The new Democratic majority in Congress maps out its investigations of the Trump administration.
To avert an investigative free-for-all, Democrats decided early on that they needed to prioritize their inquiries within a basic narrative framework: How is misbehavior X endangering the health and safety of our democracy or of the American people?
Issues ranking high on Democrats’ inquiry list include the administration’s
- response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; its decisions
- not to defend the pre-existing conditions provision of Obamacare and to undermine the program by starving it of funds; its policy of
- separating migrant families at the southern border; and its
- rollback of environmental protections. Other prime lines of inquiry are
- whether former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stood to benefit personally from decisions he made in office,
- whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied to Congress about his efforts to add a question about citizenship to the new census — and
- pretty much every decision made so far by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Such potential maladministration may not be as buzzy as, say, exploring
- whether Mr. Trump paid hush money to former mistresses or
- underpaid his taxes by a few hundred million dollars. But it does concretely influence the health and well-being of the public.
This is not to say Mr. Trump will get a pass on his personal behavior, simply that Democrats will try to keep the focus on the bigger picture. For instance, Mr. Trump’s continued refusal to release his tax returns is part of his family’s sketchy financial dealings, which raise serious questions about everything from emoluments violations to inappropriate dealings with foreign interests. The crucial question isn’t whether the president has violated the law but whether he has been selling out the nation for personal gain.
Maybe the president is exactly as compromised as he looks... No matter how low your expectations for the summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on Monday, it was hard not to be staggered by the American president’s slavish and toadying performance... Dan Coats, gave a speech about America’s vulnerability to cyberattacks, particularly from Russia. “I’m here to say, the warning lights are blinking red again,” he said, comparing the threat to the one that preceded Sept. 11... Trump sided with the Russian president against American intelligence agencies while spewing lies and conspiracy theories. “He just said it’s not Russia,” he said of Putin’s denials. “I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.” Continuing in a free-associative fugue, he asked, “What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the D.N.C.?” referring to a debunked right-wing claim about a former Democratic I.T. staffer... Perhaps the most sinister part of the news conference was Trump’s seeming openness to a deal in which F.B.I. investigators could question people in Russia in exchange for letting Russians question Putin critics in America... Putin referred specifically to associates of his arch-nemesis Bill Browder, a businessman (and British citizen) who has succeeded in getting seven countries, including the United States, to pass laws punishing Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption. (The Russians who met with members of the Trump campaign at Trump Tower in June 2016 wanted to discuss this law, the Magnitsky Act.).. “I’ve known for a long time that Putin has been trying to use every trick in the book to get me arrested in a foreign country and extradited back to Russia,” Browder told me after the news conference. It’s chilling that Trump appeared willing to help Putin with his vendetta... John McCain, Republican of Arizona, described it as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Even some Trump partisans were aghast. Newt Gingrich decried it as the “most serious mistake” of Trump’s presidency... Trump’s behavior on Monday recalled his outburst at Trump Tower after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when he insisted there were “very fine people” among the racist demonstrators... everything Trump said was in keeping with things he’d said before. The shocking part was his frankness... it forced, if just for a moment, a collective apprehension of just what a repulsive abomination this presidency is... It’s always been obvious that Trump does not hold Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election, which he publicly encouraged and gleefully benefited from, against Putin... None of us yet know the exact contours of Trump’s relationship with Russia, whether Putin is
- his handler,
- his co-conspirator
- or just his hero.
But it’s clear that Trump is willing to sell out American democracy for personal gain.
.. on July 27, 2016, he publicly called for Russia to find Clinton’s emails, and, thanks to Friday’s indictments, we now know Russia started trying to hack the domain used by her personal office that very day.
.. Trump’s collusion with Russia has always been out in the open, daring us to recognize what’s in front of our faces.
.. Some doubt that Trump is a Russian puppet precisely because his fealty to Putin is so blatant and undisguised.
.. Mariia Butina
.. who worked for the Russian politician and alleged organized crime figure Alexander Torshin, presented herself as a Russian gun rights activist, and spent years cultivating links to the National Rifle Association.
.. She became a fixture in some pro-Trump circles and was reportedly especially close to a conservative operative named Paul Erickson.
.. hosting a birthday costume party that was attended by Trump aides.
“She dressed as Russian Empress Alexandra while Erickson was dressed as Rasputin,”
.. At the party, Butina reportedly boasted that she’d helped the Trump campaign communicate with Russia. If there was a reason to doubt that she was a Russian spy, it was only that one would expect a Russian spy to be subtler.
.. This weekend, Butina was arrested in Washington, and on Monday a criminal complaint against her for acting as a Russian agent was unsealed. She was accused of conspiracy to “exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”
.. Sometimes things are exactly as bad as they appear.