The more I think about the latest shocks from the Mueller Russia probe, the more I realize how great a disaster the findings represent.
And not just for Individual 1 and his vast array of crooked cronies, who make the Nixon accomplices look like your 5-year-old’s soccer team. But for us, the purported innocents in the case.
The hellscape we find ourselves in isn’t going anywhere. This is life in the TrumpWorld dystopia. It will get worse, of course, but it will never get better. And, at least until 2020, and maybe even for four years beyond that, there seems to be no prospect of an ending, happy or otherwise. We’re stuck — waist deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool says to push on.
I make it my business never to waste a moment’s pity for our political class, but imagine their predicament. For the soon-to-be Democratic House, there will be hearings, of course. This will be Benghazi on steroids because, for one thing, there are real villains this time. And for another, the story extends in nearly every direction and reaches, no doubt, into the same hallways that Nixon and Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Mitchell once roamed.
It could reach the Trump inner family. We could someday find Don Jr. and/or Jared Kushner indicted and Individual 1 as an unindicted co-conspirator. For now, in this moment, when Trump hilariously tweets that he is “totally cleared,” we’re seeing the 21st century version of Monty Python’s Black Knight insisting his amputated limbs were only a flesh wound. Meanwhile, the Southern District of New York says Individual 1 directly participated in two felony counts to which fixer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty. This is our president as prospective felon — historians say no president has ever been so accused in court — and what the hell are we going to do about it?
As we learn more of the Moscow Trump Tower deal, as we learn more (possibly) about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia on a variety of fronts, as we learn more about what Trump knew and when he knew it and how many millions might have been at stake, what Putin knew and when he knew it and what he might do about it, as we wait to learn which crooked Trump crony becomes the 21st century John Dean, when we await (vainly, I’m guessing) for the next Howard Baker, there will be irresistible pressure on House Dems to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump. Which could, of course, be yet another disaster.
Unless something happens that would cause the Senate to get a two-thirds vote to convict Trump, an impeachment and failed Senate trial would not only be futile, but might well be the major selling point for Trump’s claim that the system is rigged against him and that his supporters are the true victims of a coup attempt. I know. It doesn’t seem possible, but ask yourself, what about this situation we find ourselves in seems possible? I mean, in the last weeks of the Republican-led House, they’re grilling Jim Comey on Hillary Clinton’s emails — yes, really — even as the Trump administration falls apart and CNN reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Trump are no longer on speaking terms.
I’m sure many Senate Republicans not-so-secretly wish they could rid themselves of Trump — he got his judges, he got his fabulously unpopular tax cut — and settle for a cipher like Mike Pence to be a place-holder for, I don’t know — Nikki Haley, who would, if nothing else, promise an end to the demagoguery and the humiliating Trumpian embrace of despots. At least Pence, for all his shortcomings, presumably wouldn’t nominate a Fox News host as ambassador to the United Nations — where did you go, Adlai Stevenson? — or call his former secretary of state “dumb as a rock.”
But as long as Trump is riding 80-90 percent of support from Republican voters, the Vichy senators led by Mitch McConnell, joined by our own Cory Gardner, will march their way into history as the collaborators that they are.
You should read the findings on Michael Cohen — and remind me, who was the last president who had his own personal fixer? — for yourself. It wasn’t just the payoffs to the women accusers, which Trump is accused of directing. There were also the Russians and negotiations deep into the campaign and a Cohen meeting with a “trusted person” in the Russian federation seeking what they called “synergy” between the Trump campaign and Putin’s government. The offer was apparently about politics and about, yes, money. I guess synergy is one way to put it.
Here’s the Southern District “no hero” summation of Cohen: “After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the Presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty — rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes — does not make him a hero.”
The major takeaways from the Cohen and Paul Manafort filings is that Trump was surrounded by crooks and that Trump’s business interests in Russia are central to the Mueller investigation. We will learn more. We will learn more than we can take in. We will become expert in court filings and Mueller-speak and in searching for the clues that Mueller leaves as to the next revelation. We might even see Trump’s tax returns some distant day.
We could almost bear the weight of all this if every raucous day in TrumpWorld weren’t equivalent to at least a month in normal times. I confess I make this calculation as if I could remember when times were anything like normal. But to be honest, I can’t. And I doubt if there’s anyone among us who can.