January 14, 2019


No president has ever been asked: Are you a Russian agent? (Jennifer Rubin, January 13, 2019, Washington Post)

[I]n Trump's concealing and perhaps destroying of records of conversations with Vladimir Putin, the question is raised: Was he destroying evidence of collusion and in fact continuing to collude with Putin? "I'm at a loss to figure out a legitimate much less reassuring explanation for the impounding of his interpreter's notes," former federal prosecutor Harry Litman tells me. "How could intelligence agencies, not to mention the American people, not react to that with extreme alarm?"

There is no logical reason that Trump would be going to such efforts to keep everyone else from knowing what he told Putin if there was not something untoward, embarrassing and/or incriminating in those discussions. Otherwise, those records would be essential for his own senior staff in formulating Trump's desired Russia policy. Not knowing what was said would mean his own aides might work at cross purposes with the president and/or not take advantage of Putin's own words. You tie your administration up in knots in this way only if the discussions didn't concern U.S. policy (but instead Trump's private affairs) and/or there was something compromising in the discussions. The very fact that Putin knows what was said and we don't raises the potential for blackmail.

Let's remember where we started: "No collusion." Since then we've learned of: more than 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, Moscow Trump Tower dealmaking that continued through the 2016 campaign, a June Trump Tower meeting where Russians offered "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, and Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort sharing polling data with a Russian linked to Kremlin intelligence operations.

As if that were not all bone-chilling enough, we saw Trump refuse to flat-out deny he was a Russian agent when asked by Fox News gadfly Jeanine Pirro. Republican senators, when asked on Sunday, didn't offer a complete rebuttal. Far from it. (Asked about subpoenaing the translator to report on the Trump-Putin Helsinki meeting, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz weakly replied, "You know, I think it's premature for that. I've seen the allegations. I want to find out a little bit more about what happened there. I want to learn more than just the allegations in the press.") Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), invariably sober and circumspect, declined to rule out the possibility that the president was knowingly or unknowingly a Russian asset. He said: "Well, Jake, that's the defining question of our investigation and the Mueller investigation."

To many this seems like a bad movie plot. "The Manchurian Candidate scenario, by its very nature, has always been highly implausible," Litman acknowledges. "But the question seems to be becoming 'Is it the least implausible explanation for a long chain of bizarre and worrisome actions by the President?'"

Posted by at January 14, 2019 12:00 AM