Trump has no one but himself to blame. There would never have been a special counsel in the first place if he had not fired FBI Director James B. Comey and announced that he did so to stop the investigation of the “Russia thing.” And there would not have been such a widespread presumption that the president was guilty if he did not act so guilty. No one forced Trump to talk like a mob boss, urging his aides to “stay strong” and not turn “rat,” while vilifying the FBI agents and prosecutors investigating him. Trump could have earned more favorable media coverage if he had simply refrained from nasty personal attacks and vowed his full cooperation to uncover the Russian plot against the United States.
It is pretty rich now to hear Trump & Co. denounce the media focus on documented links between the Trump campaign and Russia after they spent two years spinning absurd conspiracy theories centered on a nonexistent "deep state." Remember when President Barack Obama supposedly wiretapped Trump Tower? When the FBI supposedly spied on the Trump campaign (“Spygate”)? When FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page supposedly committed “treason”? When Hillary Clinton supposedly colluded with Russia? None of that happened.
What did happen was that the Kremlin staged the most successful foreign attack on a U.S. election in history. It wasn’t a “hoax,” as Trump has repeatedly said, and it wasn’t inconsequential. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, did not probe the impact of the Russian attack, but University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson did. She concluded that Trump “probably would not be president” were it not for the help he received from Russia. We’ll never know for sure, but Jamieson’s conclusion is plausible given that the election was decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states, and that Trump mentioned WikiLeaks more than 160 times in the final month of the campaign.
This was a big scandal, maybe the biggest in U.S. history, and it was entirely appropriate for Mueller, the media and Democrats in Congress to try to get to the bottom of it. Too bad Republicans were (and are) more interested in protecting Trump than protecting our national security. Because Trump did not succeed in ending the investigation prematurely, he and his aides have now been absolved of criminally “conspiring” with the “Russian government.” That’s a good thing for the country. But, while the president may be off the hook legally, we still don’t know the result of the counterintelligence investigation of Trump’s full relationship with Russia. Whatever the special counsel found, Trump remains culpable morally and politically for defrauding the electorate to win the presidency.
“I have nothing to do with Russia,” Trump repeatedly proclaimed in 2016. We now know that was a lie. We know Trump was trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow even as he was pursuing the presidency, praising Vladimir Putin, and changing the Republican platform to be more accommodating to Russia. We know that Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and deputy chairman, Rick Gates, worked with pro-Putin oligarchs in Russia and Ukraine and that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a business associate with ties to Russian intelligence. We know that, to quote from Attorney General William P. Barr’s letter, there were “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign” — and that none were reported to the FBI. We know that when Russian emissaries came to Trump Tower promising dirt on Clinton, Donald Trump Jr.’s reaction was, “I love it.” We know that the campaign established a back channel to WikiLeaks, with Roger Stone being tasked by someone very senior (and still unnamed) to get information about the upcoming release of stolen documents. We know that foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos knew about the Russian hacking long before it became public.
Imagine if all this information had been available to voters before Nov. 8, 2016. Oh sure, you can argue that none of it would have made any difference, given that Trump did not hide his affinity for Russia or for WikiLeaks. But Trump and his aides thought otherwise, or else they would not have lied so much to conceal 102 contacts with Russia — in some cases even committing perjury. Likewise, you can argue that Trump’s reported liaisons with a former Playboy model and an adult-film actress wouldn’t have mattered; after all, he survived the “Access Hollywood” tape. But Trump thought otherwise, which is why he directed his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay off Stormy Daniels in violation of campaign finance laws.
The scandal here is not that Trump has been investigated. It is that he won the presidency with the aid of Russia while concealing his campaign’s ties to Russia, impeding investigation of the Russian attack and kowtowing to Russia’s leader.