The Russia scandal enveloping the White House poses an existential threat to the White House and more broadly to the GOP. The Post’s latest bombshell shows just how cavalier Republicans were about handing the party and the country over to someone with inexplicable affection for an enemy of the United States.
A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.
McCarthy’s remark sounds like a bad joke, as his spokesman claimed, but the issue is not whether Trump was actually receiving rubles from the Kremlin. McCarthy and fellow Republicans betray in this episode both a recognition of the degree to which Trump was behaving as Vladimir Putin’s lapdog and their own lack of seriousness about a presidential nominee who, if elected, would pose a threat to the United States’ national security. The glib, cavalier treatment of a potential national security threat reveals a level of immaturity and irresponsibility that we do not expect from elected officials, especially those in top leadership roles.
As things turned out, the Russia connection during the campaign was reportedly far deeper than even #NeverTrump Republicans and Democrats imagined. Reuters reports:
Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.
The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.
This undercuts repeated assurances from the president that no one had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign. The number of contacts is extraordinary, according to multiple foreign policy experts.
USA Today counts 20 times the administration or Trump denied contacts during the campaign with the Russians. Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied any contacts in testimony under oath during his confirmation hearing. In fact, he had at least two contacts with Kislyak. As a result of his testimony — which he updated in a letter to Congress — he was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Given the frequency with which Flynn and others reportedly communicated with Russian officials, flat denials by the president and his aides suggest either total ignorance of the actions of Trump subordinates or the capacity for bald-face, repeated lies to the American people.
Moreover, the extent of the contacts and the number of denials provide a powerful motive for the president, aided by his attorney general and other aides to oust former FBI director James B. Comey, who would not let go of an investigation that Trump insisted was a baseless attempt to delegitimize his presidency. (Today he is back tweeting that he is the victim of a witch hunt.)
Trump alone is responsible for the mess in which he finds himself. He hired on pro-Putin advisers, continued to praise Russia throughout the campaign, insisted (falsely) he had no ties to Russia (even his lawyer had to add a qualifier — “with few exceptions” — as to his financial ties to Russia), refused to release his tax returns and, most recently, handed over top-secret information to Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Moreover, he hired Flynn, whom his attorneys knew at the time was under investigation for failure to report receipt of monies from Turkey. He kept him on after being informed that Flynn had lied to the vice president and others about contacts with Russian officials. (Trump fired Flynn only after The Post broke the story that Flynn had lied.)
In all of this, neither Trump, his campaign officials and lawyers nor GOP leadership ever put America first. That’s the political sin at the root of all this, an irony that should not be lost on those who insisted that this was all a laugh riot.