In this age of government by distraction and destruction, stories of towering importance have a way of getting left by the side of the road as we march in ceaseless order toward whatever doom awaits us. For a time on Thursday, to note only the most recent example of this phenomenon, it appeared as if the White House was actively considering sending a former US ambassador and several other officials to Russia for interrogation as part of Putin’s “incredible offer” in Helsinki.
Outrage erupted in all corners with an immediacy that underscored the preposterous nature of the idea itself, and never mind the fact that White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated it was actually being discussed at the highest levels. The shouting did not last half the day, because minutes before the Senate passed a non-binding Omnibus Wow What a Bad Idea Donald resolution by the nip-and-tuck vote of 98-0, the White House released a statement saying Trump “disagreed” with Putin’s “incredible offer” and that it wasn’t going to happen.
Before the DC journalists could gin up yet another day’s worth of “What fresh hell was this?” coverage, the Trump administration abruptly announced that national security adviser John Bolton had been instructed to invite Vladimir Putin to the White House in the fall. In the eyes of many after the debacle in Helsinki, this was the equivalent of Tokyo inviting Godzilla back for a rematch. Almost immediately, the fact that a sitting president had entertained the idea of handing present and former US officials over to the tender mercies of Russian interrogators was lost in the slipstream of the newest astonishment.
I would like to linger with the curious story of former ambassador Michael McFaul and the other US officials involved for a bit longer, because this was far more than just another dizzy day at 1600 Pennsylvania. Something incredibly serious happened here, an ominous accent in a larger symphony of deceit and treachery that will have each and every one of us on the dangle until it is resolved.
Some background: A Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky exposed “a $230 million fraud against the Russian treasury carried out by a criminal organization operating in collusion with corrupt Russian officials,” according to The Daily Beast. What he uncovered, in the main, was a Russian money-laundering scheme that was unprecedented in scope. For his trouble, Magnitsky was tortured and beaten to death in a Russian prison and then posthumously tried and convicted of the very crime he had uncovered.
One of Magnitsky’s clients, billionaire financier Bill Browder, wanted justice for Magnitsky, so he pushed for what became the Magnitsky Act in Congress, a series of sanctions against Russian oligarchs that have real teeth, and were later compounded by similar sanctions from the UK, Estonia, Canada, Latvia and Lithuania. For local reference, the infamous “Trump Tower” meeting during the 2016 campaign was about getting those sanctions lifted after Trump won.
Russian officials — corrupt to the core and beholden to powerful oligarchs — despise the Magnitsky Act and want Browder’s ass, along with the ass of anyone who helped him get the Act passed into law. Putin’s “incredible offer” involved exactly that, with the seemingly enthusiastic support of the president of the United States.
The list of people Putin wants to interrogate includes former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; Jonathan M. Winer, former US deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement; David Kramer, formerly the president of Freedom House and assistant secretary of state for human rights under George W. Bush; and senior Senate human-rights staffer Kyle Parker.
An incredible offer, indeed.
This has been a revelatory week, to say the least. The word “Would” suddenly became “Wouldn’t,” and saying “No” twice now means “Go.” This obvious broad-daylight mauling of the language was undertaken to obscure the vivid tableau of a US president genuflecting before a Russian strongman who — it seems ever more likely — might just have some damaging secrets tucked away in the Lubyanka Building on the other side of the world, and that was before former ambassadors were sized up for shipment to Moscow.
The stench is becoming obvious. As much as all this is about Russian hacking campaigns against US elections and critical infrastructure, as much as it is about what special counsel Robert Mueller may uncover in the fullness of time, I believe this is also all about the money. I believe the president of the United States has been beholden to dirty Russian money — and the illicit laundering of it through shady real estate ventures — for a great many years.
I believe we all saw the distilled essence of this on Monday in Helsinki, which was compounded by Trump’s “Would-Wouldn’t” and double “No” when asked if Russia was still interfering in our elections, and compounded again when he seriously entertained handing over a former US ambassador to Russia for interrogation. It’s all out there in the open now, and the public is no longer wondering if their president is in the bag for Putin. Now, they’re wondering how deep the bag goes.
Something must be done, goes the hue and cry. The Republicans in Congress must find their spines and stand up to Trump, or some Republican Senators must defect to the Democrats and end the timorous tyranny of Mitch McConnell. Impeachment must be on the table, in combination with a political strategy to defang or oust Mike Pence, as well. Someone somehow must do something, and soon, because this cannot be allowed to continue.
I have another incredible offer for Donald Trump: Resign. Immediately. In the face of his rapidly collapsing credibility, he must be questioning how long his die-hard supporters will be able to protect him and how much time it will take to tear down the velveeta walls of his crumbling redoubt. He should resign, and take his band of brigands — among them Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Sarah Huckabee Sanders — with him.
Impossible? Article II Section iv of the Constitution reads, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Resignation en masse avoids a trial.
Trump never should have run for president in the first place, and he of all people should know it by now. He loves signing his name, and now has the opportunity to do so one last time to end his presidency, before it is ended for him.