The danger to Trump surged Tuesday night when the New York Times and CNN both reported that numerous contacts had been detected between Trump campaign officials and the Russians over the course of the 2016 race. While it remains unclear just how high-ranking these aides were or whether there was any coordination with the Russian efforts to hack the election, the very fact that Trump officials were reportedly in regular contact with Russia flies directly in the face of a slew of denials from Trump and his aides on that matter over the course of the last many months.
Trump's response to these serious allegations, which have already cost him his national security adviser and now threaten the foundations of his presidency, has been decidedly flippant. In a tweetstorm Wednesday morning, Trump blamed the “fake news” media and Hillary Clinton for the stories and sought to pivot the conversation to how the information regarding the contacts between his campaign and the Russians leaked out.
Trump has a point on the leaks. But it's a side point at this juncture. Yes, how this information got out to the news media is worth further study. But that's far less important than the underlying allegations — which are that the Trump campaign and Russian officials were in regular contact.
Think about that for a second: A foreign government that hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and top Clinton campaign officials for the express purpose of hurting her and helping Trump in an American presidential campaign was reportedly also in regular touch with the campaign it aimed to help. That's stunning stuff — even if there was zero collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Given the seriousness of those allegations, tweets about the Clinton campaign or the “fake news” aren't going to cut it. Congressional Republicans are getting more and more worried that this situation is spinning out of control and has the possibility to do serious damage to the entire party less than a month into the Trump presidency.
There will be congressional investigations into the Trump-Russia ties. Republicans would be committing political suicide to block those investigations now.
But what is really needed at this point is a full and complete debrief for the American people from Trump himself. Why was his campaign in “constant"contact with Russian officials? Who in the campaign — or the broader Trump organization — was involved? Are they still with the campaign or the business? What was discussed on these calls? Why didn't Trump tell Vice President Pence that former national security adviser Mike Flynn wasn't being honest about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador? Why wasn't Flynn fired the second Trump learned he was deceiving the vice president? Why is Trump so reluctant to condemn Russia and Vladimir Putin in particular?
The events of the last 12 hours didn't happen in a vacuum. They come on the heels of Flynn's “resignation” and less than two weeks removed from Trump defending Putin's murder of political enemies by noting “we’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?” They come after a campaign in which Trump repeatedly refused to criticize Russia, breaking with his own party as he expressed hope that he could forge a new relationship with the Cold War-era superpower. They come after proof emerged that Russian intelligence organizations were actively involved in trying to sway the election to Trump.
That's a whole hell of a lot of smoke. So much smoke that any reasonable person paying even the slightest attention would suspect there's a fire burning. Trump needs to dump water on the fire — in the form of the full release of what he knew and when he knew it — and fast. That is, if he has the water that could put this fire out. If he doesn't, we might be looking at a full-on blaze very, very soon.