A version of this article was first published on July 17, 2017, on The Globalist. Another article, which concerned the money trail to Moscow from today's White House leaders - President Trump and son-in-law and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner - was first published under the heading "Trump's Era of Disorder" on April 1, 2017, on The Globalist and can be found below this new article here.
Trump’s Woes – But No Fatal Evidence So Far
By Frank Vogl
(The following two articles focus on the scandals that are now under investigation in Washington DC into the many contacts that associates of President Trump has had with Russians. There will be more articles in due course - the tempo of the investigations is accelerating, but so far it looks as if they still have quite some way to go before official charges are brought by the U.S. department of Justice and clear allegations are forthcoming from Congressional committees.)
American political scandals only move to a conclusion when bold evidence exists of wrongdoing. This has yet to emerge in the Trump family’s ties to Russians and allegations of collusion between the 2016 Trump election campaign team and Russian intelligence. But the trail is getting hotter.
Richard Nixon resigned as President when disclosures from White House audiotapes amounted to a “smoking gun.” Bill Clinton faced impeachment hearings when “smoking gun” evidence surfaced to prove that he had lied about his sexual encounter with White House intern Monica Lewinski.
Stark proof of wrongdoing by President Trump has not surfaced – yet.
The U.S. President is challenging the U.S. constitutional provisions designed to prevent the abuse of public office.
However, prominent Republican Senators are refusing to give TV interviews to defend the President. National conservative media columnists are starting to be brutal in their criticisms.
For example, discussing a secret meeting that the President’s son, Donald Junior, had with Russians, prominent journalist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News: “I don’t think it’s illegal. I don’t think anybody’s claiming that it’s illegal, but it does one thing – it totally undermines a six month story from the White House, to which I was sympathetic, that there wasn’t any collusion.”
An evolving crisis
A crisis is evolving with two key components. First, the Russian imbroglio is now a giant political distraction, wrecking the President’s influence on the agenda of the U.S. Congress, weakening his leverage with a rising number of Republican Congressmen on healthcare policy, while setting back hopes of tax reforms and infrastructure programs.
Second, the entanglements with the Russians daily become more confused and suspicious, and the White House and Donald Junior continue to issue contradictory statements.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Donald Junior met Russians to talk about Russia’s child adoption policies, later Donald Junior admitted it was set up to get reputation-damaging information about Hilary Clinton); and, who really was involved in secret talks with the Russians and were any deals made?
Only President Trump now seems to dispute that there was serious official Russian intervention in last year’s U.S. elections. The question now is whether the President is covering up the involvement of his election campaign team in its possible collusion with Russians tied to the Kremlin who sought to boost Trump’s election prospects by damaging Mrs. Clinton’s credibility.
The New York Times recently reported that a British publicity agent for celebrities, Ron Goldstone, sent an e-mail to Donald Junior on 6 June 2016, suggesting that he meet with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who had negative information on Hilary. Donald was enthusiastic and the meeting took place at Trump Tower in New York eight days later.
Donald says that the lawyer provided none of the promised damaging information. But his story keeps changing.
President Trump claims he was never told about the meeting even though Donald was accompanied by then Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who for years had business ties to wealthy and politically connected Russians, and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Four weeks after the mysterious meeting, on 12 July, Wikileaks published a large number of e-mails from the U.S. Democratic National Committee, which may have come from Russian computer hackers. And on 27 July, candidate Donald Trump stated publicly: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you can find Hilary’s missing 30,000 e-mails.”
Kushner and Russia
Jared Kushner, who holds an official senior advisor position in the White House, increasingly emerges in the rising number of stories in the U.S. press about meetings between Russians and the Trump team in the second half of 2016.
So far, it is unknown whether his involvements have to do with securing Russian help in smearing Hilary, or are related to the financing of his major real estate developments in New York.
I say unknown, but then The New York Times and The Washington Post, which daily are publishing leaked information on these matters, are probably far behind the investigations that special counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing.
As these investigations move ahead, so President Trump, Donald Junior and Jared Kushner are all hiring private lawyers to represent them. The President’s lawyers are publicly explicit that they only represent him and cannot speak for Donald Junior or Jared.
President Trump came into office pledging to “clean the swamp” of dirty Washington politics. The opposite seems to be the case. A few more months of Russian-related revelations and even stalwart Republican Party leaders will be publicly distancing themselves from the President in order to help their 2018 reelection campaigns.
A smoking gun?
The President denigrates the media as purveyors of “fake news;” he decries the investigations as a “witch hunt;” he refuses to listen to the high paid lawyers he has hired as he constantly Tweets comments that in time could deepen his legal problems – but only if a “smoking gun” is found.
And as I write these words, so dozens of investigative journalists, teams of investigators reporting to Robert Mueller, and other teams of investigators reporting to U.S. Congressional committees are searching desperately for the “smoking gun” that would open the door to launch the impeachment process against the President.
Increasingly distant and silent about all matters to do with the Russians is Vice President Mike Pence – the man who would replace Trump if indeed he is forced from office.
Trump’s Era of Disorder
Washington is in turmoil. I was here in the final months of Richard Nixon’s presidency until Watergate brought him down. But what is happening now appears to be just as serious.
Simply stated, then as now, a president of the United States is challenging the safeguards in the U.S. Constitution that are designed to prevent the abuse of public office.
The wonderful music of Johann Sebastian Bach has been said to provide us “with a sense of order in a world of disorder.” Trump’s White House is doing the exact opposite.
Never before in my 43 years in Washington have White House conflicts-of-interest and corruption been so brazen. In normal times, each individual case would be the subject of intense publicity and Congressional hearings. Now, there are so many scandals that nobody can keep track.
The biggest scandal is dwarfing the others that in normal times would be major news. The overarching question today is: how engaged was the Kremlin in the 2016 elections and to what degree, if any, was there collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russians?
Before we get there, consider a few other shenanigans. For example, U.S. law says that no elected official can hold office and have a private business interest on U.S. government property.
Well, President Trump still has an ownership stake in the new Trump Hotel in Washington, DC, that is leasing the U.S. government’s old federal post office building.
Then, there is a clause in the U.S. Constitution that forbids public officials from accepting “emoluments and gifts” from foreign governments.
The Trump businesses are engaged with many foreign governments right now, which can be seen as placing the President in explicit violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Never before has a sitting President charged his immediate predecessor with criminal activity, but Trump has done this.
He has provided no evidence for his allegation that president Obama ordered the wire-tapping of Trump Tower. The heads of the Justice Department and the FBI say they have found no supporting evidence.
Several other issues to tackle
In normal times such a charge would have triggered major Congressional investigations. Today, Congress has just too many other issues before it.
For example, there are calls for investigations by Democratic Party members of Congress into the business ties of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price who allegedly failed to disclose profitable stock transactions while he held public office.
Then, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is currently dismantling many of the agency’s regulations, has long been seen to be close to the energy industry.
Now, he faces losing his law license as the Oklahoma Bar Association has announced it has just launched an investigation into whether he misled a U.S. Senate committee about his use of a private email during his tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general.
You’ll recall that misuse of private e-mails was a major charge brought by the Trump team against Hilary Clinton.
Just adding to the list are the mounting fortunes of billionaire investor Carl Icahn. The New York Times reported that Icahn is using his White House position as special advisor on business regulation to push for regulatory changes that directly benefit an energy company in which he has a major stake.
The Times suggested that the share price of this company has increased by hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of Icahn’s actions.
Oh, and while keeping all of their private business interests, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, have now been appointed special advisors to the President with each having a White House office.
They are involved in a host of different confidential government discussions, yet Ivanka is still promoting her luxury apparel products, while the Kushner family is in real estate deals with major foreign and domestic investors.
Diving into despair
And, now to the Russians. There are many angles here, but the old adage is – follow the money. Jared Kushner, as well as at least five individuals who worked on the Trump presidential campaign last year, are known to have had contacts with Russians in 2016 and had, or still have, Russian business relationships.
The Senate’s Committee on Investigations may emerge as the serious leader in finding the truth, although so far it has failed to obtain copies of Donald Trump’s tax returns, which the Democratic Party leader on the committee, Senator Mark Warner, says is important in discovering details of financial ties to Russian banks and investors.
As the investigations are pursued, and as the White House attempts with ever greater clumsiness to divert public attention, so anger with the disorder is rising in Congress.
The emerging scandals are seen as distracting the White House, which is a major reason why the efforts by the Republicans to rewrite the national healthcare law ended in a fiasco and why there is mounting speculation that the next big legislative initiative, tax reform, will also fail.
My cousin Zuzana Ruzickova in Prague, the world renown harpsichordist, says that when you listen to a Bach fugue you are taken to the very depths of despair, then he brings you up to experience a great sense of joy. Here in Washington, we are still diving ever more deeply into despair. We long for the days of joy and order.