Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pot, Meet Kettle

“We published several … emails which show Podesta responding to a phishing email. Podesta gave out that his password was the word ‘password.’ His own staff said this email that you’ve received, this is totally legitimate. So, this is something … a 14-year-old kid could have hacked Podesta that way.”
—Wilileaks founder Julian Assange, in a Fox News Channel interview on January 3
Remember when conservatives and foreign policy hawks were the ones who lost their heads over covert Russian influence and infiltration in American society?

Now it is seemingly every politician, pundit and blogger to the left of center suggesting President Trump is a some sort of Manchurian candidate. Is he?

The term is a reference to Richard Condon’s 1959 novel and its 1962 film adaptation by John Frankenheimer. The book was adapted again thirteen years ago by the late Jonathan Demme. A paranoid thriller, the story is about a young scion of a prominent political family who, while serving his country in the Korean War, is captured by Soviets and brainwashed to act on their behalf of the Communists when he goes on to a political career.

I do not think anyone seriously believes the president was ever brainwashed in the manner of Laurence Harvey in the 1962 movie (Liev Schreiber in the 2004 one). I think what some people suspect (or perhaps hope) is that it may turn out that the president has a concrete reason not to go against Vladimir Putin’s international interests for personal financial reasons. Maybe the president would hope to benefit from business interests in Russia, according to one line of speculation. Another is that the Russians may even have funneled money to his political campaign. After all it has been pretty well documented that the Russians have done a lot of meddling in electoral campaigns in western countries. They were clearly involved in the hacking and leaking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers.

Will we find out the truth about the president’s collusion or non-collusion with the Russkies? The good news is that the appointment of former Robert Mueller director Robert Mueller as special counsel will be our best shot at finding out in a way that will satisfy most reasonable people—if there are any left. The problem is that we could be waiting years for the answer.

Donald Trump has had a more raucous beginning to his presidency than any of his recent predecessors, but administrations being under investigation is actually pretty run-of-the-mill. Ronald Reagan had the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton had Whitewater, which somehow veered into his affair with Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. George W. Bush had the Valerie Plame affair, which resulted in no prosecution for the official who actually outed her but did for someone who gave the wrong answers in the course of the investigation. President Obama did not have to deal with a special counsel, but his Secretary of State was investigated by the FBI after she left office.

Unfortunately for Democrats in hindsight, they nominated her as their presidential candidate anyway. That fact betrays a huge amount of hypocrisy among Democratic politicians and their media supporters. Their cries of indignation about the current president letting slip classified info to the Russian diplomats in the Oval Office ring a bit hollow when they insisted for months it was no big deal when much larger amounts of such sensitive information sat for years on an unsecured computer server in Secretary Clinton’s home.

Their new concern about Russian meddling and ambitions also comes off as more than a little opportunistic. Even if the Trump campaign is found to have, say, gotten money from the Russians, it is hard to imagine they could have find the current administration any more compliant than the Obama administration. No one has ever accused Barack Obama of being on the take with the Russians, but his administration was observedly less than aggressive with Moscow on the international front. Whether it was the Crimea invasion or threatening then backtracking on Syria or unilaterally withdrawing defensive missiles from Eastern Europe in exchange for no concessions, he gave Putin a good deal more than once. There was nothing nefarious about it, though. The fact was he needed Putin’s cooperation in order to secure his cherished nuclear deal with Iran. All other foreign policy considerations seemed subservient to that goal.

So what if the Trump people are found to have taken Russian money? After all, it could conceivably happen. This sort of thing is not unprecedented. In 1997 the Justice Department investigated the funneling of Chinese money into the Clinton/Gore campaign, Bill Clinton’s legal defense fund, and some Democratic congressional campaigns. In the end the Justice Department, which of course reported to Bill Clinton, dropped the investigation. Calls for an independent counsel were ignored. Congressional investigations eventually fell apart under the weight of partisan squabbling. Years later Bill Clinton collected multi-million-dollar fees from the Chinese for a series of speeches while his wife was Secretary of State.

If any of the considerable smoke in the Trump presidency results in legitimate fire, one hopes that justice will take its proper course. When it comes to passing judgment, however, it is hard to imagine a more imperfect messenger than the Democratic Party.