On Russia, Trump Is Still In Deep Trouble

By Joe Conason

February 14, 2019 5 min read

If Donald Trump believes his own tweets, then he must be feeling a huge sense of relief. According to the besieged president, he has been exonerated; the hoax has been disproved; and the witch hunt has been canceled.

"The Senate Intelligence Committee: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA!" he exclaimed in the predawn hours on Feb. 13, a theme he and his minions repeated throughout the day.

Sadly for Trump, he knows that that statement — like thousands of others littering his Twitter feed — is fakery. The Senate Intelligence Committee, composed of Democrats as well as Republicans, has made no such finding and cannot credibly offer any conclusion because its investigation is not complete. And the Democrats, led by ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., are waiting until they hear again from such key witnesses as former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who lied to the committee when he first testified.

It is true that Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, said something like the remark that Trump falsely attributed to all its members. "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," Burr told CBS News. Although Burr has tried in recent months to strike a bipartisan pose, this premature ejaculation suggests that he has returned to his previous habit of covering up for President Trump — as he did during the 2016 campaign, when he served as a "national security" adviser to the Trump campaign.

By the time Burr signed on with Trump, U.S. intelligence officials had briefed him — in his senatorial role — on the massive Russian election interference in support of the Republican nominee. In the midst of the campaign, Burr disingenuously denied that finding, putting party above country. Now knowledgeable people in Washington believe that the Trump White House urged him to knock down the Russia probe — and that he obediently responded.

The problem for Burr and Trump is that so much evidence of collusion is in plain sight. What did it mean when an aide to one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's favorite oligarchs told Donald Trump Jr. that the Russian government was sending an emissary with negative information on Hillary Clinton — and Junior took a meeting with that emissary in Trump Tower, along with Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort? What did it mean when in pursuit of Trump Tower Moscow, worth an estimated $300 million, Donald Trump and his representatives contacted Putin's office — and then lied repeatedly about the project? What did it mean when the Republican National Convention changed the party platform to reflect Putin's policy in Ukraine? What did it mean when Manafort met with "former" Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilimnik to give him detailed, highly confidential Trump campaign polling data?

On the same day that Trump issued his triumphant tweets, a federal judge voided the cooperation agreement between Manafort and Robert Mueller's Office of Special Counsel. Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that Manafort had repeatedly lied to Mueller, specifically concerning the polls he gave to the Russians, knowing they would go straight to the Kremlin — where Putin's online troll army needed all kinds of opinion research as it prepared a secret campaign to denigrate Clinton and boost Trump.

As one of Mueller's attorneys told the judge, that meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik "goes ... very much to the heart of what the special counsel's office is investigating." And according to the special counsel, Manafort lied about the meeting because he feared that telling the truth would displease Trump — and jeopardize his chances for a presidential pardon.

We have seen this show before, when Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., misused the House Intelligence Committee as a public relations office for the Trump defense. But Rep. Adam Schiff, an experienced prosecutor who now runs that committee, has declared that the cover-up is over and the real investigation has resumed.

As this or that blustering tweet floats toward nowhere, we still await the findings of the investigator with the authority and resources to uncover the salient facts. Trump knows that is what really matters — and so does everyone else.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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