What do you think the Republican reaction would be to this state of affairs? Never mind Monica Lewinsky. It would be all impeachment, all the time
By Richard Wolffe / The Guardian / Tuesday 9 May 2017 14.06 EDT
Let’s play a game, shall we?
Let’s pretend that Hillary Clinton, who won almost 3 million votes more than Donald Trump, also won the presidency in the electoral college. And let’s pretend that President Clinton, once installed in the White House, was facing a hostile Republican-controlled Congress.
The Clinton transition was a messy affair, to say the least. Her national security adviser was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation into his secret contacts with the Chinese ambassador, as well as payments from Chinese state-run companies. That adviser also kept secret that he was a paid foreign agent of another strongman leader – let’s say, the Egyptian president. Oh, and he lied to Vice-President Tim Kaine about his Chinese connections.
But that’s not all. The Chinese, no doubt drawing on their unique insight into the entire US tech industry, managed to hack their way into every cellphone used by the Trump and Clinton campaigns. But they only leaked the text messages and emails of the Republican operatives, leading to months of negative stories in the media and countless posts on Facebook.
For her part, Clinton refused to reveal if she had any business connections with the Chinese, even though her daughter, Chelsea, bragged to the media about getting money from them. Her husband, the former president, traveled to the UAE to raise money for his new investment fund, promising investors they could snag legal immigration visas for doing so.
What do you think the Republican reaction would be to this state of affairs? Would Congress be able to confirm a single Clinton nominee, never mind vote on her legislative priorities? Would the government stay open as it approached its debt ceiling? And would Fox News, as well as the entire right-wing echo chamber, require a boatload of amphetamines to maintain its most obsessive coverage of the foreign spies and corruption at the heart of the new White House?
Never mind Monica Lewinsky. It would be all impeachment, all the time.
Listening to the impeccable testimony of Sally Yates before the Senate on Monday, as well as the astonishing Republican questions, it’s hard to escape this conclusion: Trump’s Washington stinks.
It stinks from the top of Capitol Hill to the luxury hotel lobby on Pennsylvania Avenue, all the way to the depths of Foggy Bottom. It stinks from the Oval Office to the press office, and you don’t have to stop at the counsel’s office to check on the stench. A rank raincloud of lies, spies and bribes hangs over the nation’s capital ready to release its unusually golden shower.
When the acting attorney general first told the White House counsel Don McGahn about Michael Flynn’s relationship with the Russians, the reaction was almost as astonishing as a John Le Carré plot.
Trump’s lawyer first wanted to know how Flynn had fared under FBI questioning. “Mr McGahn asked me how he did and I declined to give him an answer to that,” Yates explained. “And we then walked through with Mr McGahn essentially why we were telling them about this and the first thing we did was to explain to Mr McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself.”
McGahn, who previously defended the wonderfully principled Republican House majority leader Tom DeLay, later wanted to know if Yates thought Flynn should be fired. “I told him that that really wasn’t our call, that was up to them, but that we were giving them this information so that they could take action,” she recounted.
When Yates returned for a second meeting, the White House counsel suggested the whole blather was a storm in a vodka bottle.
“One of the questions that Mr McGahn asked me when I went back over the second day was essentially, why does it matter to DoJ if one White House official lies to another White House official? And so we explained to him, it was a whole lot more than that and went back over the same concerns that we had raised with them the prior day, that the concern first about the underlying conduct itself, that he had lied to the vice-president and others, the American public had been misled,” she patiently explained.
“And then importantly, that every time this lie was repeated and the misrepresentations were getting more and more specific, as they were coming out. Every time that happened, it increased the compromise and to state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”
It’s hard to believe this requires explanation. Obviously nobody wants to have a compromised national security adviser. Obviously the president of the United States would be horrified by these revelations and fire his adviser on the spot rather than waiting 18 days to do so, with full access to the most precious secrets of government.
And obviously you’re thinking of another president who isn’t called Donald Trump. Because that president was busy on his tweet machine, pretending like Yates was saying old stuff that didn’t matter to anyone:
It’s good to know that Trump, who spends so many taxpayer dollars traveling to his golf courses, is so ably assisted by his allies in Congress. Because they are determined to expose the nature of this total hoax of a Russia-Trump connection currently under investigation by the FBI.
Senator Lindsay Graham interrupted Yates to ask – as his first question, mind you – about the media leaks of Flynn’s ties to Russia. Senators Chuck Grassley and John Cornyn mysteriously chose the same subject for their first questions.
Those leaks led directly to a Washington Post story that forced the firing of a national security adviser who was compromised by Russia. And yet for the most senior Republicans in Washington, the real scandal lies with the press, not the spies.
Then there’s Ted Cruz, the self-styled constitutional expert who tried to trip up Yates on the legality of the Muslim travel ban. Along with Cornyn, both Texas senators tried to argue that it was outrageous for a Justice Department official to question the legality of an order by the president.
As Yates pointed out, they took a very different view of the law when she was confirmed, under a Democratic president. She also argued that the constitution trumped all other statutes they cited. Which was more than a little ironic for a Republican party that argued for the entire eight years under Obama about the sacrosanct nature of the constitution.
But enough of such principles and details. Everything is partisan and fake, as long as it comes from the other side. Even when the Russians are hacking our democracy and the president’s aides are lying about the same Russians.
Thank goodness this didn’t happen under President Clinton, whose leadership would have been so wisely constrained by all those sincerely principled Republicans in Congress. In Trump’s Washington, we don’t need all those checks and balances, ethics lawyers and emolument clauses.
As the great leader himself told the even greater Fox News last week, that whole constitution seems so old-fashioned.
“It’s a very rough system,” he said. “It’s an archaic system … It’s really a bad thing for the country.”
As they used to say about General Motors, what’s good for Trump is surely good for the country. It’s also surprisingly good for Russia.