Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Republicans in Congress believe there is nothing to the Russia collusion accusations but smoke and partisan pipe dreams. “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently told CBS News.
Burr’s comments elicited the all-too-predictable response:
The Senate Intelligence Committee: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2019
Wait a minute, you have heard this before! Just over a year ago, the House Intelligence Committee made a similar proclamation that any and all accusations or suspicions of collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Vladimir Putin’s pals in Russian Intelligence were a big fluffy ball of nothing.
“We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) after the committee abruptly ended its own investigation in March of 2018. “But only Tom Clancy or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, meetings, whatever, and weave that into some sort of a fiction page-turner spy thriller.”
Again, the predictable year-old response:
THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14 MONTH LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION OR COORDINATION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA TO INFLUENCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
It’s the ALL CAPS in both that make it art. Terrible, awful, shouty art.
The similarity between these two situations is so obvious as to be almost not worth mentioning: The House committee back then was controlled by a Republican majority and chairman, as is the Senate committee today. Congressional Republicans, nearly to a person, have stapled their fate to the whims and vagaries of the anthropomorphic wrecking ball in the White House. “Nothing to see here, move along” has been the party’s mantra since Trump slithered down that golden escalator in June of 2015… So, yeah, it sounds totally legit when they wave the whole thing off, again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Back in March of 2018, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee erupted in rage and disgust when the GOP majority abruptly shut down the investigation after claiming there was no there, there. “The work is too important to be left undone,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), then the ranking minority member. “The American people need to know whether the Russians still have something they can hold over the president’s head. If this is where the GOP is coming from, it represents to me the completeness of their capitulation to the White House, and that leaves little common ground.”
House Democrats on that 2018 committee even went so far as to release their own dueling report denouncing Republicans for ending the investigation, listing a long litany of witnesses who were never interviewed and documents that were never subpoenaed or examined. “The decision to shut down the investigation before key witnesses could be interviewed and vital documentary evidence obtained will prevent us from fully discharging our duty to the House and to the American people,” read the rebuttal.
Those same House Democrats are now running the show on the Intelligence Committee, chaired by Schiff, who has reopened the investigation and is actively sharing information with Robert Mueller and his crew. “The concern that we have always had is whether this president is acting in the national interest, or because of some hidden financial motivations,” Schiff recently told The Washington Post. “I think we need to find out.”
Today, non-Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are making very similar noises about Burr’s proclamation of completion. “That’s not true,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) of Burr’s statement. “I think it’s misleading. The Intelligence Committee hasn’t discussed the matter, let alone released a committee report.”
“The notion that the president’s campaign manager was sharing internal campaign documents with the Russians in advance of the release of information that came from Russia and that interfered massively with the campaign is mind-boggling,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the committee’s ranking Democrat. “I’m not going to reach any conclusions at all, but all these facts are already in the public domain. The president is terrified about where our investigation and where the Mueller investigation may lead. I think we’ll let the facts speak for themselves.”
Robert Mueller has maintained his near-absolute radio silence while Republicans make pronouncements about the irrelevance of his labors. There have, however, been some highly interesting bursts of static from the void. It seems the special prosecutor is placing heavy emphasis on a 2016 meeting between Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and a Russian political operative with ties to Putin named Konstantin Kilimnik.
Per The Washington Post:
It was at that meeting that prosecutors believe Manafort and Kilimnik may have exchanged key information relevant to Russia and Trump’s presidential bid. The encounter goes “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told a federal judge in a sealed hearing last week.
One subject the men discussed was a proposed resolution to the conflict over Ukraine, an issue of great interest to the Russian government, according to a partially redacted transcript of the Feb. 4 hearing.
During the hearing, the judge also appeared to allude to another possible interaction at the Havana Room gathering: a handoff by Manafort of internal polling data from Trump’s presidential campaign to his Russian associate.
Mueller’s keen interest in Manafort and his dealings with Kilimnik were dramatically underscored late Wednesday after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled Manafort had lied under oath about his dealings with the Russian operative, blowing Manafort’s plea deal to smithereens. The judge’s ruling on Manafort’s conduct represents the fourth Trump aide — joining Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos — caught red-handed lying about contacts with Russian officials and operatives.
“Why have so many of President Donald Trump’s associates been caught lying about contacts with Russians?” asked a CNN analysis of the ruling. Senate Intelligence Committee Republicans were unavailable for comment.
There is also the matter of a highly creepy private intelligence company called Psy-Group, which dabbles in the dark art of mass manipulation and election intrigue while operating under the profoundly disturbing slogan, “Shape Reality.” Psy-Group abruptly closed its doors in February 2018, at exactly the same time Robert Mueller and his team began questioning its employees about the company’s 2016 involvement with the Trump campaign. Recent reports indicate that Mueller’s interest in Psy-Group and its questionable financing has not waned in the intervening year.
For its part, the Trump administration has done itself few favors over the last two years. The White House changes its story regarding possible Russian collusion more often than Trump changes Cabinet secretaries. If only the administration had a high-powered, high-profile spokesperson to explain its side of the situation, someone with intelligence and grit who is trusted by the people to tell it all straight. Where could such a person be found?
In my mind’s eye, I see a nondescript 1984 Oldsmobile Delta 88 parked in a New Jersey lot under the shadow of a smokestack belonging to a factory that manufactures the flavor for McDonald’s French fries. The car is running, the exhaust pipe putt-putting in competition with the looming stack above. The gnash and grind of the factory obscures an odd crooning emanating from the roomy trunk of the 88: “It comes down to reality, and it’s fine with me ‘cause I’ve let it slide…. I don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside… ” Every so often there is a soft thump as the car bounces slightly on its suspension. Something — or someone — is in there. Not panicked. Not angry. Just waiting. Perhaps simply following orders. Breathing in, breathing out, and singing songs about New York City. “Put him in a box but keep him alive,” someone had said. “We may need him.”
Hey, it’s as good an explanation as any for what happened to Trump attorney and spokesman Rudy Giuliani since his last eruption of counterfactual nonsense two weeks ago. Maybe Rudy will muscle his way out of that trunk now that Senate Intelligence Committee Republicans have joined their erstwhile House Republican colleagues and unilaterally declared the whole exercise to be a waste of time. Stranger things have happened, though admittedly, not very often.
“And Robert Mueller, with no expression on his face,” writes Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce, “reaches across his desk for another file.”