Is Kremlin-gate a lethal cancer on the Trump presidency, the way the Watergate cover-up was for Richard Nixon? Or is it more akin to Whitewater, the pseudo-scandal named after a failed property development that blighted, but did not destroy, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s tenancy of White House.
Just as many Democrats question Donald Trump’s legitimacy today, so many Republicans rejected Clinton’s in 1992. They went hunting for skeletons Billary left behind when they came to Washington from Little Rock, Arkansas, where Bill had been governor and which was by no means the ethics capital of America.
Smelling smoke from the Whitewater deal and other Clintons schemes to improve their then scant net worth, the haters blew as hard as they could to coax up a flame. Vince Foster, a friend and law partner the Clintons brought with them from Little Rock, committed suicide under circumstances readily construable as mysterious, and, voila, you had the makings of an inferno.
Then, as now, there were plenty of fake news artists at the ready with phony inflammables. Before long, journals like the American Spectator with funding from well-heeled right-wingers were spinning ripping yarns. One set had Governor Clinton running drugs and guns from a clandestine airbase called Mena.
Special prosecutor, Senate hearings and all the other trappings of a really good Washington -Gate followed. But the Clinton funeral pyre refused to light, at least while built on Whitewater. Then the Big Dog torched himself by “not having sex with that woman”, the intern Monica Lewinski, which got him impeached for lying under oath. He survived, nonetheless, and would be remembered as one of the better ones.
I am beginning to think that Kremlin-gate may turn out to be a squib as damp as Whitewater would have been without the stained blue dress to keep Republican hopes alive.
For the FBI to be officially investigating whether a sitting president and/or members of his entourage colluded with an unfriendly foreign power to secure his election is without precedent. Only Nixon’s intrigues to derail Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 Vietnam peace efforts comes close, and that involved collusion with friend rather than foe.
However, as much of a first as the present investigation may be, there is as yet nothing that points to any kind of active or conscious conspiracy between Trump himself and the Russian government to nobble the election.
The US intelligence community is on record as having a high level of confidence that the Kremlin was involved in hacking and leaking internal Democratic Party communications in a manner calculated to prejudice the chances of nominee Hillary Clinton. Beyond that, there are plenty dots but no firm connection between them. Trump’s publicly stated admiration for Vladimir Putin over the course of the campaign may tell us something about his character and instincts but is not proof of treason. When Trump invited Putin to share any emails he had hacked from Clinton’s personal server, he was clearly being flippant.
We know that Team Trump at one point included in the swamp creature of all Washington swamp creatures, Paul Manafort, and the weird one time Robin to Manafort’s Batman, Roger Stone. Manafort, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, had a $10 million a year contract to influence US policy financed by an oligarch close to Putin. Stone, who cut his incisors as a political dirty trickster or “ratf..ker” for Nixon, bragged about knowing in advance what Russian-hacked documents were going to strike the Clinton campaign next.
But this also needs to be remembered: when Manafort’s work for Putin’s gauleiter in Ukraine became known last August, Trump dumped him as campaign chairman. As for Stone, best one can tell he’s a legend in his own, not Trump’s mind.
So where does that leave us? I’m inclined for now to go with the judgement of Mark Cuban, a real self-made billionaire who built a successful computer business, owns the Dallas Mavericks, a top tier pro basketball franchise, and stars in his own reality TV show, Shark Tank. Cuban knows Trump. They talk. There was even thought of him as Trump’s running mate. On Saturday, he delivered, in a stream of tweets, his verdict on Trump and Russia.
Trump’s abiding focus, he said, was his wallet which was under growing stress, “Businesses from Trump steaks to Trump U(niversity) were awful. His kids probably saved his net worth. What he did care about was his cash. He spent almost all of it in his campaign.” Russians were willing to buy his condos, invest in his branded buildings and host his Miss Universe beauty pageant. So “he spoke favourably about Putin to get $ out of Russia and into Trump deals”.
Putin “recognised Trump’s greed and took advantage by back channelling coordinated misinformation in an attempt to influence voters.” Trump didn’t care much, one way or the other. “I talked to him…(and) people close to him during the campaign. He never thought he would win.”