Yesterday was an historic day. Not since Alexander Butterfield, responding to an apparently innocent question, revealed the existence of an audio taping system in the Oval Office have we heard such explosive Congressional testimony. No self-respecting blogger could pass this by without extended comment, so here goes.
A word of advice to my younger readers from an elderly gentleman with a long memory. I know that some of you will hesitate to acknowledge the importance of anything that so nakedly benefits Democrats and harms Republicans. Too establishment, you will feel, not sufficiently infused with the awareness that the whole kit and caboodle of them are as guilty as sin of much greater transgressions. True, true, but entirely beside the point. When you reach something approximating my age, you will look back on this day and tell your grandchildren what it was like to hear the Director of the FBI testify that he and his organization were investigating a sitting president and his aides for what can only be construed as treason. Recall the words of Prince Hal, become King Henry V, on the eve of the battle of Agincourt:
This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
As Comey testified and Representative Adam Schiff laid out the prima facie evidence during his questioning, the Republicans, echoing Gertrude Stein [who was speaking, let us recall, about Oakland, CA], kept saying, there’s no there there. The circumstantial evidence of active collusion between Trump and his campaign on the one hand and Russia and its agents on the other is quite astonishing, when one hears it laid out quietly and dispassionately.
It is well established and uncontroversial that the Russians sought to influence the election. Inasmuch as every great imperial power since the glorious days of Louis XIV has acted in this manner, up to and notably including the United States, this is not at all surprising. The news, of course, is that Trump and his campaign may well have been active participants in the effort.
Elementary logic tells me that there are four possibilities:
1. There was no collusion, merely what Mike Nichols and Elaine May, in an early comedy skit, described as “proximity but no relating” [they were talking about an uptight couple in bed, but no matter.]
2. Trump’s aides – Manafort, Flynn, and the rest – actively colluded with the Russians, but Trump was ignorant of their efforts and was uninvolved.
3. Both Trump and his aides actively colluded with the Russians.
4. Trump colluded with the Russians, but his aides were ignorant of his efforts and were uninvolved.
Quite obviously, I have no knowledge which of these is the case, but I am, after all, not brain dead, so I have opinions. Numbers 2 and 4 strike me as least likely. Number 4 is unlikely because, unless there were back channels of which we have had no word, it is implausible that Trump could have struck a series of explicit deals with the Russians without any awareness on the part of, or collaboration with, his aides. Number 2 is implausible because Trump so visibly and loudly and repeatedly proclaimed his affection for Putin, his disapproval of NATO and the EU, and even called during a campaign speech for the Russians to hack Clinton’s e-mails and release them.
So either they were all in it together, or else there was no it at all.
Since I am deeply engaged in the expensive business of moving, I am unable to offer a Romney bet on the matter [$10,000, for those of you who do not recall the 2012 Republican primary debates], but I am willing to wager a dollar that the truth is behind Door Number 3.
All of this is entirely distinct from the question whether sufficient evidence can be uncovered to justify indictments or, beyond that, to secure convictions. The FBI will of course follow the time honored procedure of nailing the small fry and then offering them immunity to rat on their superiors. But as the outcome of the New Jersey Bridgegate affair shows, even when it is transparently obvious that the person at the top is guilty, it may prove impossible to bring him or her to justice.
There is, so far as I can see, one striking fact that speaks to Trump’s innocence: If he is in fact in cahoots with the Russians and wishes to keep this fact secret, his behavior is so mind-numbingly stupid as to seem completely unbelievable in someone who is presumably at least minimally capable of dressing himself and using the toilet. Let me offer just one example among many.
Let us suppose, purely hypothetically, that Trump took several hundred million dollars [or perhaps less – he may be, in the world of spycraft, a cheap date] to soften the Republican Party Platform language on Russia and Ukraine. How would any ordinarily intelligent person go about this? Well, the obvious answer is something like this: Make a big fuss about the importance of the platform; present to the Platform Committee a lengthy document, with much fanfare, as Donald J Trump’s Plan to Make American Great Again; hide in an obscure clause of the document the bought and paid for softened language on Ukraine; and then put on an all court press to win approval of the platform, making whatever concessions are necessary on any clause not related to Ukraine. The odds are great that no one would even notice the Ukraine language.
What did Trump actually do? He completely ignored the Platform Committee, exhibited no interest whatsoever in the drafting process, and then sent his minion to demand that one and only one clause be changed, namely the clause on Ukraine. Nobody engaged in a treasonous conspiracy to do Russia’s bidding in an American election could possibly be this stupid, right?
But then I remind myself of Karl Marx’s famous opening words of his brilliant monograph, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”