Bricks and Mortars

The crime of being too late

By Lawrence Reichard | May 18, 2017

This is the most interesting this country has been since Aug. 9, 1974, the day Nixon resigned. President Trump's campaign is suspected of colluding with an adversarial foreign power to influence the presidential election, which, if true, is of nothing short of treason. And the Trump campaign is the subject of no less than three investigations — if one can call them that — into what is essentially that charge, treason.

This is a big if, but if the suspected collusion — and hence treason — were proven, it would be the biggest scandal in U.S. history and could lead to the biggest constitutional crisis this country has ever faced. If the president — and vice president — were elected by fraudulent means, should there be a new election?

Unlike many countries in the world, ours is ill-prepared for this. Other countries dispatch heads of states with simple legislative votes of no confidence — here today, gone tomorrow. And in two or three days' time the legislative branch elects someone else to warm the chair of head of state. And should a full-blown election be needed, their campaigns run three weeks or so. For better or worse, our campaign marathons last nine months. Great entertainment, but cumbersome in a pinch. That's a long time for the country to be run by, say, now House Speaker Paul Ryan, third in line to the throne and a man who has never won a national election — in fact he lost one — and he would have no mandate to govern.

But it's important to remember that to date no real evidence — in fact no evidence at all — has been presented that there was in fact collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Endless chatter on the airwaves does not evidence make, and the absence of evidence is often overlooked, and certainly not strenuously advanced, in said endless chatter. Reminders of the absence of evidence don't sell papers — they're not sexy — and the only person I've seen who keeps calling attention to the absence of evidence is The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald, reporting from, of all places, Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps distance really does lend perspective.

Yes, there were phone calls between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials. There were meetings. There were visits to Moscow. But the only illegality yet uncovered is fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's one or more pre-inauguration phone calls to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and the illegality there was not colluding to influence the presidential election — it was the crime of conducting diplomacy as a private citizen by discussing the possible lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Perhaps the lifting of sanctions was quid pro quo for Russia's election interference, but so far there is no evidence of this. For all we know, Flynn simply liked Russian President Vladimir Putin and just couldn't wait to tell him the great news that sanctions might be lifted. I, too, would like Putin if I got paid $45,000 for one Moscow speech.

But it's also important to remember that it was not Watergate that brought down Richard Nixon. To this day there is no evidence that Nixon had foreknowledge of, or approved in advance, the Watergate break-in. It was the cover-up that doomed Nixon, and with the firing of FBI Director James Comey after he requested more resources for the FBI's Russiagate investigation, Trump has stepped squarely onto the slippery slope of cover-up. Like lies, cover-ups can snowball. You start to cover up the cover-up, and that's when things start to seriously unwind and spin out of control. Soon the whole thing becomes a very unstable edifice, and ultimately it becomes impossible to sustain.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, Trump's firing of Comey is reminiscent of Nixon's firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. And that was a big nail in Nixon's political coffin. It angered many in Nixon's own party and sent many on the Nixon boat scurrying for the lifeboats.

As with the Nixon firing of Cox, it's a little hard to imagine Republicans are all that upset about Comey's firing per se. What they don't like is the possible political exposure brought on their own persons by their party affiliation with an out-of-control despot.

We've yet to see such any mass exodus from within Trump's party, just a relatively few tepid remarks here and there that maybe an independent counsel wouldn't be such a bad idea. But surely in the wake of the Comey firing, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and any GOP members of congress with functioning brain cells must lie awake at night wondering just how long they want to keep their wagon hitched to Trump's. Survival instinct is a powerful force in the animal kingdom, and nowhere is it more powerful than in the politician species.

I'm betting Trump and McConnell think they can ride this out. Ignorance of history mixed with arrogance is a potent cocktail that can severely impair judgment.

I'm less sure of Paul Ryan, but if you're screaming down a highway with an impaired driver, sitting in the back seat issuing brief, tight-lipped press statements is not always the best survival strategy.

Trump says he fired Comey because Comey was unfair to the presidential campaign of Hillary “Lock Her Up” Clinton. If this is the justification for the Comey firing that Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans plan to cling to, I wish them luck, for they may soon find the world a very inhospitable place.

All is fair in love, war and politics, and the only crime of a rat fleeing a sinking ship is that of being too late.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist living in Belfast.

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