As Indictments Bring Chaos to Trump’s White House, Vladimir Putin is the Only Winner
Time for Republicans to ‘Do Something’
There will be nerves in the White House as the news reverberates of the indictments of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates. Although it appears the twelve criminal charges against Manafort and his deputy are not directly related to Trump’s 2016 campaign, they are a stunning accusation that senior Trump advisers were paid agents for pro-Russian interests.
“Do something!” Trump had tweeted prior to the Monday indictments. The desperation was revealing perhaps. Once the news broke, he attempted to distract by questioning why Mueller was not focussing on “Crooked Hillary", insisting that the allegations concerned events years before his campaign before crying: “Also there is NO COLLUSION!”
Like many of Trump’s tweet it was disingenuous at best: over years Manafort and Gates were paid millions of dollars as they liaised with pro-Russian Ukraine leaders - both in the years leading up to the campaign and as it began. Less noticed - but more significant - was the guilty plea of campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos in relation to meetings with Russian officials to benefit the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos lied to FBI officials.
Democrats immediately warned Trump off sacking special prosecutor Robert Mueller which he has hinted at time and again. Chuck Schumer called on Congress to act in “a bipartisan way” to ensure that the investigation was allowed to proceed.
His message could not be clearer.
Republican congressional leadership teams must make an equal commitment. They owe their country nothing less. The idea that this is some liberal fantasy can be dismissed; attempts to turn the table on the Democrats should be treated as the deflection they are. That Mueller has made significant indictments so early demonstrates his confidence. He can use indictments to bring the net closer in on matters more pertinent.
Already Republicans such as Jeff Blake, John McCain and George W Bush have, in different ways, stood against Trump’s agenda. It is nothing like enough. Now others must follow. House Speaker, Paul Ryan, must show his mettal at last.
This is a deeply unpopular presidency, its agenda is offensive to ordinary working Americans; moreover, it becomes more likely that its is stained with corruption of a most fundamental kind.
As he lashes out to defend himself, Trump is using his office to undermine American democratic institutions by pretending this is some kind of witchhunt. Once he is thrown from office someone will need to clean up the mess he has done to the fabric of the country's democracy. For that reason alone Republicans need to act. By 'doing something' they are protecting not only the practise of democracy but its institutions.
There needs to be a full independent inquiry. It needs to start now. Republicans may find themselves unforgiven should they continue to pretend this is not happening.
There is no way they can win now but they could stop Putin from doing so.
Undermining Western democracy is a top Putin objective
Current reporting on the Russia investigation is rightly focused on the first Trump associates to be charged with serious criminal offences and how soon the President himself will be ensnared. As an old Russia hand, though, I cannot help wondering whether the Kremlin feels it got what it paid for.
The Russians are smart enough to have known from the outset that even if Trump won the Presidency, it would not have given them control over the entire American political system. But it must have still seemed worth taking a punt on trying to help him get elected. Having a man on whom they possessed compromising information (“kompromat” has always been the KGB’s favourite currency) in the White House would surely come in useful when big decisions concerning Russia were being made.
To a large extent, this was a bet they apparently could not lose. Even if Trump failed to do much directly for them (which, so far, he has not, despite much bluster about better relations, removing sanctions and his failed attempts to obscure Russia’s assistance in his election win), the controversy caused by his and Russia’s actions would damage America’s system of governance.
Undermining Western democracy is a top Putin objective, as he fears it might otherwise become more attractive to Russian citizens than his own brand of authoritarian kleptocracy. The chaos Trump has already sown suggests that Russia has succeeded in its objective of destabilising the US.
In the long run, though, Putin may find that this was not such a smart move. One of his defining features is that he is a better opportunist than strategist. Opportunism, after all, is easy when you are unconstrained by morality or political accountability.
As the investigation proceeds, and the full extent of Trump and his team’s collusion with Russia to damage America is revealed, the backlash in the US against the Kremlin is likely to grow.
Already, it is hard to imagine any Senator or Secretary of State soon advocating that the sanctions imposed on Russia for invading Ukraine be loosened. This would have been top of the Russians wish list when engaging Trump as an agent of influence.
Instead, Putin’s attack on a much more powerful country is likely to backfire badly on Russia over the next few years. Once the Trump investigation is over, a willingness to be harsh on Moscow may well become as fundamental as professing Christianity for seekers of high office in America.
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