Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson makes some good points.
I spent part of my convalescence from a recent illness reading some of the comprehensive timelines of the Russia investigation… In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.
What are the implications? President Trump and others in his administration are about to be hit by a legal tidal wave. We look at the Russia scandal and see lies. A skilled prosecutor sees leverage. People caught in criminal violations make more cooperative witnesses. Robert S. Mueller III and his A-team of investigators have plenty of stupidity and venality to work with. They are investigating an administration riven by internal hatreds — also the prosecutor’s friend. And Trump has already alienated many potential allies in a public contest between himself and Mueller. A number of elected Republicans, particularly in the Senate, would watch this showdown with popcorn.
If you haven’t already, you should set aside some time to read about the blockbuster from NBC News and Reuters on the astounding criminality surrounding the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower project in Panama City. The people involved in selling those units for Trump have been accused and in several cases convicted of everything from pimping to working in the human slave trade to kidnapping to laundering money for South American drug kingpins. This, all in a project that Trump set aside to be Ivanka’s “baby”- her introduction to the real estate game. Many of these people were Russians and the same is true of their customers, who in most cases never occupied the properties they “bought” with their dirty money.
Imagine what someone with Robert Mueller’s resources can discover about Trump’s business practices. He’s already taken the chairman of Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort, down for money laundering dirty Russian money, and that’s just scratching the surface.
We don’t know what all has already been discovered, but we can rest assured that it’s unsavory and won’t stand the light of day. A lot of people keep asking why the Trump folks haven’t been more cooperative and forthcoming. Why have they lied so frequently? Why don’t they get out in front of the story? Get it all out there, even if it’s politically damaging, so that they can be cleared of the central charge of cooperation with the Russians in their plans to disrupt and discredit our electoral system?
The most obvious answer is that they’re guilty as charged. But the other, more innocent explanation is that they’re, as Gerson puts it, “a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.” In other words, they’re collectively so divorced from normal standards of ethics and legality that they’re incapable of imagining how to behave in an innocent manner, even when they didn’t actually have the competence to pull off some grand conspiracy.
I imagine Mueller will help us to define the line between these two theories, and I suspect we’ll see a lot of both. We’ll see people acting as free agents and also people acting under orders. We’ll see people who were deliberately coordinating with Russians and people who were being played by them. We’ll see all kinds of motive and possibilities for blackmail, but we’ll also see foolish idealists who didn’t know any better. I don’t think it will all come out as a clean narrative.
But one thing that will be clear is that people have lied to Congress and the press and to the American people and to federal investigators. Those charges will be clear-cut. The one question everyone wants to know the answer to is why Donald Trump treats Vladimir Putin so kindly and everyone else in the world with so little respect. There may be one big obvious answer to that, or there may be dozens of small ambiguous ones.
We’ll just have to watch when that legal tidal wave comes in.