If President Trump thought hiring outside counsel and trying to redirect the press corps’ questions to lawyers was going to turn down the heat on his Russia scandal, he miscalculated, to put it mildly. Consider what has occurred in the last week and what he has ahead of him:
- On Thursday, former FBI director James B. Comey will testify in public, reportedly recounting Trump’s attempts to shut down the investigation. The allegations, if true, would make out a case (maybe criminal, but certainly for impeachment purposes) of obstruction of justice.
- Trump pal Nigel Farage has been named as another person of interest, adding to the number of pro-Russia nationalists in Trump’s circle who may provide information to investigators. (Farage met with WikiLeaks head Julian Assange, who published the hacked emails from the Clinton campaign.)
- Senate Democrats are pressing for information to make out a case of perjury against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who originally said under oath that he had not met with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in some Class A trolling, suggesting that “patriotic” Russians might have been responsible for hacking into the Democratic National Committee.
- Upon entering office the Trump team immediately set out to lift sanctions against Russia, according to a Yahoo News report. (“Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.”)
- Worst of all, Jared Kushner’s meetings with the Russians have turned into their own mini-scandal and political mystery.
As to the latter, The Post reports: “The White House and a Russian state-owned bank have very different explanations for why the bank’s chief executive and Jared Kushner held a secret meeting during the presidential transition in December.” Vnesheconombank (VEB) says the meeting was “with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business.” The White House says it was a diplomatic outreach, which makes his failure to disclose it on his security clearance application very problematic. Either way, it looks bad. (“A business meeting between an international development bank and a real estate executive, coming as Kushner’s company had been seeking financing for its troubled $1.8 billion purchase of an office building on Fifth Avenue in New York, could raise questions about whether Kushner’s personal financial interests were colliding with his impending role as a public official.” Because VEB is under bank sanctions, an attempt to secure a loan would raise red flags.) Moreover, VEB’s chief executive, Sergey Gorkov, is a Putin ally who, records suggest, the day after the Kushner meeting may have flown to Japan to meet up with — you guessed it — Putin. For a guy who had multiple meetings with Russians (one with the CEO of a sanctioned bank and one about setting up a secret channel), Kushner’s failure to report his contacts begins to look less like absent-mindedness and more like evasion.
The more details emerge, the harder it is to maintain that these are isolated, innocuous events. It is even harder to justify allowing Kushner to remain in office without a full accounting of his meetings with Russians and subsequent failure to report them. In any normal administration, Kushner would have been fired for, at the very least, atrocious judgment. He, however, is the president’s son-in-law, which should spur passage of more stringent rules against nepotism. With the intelligence committees of both houses sending out batches of subpoenas and new revelations each day, Republicans are soon to be confronted with a dilemma: At what point do they defend American national security and turn against the president and the princeling? If not before 2018, the voters will have the chance to take away their majority in one or both houses and give the Democrats a green light to move toward impeachment.