Are we capable of connecting two dots? The fake border crisis distracts us from the true national emergency: A suspected Russian asset sits in the White House.
We don’t know whether Donald Trump ginned up the shutdown to draw our attention away from the increasingly hair-raising evidence that he is indeed a clear and present danger to our national security. But suffice it to say that, without the shutdown, the public would be far more focused on what was once deemed unimaginable — that, in the words of former Republican foreign policy aide Max Boot, “a president of the United States could actually have been compromised by a hostile foreign power.”
In the last few days, via two bombshell news stories, we have learned that the sitting president was — and perhaps remains — the target of an FBI counterintelligence investigation, and that the sitting president has repeatedly concealed his communications with Vladimir Putin. As a result, according to the Washington Post, “there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face to face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years.”
The significance of these developments should not be underestimated. Frank Figliuzzi, an ex-FBI assistant director and former head of the counterintelligence division, said over the weekend that the FBI will launch such a probe only when it has “specific and articulable facts,” based on highly classified information that could include “intercepted communications.” And what’s most arguably disturbing about Trump’s secret conversations with Putin is that more people in Moscow than in Washington are privy to what Trump told Putin and vice versa.
These stories — as well as the recent revelation that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared 2016 polling data with a Russian pal tied to Russian intelligence — appear to confirm former CIA director Michael Hayden’s warning, on the eve of the election, that Trump was a “useful fool, some naif, manipulated by Moscow. They also appear to confirm former acting CIA director Michael Morell’s August 2016 warning that Trump was “an unwitting agent of the Russian federation.”
I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that if Barack Obama had ever been the target of an FBI counterintelligence probe, and if Obama had concealed the content of his conversations with the leader of a hostile power, and if his campaign manager had shared polling data with someone tied to a hostile power that was invading an election on Obama’s behalf...if all that was publicly known, Republicans on Capitol Hill would’ve drafted articles of impeachment and launched hearings. And they would’ve been right to do so, because such behavior is dangerously un-American.
And yet, even though we are currently in the midst of the most dire scandal in American history, there was barely a peep of protest over the weekend from anyone in the GOP.
Trump has been buoyed thus far by the blind loyalty of his fan base, and by the reluctance, among many Americans, to accept the fact that we’re living through a non-fiction version of a conspiracy novel. But this multifaceted plot will only become more real when Robert Mueller wraps his investigation. What we already know is likely a mere trickle of the flood that awaits us.
So as we focus the brunt of our attention on the government shutdown, let’s not forget that the true national emergency is the guy who precipitated it. Over the weekend, even Fox News host Jeanine Pirro felt compelled to address it. With Trump on the phone, she posed this question: “Are you now, or have you ever, worked for the Russians?”
And this was his reply:
“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written. And if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing. (Fact check: The Times article reaches no such conclusion.) But the headline of that article, it’s called ‘The failing New York Times’ for a reason, they’ve gotten me wrong for three years. They’ve actually gotten me wrong for many years before that. And I can tell you this, if you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other — probably any other president, period, but certainly the last three or four presidents, modern day presidents. Nobody’s been as tough as I have from any standpoint including the fact that we’ve done oil like we’ve never done it, we’re setting records in exporting oil and many other things.”
Dip your fork into Trump’s word salad. You’ll find that he never answered the question. But earlier this week, when the press posed the same question, he took another whack at it: “I never worked for Russia. It’s a disgrace that you even asked that question because it’s a whole big fat hoax. It’s just a hoax.”
Do we all feel better now?
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at email@example.com.