Spectre: Russia Investigation Hovers Over Trump

Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, is a cinematic marvel. Though ostensibly a heist film from the wheel man’s perspective, it is really a soundtrack with a movie layered on top. Gunshots punctuate the percussion. Disembarkations are done in musical time as precisely as a ballerina’s twirl. Music is not a background element, but an organic component that both propels and reflects the action on screen.

If I were sitting in an editing room, trying to splice together a film about the Trump White House as it labors through this Russia investigation, what songs would I choose to punctuate the action? Here are some possibilities, though they are probably too “on the nose.”

My estimable colleague, Jeff Haymond, weighed in on the Russia investigation yesterday. He is not too worked up about Donald Trump, Jr’s meeting and the media storm that has ensued. I agree with elements of what Jeff says. We really don’t know all of what happened. We need to wait and see what else turns up before we reach a decision point. We are not to the point of impeachment, much less treason. And, of course, Democrats do not have a pristine record on election meddling, Russia, or the prudential handling of sensitive information.

Still, this meeting, and the White House’s response, communicates some important things. Russia is opposed to America’s interests. Russian actions should always be viewed not from the perspective of “how does this help us,” but “how does this help Russia?” Even when our interests and Russian interests overlap, we should be very careful. The Trump Administration simply does not view Russia in these terms. Trump’s inner-circle is either positively disposed toward, or naive about, Russia and Vladimir Putin. Either option is troubling and should be disqualifying for a presidential candidate. Russian and American values clash by definition, but seemingly not for Donald Trump or his team. That is alarming.

The Trump, Jr. meeting included Trump’s campaign manager (at the time) Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, who by all accounts exercises a significant influence on Trump. The Trump “brain trust” decided it should meet with someone claiming to be an agent of the Russian government in order to find information about Hillary Clinton. At minimum, this constitutes evidence of a willingness to collude with Russia.

Trump’s defenders have argued collusion, even if proved, is not illegal. Frankly, I don’t care. Illegality is not the operative standard. As Andy McCarthy notes, impeachment is not consumed with the technicalities of law-breaking. Instead, as Hamilton argues in Federalist 65, impeachment is about the “misconduct of public men” and a breach of the public trust.

If clear evidence comes forward that proves Donald Trump was aware his campaign was colluding with Russia in order to win the 2016 election, does that qualify? I would say yes, but such evidence has not yet come forward. The Trump, Jr/Russia meeting proves the campaign, at the highest levels, was all too willing to go down that road.


11 thoughts on “Spectre: Russia Investigation Hovers Over Trump”

  1. What level of Russian influence in the election do you think would warrant impeachment?

    If it’s proven that there was collusion and Russia hacked and released embarrassing information about Clinton, is that enough? Or would you look for the more direct approach of Russia hacking electronic voting?

    1. Darth–For me, knowingly working with the Russians to procure information or to make sure information will be leaked would be enough. It would demonstrate a severe misunderstanding of presidential priorities. Other people may look at it differently. I would not need to see evidence of vote hacking, but a durable, obvious relationship between Trump and the Russian regime. I would probably need to see some sense of quid pro quo in order to cement impeachment and removal. I am not sure Russia just notifying Trump would be enough because that would not be a relationship. However, I think Russia would expect a payout of a kind, though the Russians are probably shrewd enough not to put that in writing. Still, I need to think through that question more.

  2. MCS–
    Two ??s for you.
    1. Do you believe that the Russians actually preferred Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton? I find that an unreasonable conclusion, but perhaps you have a different take.
    2. Do you believe that what is going on now in the discussion of this is or is not in Russia’s interests? Does this help or hurt Mr. Putin? I believe that the current climate does help both Russia and Mr. Putin. Does that suggest other things could be going on? There are agendas everywhere, both last year and currently. Eyes wide open!

    1. 1. Yes. I think the Russians understood that electing Trump would yield the most internal discord within the United States, which ultimately would weaken us far more than many foreign policy decisions could. Divisiveness, discord, mistrust, chaos. A side benefit might be that Trump would be more favorable in foreign policy.
      2. Yes, I think this has all been good for Putin and Russia, especially as Trump and too many Republicans almost defended this possibility publicly, normalizing Putin’s regime as an appropriate partner.
      I still suspect, based on ZERO evidence, that Trump has a financial relationship with Russia or Russian banks or other entities. This would explain Trump’s behavior better than anything else. Still, no evidence.

    2. Dr Smith,

      Based on your first point, is it possible Russia attempted this knowing the media, the Democrats, and some Republicans even would be the engine behind the discord? I agree with Dr Haymond’s first point asking why they would have preferred Trump over Clinton. Also the attempt at analyzing Trump’s behavior is certainly a tough job. Mostly because he is not a ‘typical’ politician.

      One thing not being discussed as much on the blog, at least the parts I’ve seen (there have been several articles recently), is why President Obama ignored things when indications are he knew attempts were going on before the election?

    3. “Do you believe that the Russians actually preferred Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton? I find that an unreasonable conclusion”

      The emails released on Tuesday state this as such (see Goldstone). It is not unreasonable; the emails represent a smoking gun of sorts.

  3. I have often wondered the same two things Dr. Haymond. I too find it hard to believe Putin actually preferred Trump over Clinton. I also believe that Putin achieved what he wanted regardless of who won. I don’t think he really cared all that much he just wanted whoever was elected to be under a cloud of illegitimacy. Putin succeeded and will continue to succeed in using this to weaken the United States until we finally decide that enough is enough and move on.

    And just to say, even if Putin intended for Trump to win because he thought Trump would be better for Russia, it really doesn’t seem to have worked out for him all that well. Trump and his administration has been vocally tough on Russia over issues from Ukraine to Syria. In Poland, Trump said Europe needed new sources of energy (natural gas) obviously with the United States in mind as a new supplier. That is a direct slap at Russia’s economic leverage over Europe. The missile systems that Obama took out of Poland Trump is selling directly to them, and Trump launched the punitive airstrike against Putin’s ally Assad.

    Now, to the point of the Trump administration’s view toward Russia. Of course he must be careful, but It is not wrong for Trump to want better relations with Russia. G.W. Bush tried, Obama and Hillary tried. Why is Trump somehow supposed to be forbidden from trying, let alone saying it should be somehow disqualifying from the Presidency?

    1. See my comment to Dr. Haymond above. I think it is a pretty good bet that Trump’s election would do much more to destabilize the US over the long term than Hillary’s election. I agree that Trump’s rhetoric has been better than I expected on Russia, especially in Warsaw and with NATO allies, though so far that is all just rhetoric and not actions. Still a long way to go on that front.

      I don’t think it is inherently wrong to want a better relationship with Russia. However, that relationship must be clear eyed, with a full understanding of Russia’s interests and Russian values. Until you understand the person on the other side of the table has no problem having critical journalists silenced and that he runs his country with an authoritarian, illiberal approach, you don’t understand the possible relationship. I don’t think it is wrong to try. However, to my memory, neither Bush, Obama, or Clinton made equivocating statements about “admiring,” “liking” Putin, nor did they say things like, “well, we’ve done a lot of bad things too” when challenged with Putin’s record. I will grant that Bush’s “I saw into his soul” comment was rubbish and naive, but Bush was rarely naive, I think, with other world leaders.

      1. I would hazard a guess that where our real difference lies is to what extent each of us believes Trump does understand Russian interests and values. I tend to think he understands these things to a greater degree that you do. Maybe I am wrong. Only time will tell.

        I would also say I tend to view Trump’s comments on Putin in much the same manner as Daniel’s comment below. The Thrawn example is a good one. I would also add the mutual admiration of Patton and Rommel or Lee and Grant or the respect many of Napoleon’s opponents had for his abilities. Admiration in these cases did not equate to acceptance of the other’s values or policies.

      2. “I think it is a pretty good bet that Trump’s election would do much more to destabilize the US over the long term than Hillary’s election.”

        Its a good thing you’re not a betting man! :-)

    2. From what I’ve seen, many of Trump’s comments “praising” Putin are not ideological, but about Putin’s ability to get what he wants and his ability to outclass the former administration on different occasions.

      A stretch of an example, but in Star Wars, the character Thrawn, despite being affiliated with the the unpopular Empire, is a favorite of many fans for his ingenuity and tactical superiority over his opponents. His skill and ability is what is being admired not necessarily his cause, values, or affiliation. Coincidentally, the actor voicing him in Star Wars Rebels also plays the Russian President in another show, I believe. I know an odd comparison, perhaps, but interesting.

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