Nancy Pelosi released a remarkable statement last night. Since she is a strategist, we can analyze it in terms of a strategy, a refreshing change from the last two years.
We have become accustomed to the idea that Donald Trump and his people have connections to Russia. The news has trickled out, first to surprise, now to boredom. But the number and type of connections are remarkable for a President of the United States, and they may well have been unlawful.
The general outlines of the story have been visible since the 2016 Republican primary, and there is a circumstantial case that Trump has been working with Russians and Russian money for a long time and had Russian help in the 2016 election. We have become enured to this and no longer hear it.
Pelosi’s statement is short and to the point.
The indictment of Roger Stone makes clear that there was a deliberate, coordinated attempt by top Trump campaign officials to influence the 2016 election and subvert the will of the American people. It is staggering that the President has chosen to surround himself with people who violated the integrity of our democracy and lied to the FBI and Congress about it.
In the face of 37 indictments, the President’s continued actions to undermine the Special Counsel investigation raise the questions: what does Putin have on the President, politically, personally or financially? Why has the Trump Administration continued to discuss pulling the U.S. out of NATO, which would be a massive victory for Putin?
Lying to Congress and witness tampering constitute grave crimes. All who commit these illegal acts should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We cannot allow any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from appearing before Congress.
The Special Counsel investigation is working, and the House will continue to exercise our constitutional oversight responsibility and ensure that the Special Counsel investigation can continue free from interference from the White House.
Why did Pelosi release that statement last night? Certainly to further rattle Trump, after her victory over his demand for his wall. But I think there is more to it.
Robert Mueller’s team first established that there was a Russian operation to interfere in the 2016 election. Now Stone’s indictment connects that operation to the Trump campaign.
There is little evidence to support a counternarrative. The New York Times diagrams more than 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians from the his announcement of candidacy in June 2016 through his inauguration. That is far more than can be accounted for by coincidence, and several of his campaign operatives have been charged or found guilty of lying about these contacts. If the contacts were innocuous, there would be no reason to lie.
Russia, sadly, is our adversary. After the Soviet Union broke up, there was a period of time in which Americans could believe that our two countries could work together. The two countries’ interests will always diverge, and Vladimir Putin is currently emphasizing those divergences.
Partnering with an adversary, with their illegal help in a campaign, is something new in a president. Further, we now know that Trump continued negotiations to build a Trump Tower Moscow, with bribery of Vladimir Putin, through most of 2016.
Trump’s behavior toward Russia since becoming President is also abnormal. He refuses to criticize Russia or Putin and has said that he takes Putin’s word over that of the American intelligence services. He is weak in supporting NATO’s mutual assistance Article V and disruptive at NATO and other international meetings. His domestic actions, notably the recent government shutdown, are damaging to the country. All of this can be read as favorable to Russia.
And we become enured to this because it continues, now for two years. But inordinate Russian influence on the President of the United States must be stopped.
That is what Pelosi is telling us. She has been at leadership briefings on the investigations into Russian influence and thus knows more than has been made public. She is an acute politician and understands that the people must be brought along in something this serious. Although it can be argued that much of Trump’s behavior as president qualifies for bringing impeachment now, there are additional qualifications that I believe Pelosi is considering.
One is that an impeachment investigation could interfere with Mueller’s investigation of crimes. Trials and jail for the guilty may be the best way to heal the nation. Pelosi’s statement recognizes the problem while leaving the heavy lifting to Mueller’s investigation.
The country is not prepared for the consequences of what we may learn. If Trump is clearly connected to Russian actions and influence, he should be removed. But Vice President Mike Pence was selected by Paul Manafort. Publicly, he has managed to stay relatively clean of Russian interaction, but it is hard to believe that an investigation would completely absolve anyone in the administration. Further, there is evidence that Russian influence extends into the Republican Party.
A worst-case scenario would be that Russian influence deeply contaminated the 2016 election and much of the Republican Party. Besides the President and Vice President, Senators and Representatives would have to be removed from office. There is a clear line of presidential succession to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, but the states would have to deal with replacing members of Congress.
There would be questions of legitimacy of the judges and Supreme Court Justices nominated and approved by those Russian-influenced officials. Trump supporters would be up in arms, although I think this factor has been exaggerated.
It would be a difficult time. That is why some are suggesting that we wait for the next election. But that is a form of ignoring the problem, just as letting the torturers of the Iraq War off in the name of national unity was. We are seeing bad actors who should long ago have been punished, like Roger Stone and Eliot Abrams, resurfacing. This time we need to deal fully with the problems.
Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.