The large outlines of the Russiagate scandal have long been hiding in plain sight: President Trump and his campaign encouraged, eagerly sought to benefit from and worked to conspire with a foreign power’s sweeping effort to corrupt and degrade our political system and install him in the White House.
After that effort helped get him elected, Trump engaged in active deception of the American people and an extensive effort to corrupt large swaths of our government — some of which would almost certainly be prosecutable as criminality, if not for regulations protecting sitting presidents — to prevent that whole story from coming to light.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation detailed this story in both its broad contours and in painstaking, sordid detail. Thus, when Trump and his propagandists trot out the “no collusion, no obstruction” lie, they are not merely making the narrow legal point that charges were not brought on conspiracy or obstruction of justice.
Rather, they are trying to make that broader narrative of wretched wrongdoing — both on Trump’s part and that of Russia, because Trump himself believes talk of its interference effort taints his electoral victory — disappear entirely.
Trump’s allies are engaged in a new and frantic effort to spin away the true meaning of his comments on ABC News, in which he issued an open invitation to foreign powers to attack our political system again on his behalf and made it absolutely clear that he will not alert law enforcement if his campaign learns of such an effort.
But that spin cannot obscure what is so devastating about this mess for Trump: the fact that it makes that bigger story unavoidable, and indeed throws it into new and sharper relief.
In a new interview with CBS News, the Trump campaign’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, gamely tried to lie away what Trump said on national television.
Asked what Trump intended to convey, McEnany insisted that Trump essentially said he would alert the FBI if a foreign power again offered dirt on an opponent. “He said he would likely do both — listen to what they have to say, but also report it to the FBI.”
Trump just offered his own version of this spin on “Fox & Friends,” saying: “I think I said I’d do both.”
Trump World’s new spin is hilariously bogus
Trump said nothing like this, and the content of the obscuring lie is itself revealing. In reality, Trump said he “maybe” would call the FBI — but only if he concluded that there was “something wrong” with the foreign power’s overture. He said this while also signaling that he would not ever conclude there was, in fact, anything wrong with it.
Trump was very clear in telegraphing that latter point. He said that “there’s nothing wrong with listening,” i.e., there’s nothing wrong with accepting information from a foreign power. This is itself highly dubious, as the chair of the Federal Election Commission felt obliged to point out in a viral tweet:
But that’s not all. Asked if he is okay with such “interference” in our elections, Trump said: “It’s not an interference. They have information.”
If a foreign power offers a campaign information, it’s not an interference. Under what circumstances, then, would Trump conclude that the foreign power’s overture constituted an interference — or an act of wrongdoing?
Remember, in the case of 2016, Trump and his campaign actively encouraged and happily benefited from the Russian interference effort, which involved massive cybertheft as part of a broader effort to destabilize the U.S.-led liberal order and use disinformation warfare to sow racial and social divisions in our country.
Trump and his 2020 lieutenants continually say either that none of that ever happened or that it’s a big nothing. They have openly said this again and again. This is the case, even though the full dimensions of that interference effort have now been revealed.
The key to the ABC interview is that even though we now understand these full dimensions — now that we understand that this effort was a wide-ranging criminal scheme designed to harm our democracy and country — Trump has confirmed that he would happily profit from such an effort again, and wouldn’t alert law enforcement about it.
This is what Trump’s spinners are trying to make disappear when they falsely claim that Trump actually said he would report another offer of help to the FBI.
Trump’s comments harmed law enforcement efforts
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has offered his own variation of that spin. Speaking on Fox News, he painted the whole affair as a non-story, by saying that, now that we’ve seen the Mueller report, it’s “case closed.”
It isn’t, of course. But the real point here is that McConnell, too, is trying to make not just Trump’s admission, but also the bigger scandal that it has underlined for all the world to see, disappear.
In an important piece, Darren Samuelsohn and Natasha Bertrand report that law enforcement professionals say Trump’s new comments have done active damage to current ongoing efforts to battle the next round of foreign interference in the 2020 elections:
The comments, according to interviews with nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans, have undone months of work, essentially inviting foreign spies to meddle with 2020 presidential campaigns and demoralizing the agents trying to stop them.
What Trump has now confirmed, at a bare minimum, is that he couldn’t care less if those efforts by law enforcement fail, as long as the results help him win reelection — a truth that Trump’s spinners cannot make disappear.