator and then turning him or her into a cooperative witness against someone higher up. I have been waiting with bated breath for news that some flunky has been turned. Well, Flynn is no flunky, and the only person higher up than the National Security Advisor is the President.