It’s time to start paying serious attention to the Russia investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller clearly is on a trail of corruption, election meddling, possibly money laundering and obstruction of justice. We don’t know whether it will lead to Donald Trump or not, but it already has ensnared his former associates.
In the face of incontrovertible evidence, Trump has had to admit that Russian attacks on our 2016 election were not fake news and were not a “hoax” as he claimed for months. They were directed by Vladimir Putin, a dictator, thug, corrupt oligarch and thief, but Trump has yet to disavow anything Putin has done or said. (We all have our heroes, horrific though some of them are. There are even Russians who still revere Josef Stalin, who murdered 45 to 66 million of his own people.)
Trump says that the Russian efforts to throw the election to him, not Hillary Clinton, had no impact and were former President Barack Obama’s fault and that Obama is to blamed for not doing anything.
We don’t know the impact but we do know Obama did retaliate by throwing a lot of Russian diplomats out of the country and confiscating two of their choice properties. Then Congress, in a stunning display of bipartisanship, voted for economic sanctions against Russia, which Trump has not enforced.
After the heartbreaking and evil massacre of students and teachers in Florida, Russian bots started tweeting thousands of automatic responses of all kinds of nonsense to further divide us over the issue of gun control, mental illness (which exists everywhere but results in school massacres only in the U.S.) and the peculiarly American issue of whether teens who can’t buy beer or rent cars have a constitutional right to buy as many assault rifles as they want.
Pro-Kremlin outfits also directed rounds of fake social media posts to hurt American businesses. The Wall Street Journal reported that a pro-Kremlin propaganda outfit involved in meddling in our elections started a hoax that Walmart turkeys caused massive food poisoning during Thanksgiving in 2015. Untrue but widely circulated. Other false stories involved contaminated water, terrorist attacks and a chemical-plant explosion, according to The Journal.
The CIA director, FBI director, national intelligence director and a few more directors of secret stuff have all testified that Russia is planning to meddle in our mid-term elections this November, ostensibly to keep control of Congress in the hands of Republicans.
We don’t know yet whether the many weird contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians were flat-out illegal, involved money laundering or were a violation of campaign finance laws. We don’t know, when Trump fired the FBI director because he was investigating the possibility of a connection, whether that was obstruction of justice or whether it just looked and sounded like obstruction. But we will find out.
Mueller’s indictments of 13 Russians and the charges against Trump’s former campaign head, Trump’s former national security adviser and others now should prove to people who’d like to know the truth that something is afoot.
Mueller’s team is 1) not leaking information — an amazing feat in and of itself in Washington, and 2) is proceeding with extreme care and due diligence. When he is finished, we can trust the results.
We can’t help but wonder why Trump is so protective and admiring of Putin no matter what he does. We can’t help but wonder why there is so much evidence of contacts between Trump people and top Russians. Why do we only find out about Putin-Trump meetings and phone calls after they’ve occurred from Russian state media? Why did Trump say he had no interest in Russia despite trying very hard even during his presidential campaign to build a hotel in Moscow?
We do know that the Russian government is our sworn enemy. We do know that the Putin regime is working hard to destroy the concept of democracy and how it works, both here and in Europe. Governments are moving to the right and becoming more nationalistic and less tolerant.
The Kremlin is trying to spread chaos, fear and distrust of traditional institutions especially the U.S. government and hatred of others who are a little different.
The question is: Is Trump wittingly or unwittingly helping the Kremlin? And, if so, why?
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.