At best, the president supped with the devil, having left his long spoon behind. At worst, he colluded with the devil.
In the former case, he exhibited poor judgement and questionable ethics – but probably not bad enough to be ousted. In the latter case, he’s a criminal who should be not only impeached but imprisoned.
Much as I like most of Trump’s policies, I’m afraid there are no other options. He isn’t entirely blameless in either case.
One fact has already been established: Putin’s junta used every dirty trick to swing the election Trump’s way. That attack on the very foundations of the American republic ipso facto makes Russia a hostile power, and any collusion with it is at least ill-advised and at worst treasonous.
Those who, like me, support most of Trump’s policies hope that the Russians were acting strictly of their own accord, with no complicity on Trump’s part, nor ideally anybody else’s on his campaign.
Those who, like the political establishment, hate everything about Trump, including his policies, hope he’s as guilty as Cain.
It’s up to Special Counsel Robert Mueller to find out which hopes are better justified, and he has begun to hand out indictments. Make no mistake about it: for all his denials, Trump knows that the sword of Damocles is hanging over his head.
First, his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort’s associate Rick Gates were indicted on 12 charges of money laundering, conspiracy and tax evasion. Manafort and Gates are now under house arrest, having posted bail in the amount of $10 million and $5 million respectively.
Trump and his fans must have heaved a sign of relief: his name didn’t come up. But their relief is strictly for public consumption: privately I’m sure they realise how fraught the situation is.
Here’s another fact that won’t be contested by anyone who knows anything at all about Putin’s Russia: all big business in that country is in the hands of organised crime fused with the KGB government.
Hence any large fortune made in Russia, be it by locals or foreigners, is tarred with the brush of gangsterism. Similarly, any large sums of Russian provenance sitting in (or laundered through) Western banks represent proceeds of criminal activity.
The perpetrators are on the right side of Russian law simply because no Russian law exists. Or rather it’s coextensive with Putin’s goodwill, which is dispensed or withdrawn on purely arbitrary grounds.
But the moment big Russian money makes its way to the West, Western laws are breached.
Since all Western governments follow the principle first enunciated by Emperor Vespasian, pecunia non olet (money doesn’t smell), they never adopt such an uncompromising stance. But that only means that criminals are allowed to get away with their crimes, not that they haven’t committed them.
Manafort, who made untold millions in the service of Putin’s criminal Ukrainian stooge Yanukovych, is therefore not innocent on the strength of that fact alone. Neither is his right-hand man Gates. And that’s before the charges on 12 counts.
Manafort’s indictment states that his alleged criminal activities continued throughout 2016, belying Trump’s assurance that they had ended before Manafort joined the campaign. The president must be quaking in his boots, for he too had extensive business dealings with Putin.
That means he isn’t squeaky clean either, even if he never did relieve himself into the bed in which Obama had slept in Moscow. And he knows that, once his close associates have been indicted on financial crimes, he himself won’t be immune to prosecution.
That’s why Trump has so angrily reacted to any suggestions that Mueller may probe into his business affairs. He knows now, even he didn’t before, that dipping into the putrid swamp of Russian commerce will leave no one clean. Those who look for dirt are likely to find it.
Moreover, if found guilty, Manafort and Gates are facing prison sentences that may well defy their realistic life expectancy. That tends to make people extremely cooperative with the prosecutor who’s after bigger game.
If the two gentlemen discover their singing voices under duress, God only knows what songs they’ll sing. Trump certainly doesn’t, but he does know how much they know. If it’s possible that their songs may incriminate the president, he won’t sleep well at night.
Then there’s George Papadopoulos, foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign. Having been indicted for lying to FBI agents about his soliciting ‘dirt’ from the Russians on Hilary Clinton, he pleaded guilty.
What kind of punishment will he receive? More to the point, how light is the punishment promised to him in exchange for dirt on Trump or his nearest and dearest? Even as we speak, Mueller must be leaning on the three indicted men with all his considerable weight – and prosecutors know how to sound persuasive.
How many of Trump’s other men will be arrested as criminals or at least subpoenaed as witnesses? Definitely more than these three, and one can only guess how much dirt Mueller has found or will find.
If potential defendants lie under oath, every lie represents a count of perjury. How loyal will they remain to Trump when in the witness box?
Your guess is as good as mine, and Trump’s is better than either yours or mine. In any case, if he does have to go, I’ll feel sorry. But I won’t for a second think he didn’t deserve what he got.