Vincent Bugliosi was a famed criminal attorney. He prosecuted Charles Manson and defended a handful of clients accused of murder. He documented his exploits in Helter Skelter, And the Sea Will Tell, and other true crime tales. In his book Outrage, Bugliosi turned his gaze toward the O.J. Simpson trial, particularly the failure of the prosecution. Bugliosi claimed, grandiosely, he could have convicted Simpson with only a legal pad and a closing argument. Bugliosi’s critique of Simpson’s prosecutors was very simple. O.J. Simpson’s actions both before and after Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman’s deaths revealed a consciousness of guilt.
Innocent people behave a particular way. They cooperate. They reveal as much information as possible. They tell the truth. Guilty people act differently. They obscure. They are ambiguous and measured in their words. They suppress evidence and influence witnesses. Such actions, either of the guilty or the innocent, can be used to make arguments using only circumstantial evidence. Bugliosi argued the defense could not account for Simpson’s behavior once the police began to close around him. He threatened suicide. He obtained large amounts of cash and a disguise. He went on the run, even briefly, with a friend. Those decisions, reasoned Bugliosi, could not possibly reflect innocence, but only guilt.
Donald Trump’s actions regarding Russia reveal a consciousness of guilt. Guilt of what? I have no idea, but his behavior reveals something beyond innocence. While most of the particulars are unknown, the circumstantial evidence is getting overwhelming. Here is what is beyond dispute:
Trump showed an unusual and unnecessary affinity for Russia throughout the presidential campaign. He was deferential to Putin, reflexively hostile toward NATO (Putin’s most reliable geo-political check), and he went out of his way to equate US and Russian misdeeds.
When the Trump campaign decided to get organized and head off more technical challenges at the impending GOP convention, Trump reached for Paul Manafort, a political operative with extensive financial and political ties to Russian interests.
During the run-up to the Republican National Convention, a GOP delegate attempted to amend the platform to include a passage on the provision of weapons and “lethal” assistance to Ukraine in its struggle against Russian-backed insurrections. This amendment would have squared the platform with recent Republican proposals in Congress, which were squashed by the Obama Administration. Trump operatives, who took very little interest in the platform in general, demanded the language be altered.
Trump taps Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor. Flynn is forced to resign after concealing his meetings with Russian officials during the transition period.
The FBI opens an investigation into Russian connections to the most recent presidential election. Michael Flynn gets caught up in that investigation due to his previously concealed meetings.
Donald Trump fires James Comey, Director of the FBI.
Donald Trump meets with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador in the Oval Office. He excludes American media but allows Russian media to be present. There, Trump discloses sensitive information gathered from vulnerable sources. White House officials contact the NSA and CIA to contain any potential fallout from Trump’s disclosure.
There are lots of other hanging threads that are disputed. Did Trump’s revelation to the Russians endanger American assets? Were the Russians the source for the DNC hack that damaged Mrs. Clinton’s campaign? Did Trump fire Comey because of the Russia investigation? Did Comey ask for more resources for the investigation? Did Trump pressure Comey to end the investigation before he was fired? Does Trump have financial connections to Russian investors?
To me, the pattern is disturbing and reveals an unusual relationship between Trump, or his operatives, and Russia, a nation implacably opposed to American interests, even without resolving open questions. The precise nature of that relationship is unknown based on current information, but Trump’s actions more than suggest something untoward.
Consider an alternative scenario. If it were true that Donald Trump had no shady connection to Russia, how would he behave? I think it is quite simple. He would answer any question. He would demand answers to open questions. He would demand an independent, well-funded investigation into Russian activities and he, and his staff, would cooperate with that investigation fully. He would turn over every stone so there could be no question left about any presumed connection he might have to Putin and his henchmen.
Instead, the President, and his team, have engaged in relentless equivocation. They have denied things not alleged. They have questioned the validity of “the news” without engaging its substance.
The smoke that rings the White House has a distinctly vodka-soaked tinge. There is so much smoke now that I fear there must be a fire, of some kind, somewhere. Republicans in Congress have an opportunity right now. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell must stand shoulder to shoulder to demand and fund independent investigations into the White House and its connections to Russia. Congress must begin to demand all relevant documentation from the FBI and White House about Comey’s firing. Congress must demand any recordings, notes, or transcripts of any White House meeting involving Comey, Trump, the Russians, or any topic related to Russia. Congress must subpoena the relevant actors, put them under oath, and question them, relentlessly, about their dealings with Russia.
If Trump is innocent, that will become apparent. If he is not, that will also become apparent. Now is not the time for partisan rancor, but for truth so obvious no one but the most ideologically calloused could call it fake.