Trumpland Day 69: The Tsar’s Man

The investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian intelligence is moving right along, even with House Republicans now doing their best to duck the issue. Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has really stepped in it.

Last week, Nunes chose to brief the president on information he received about communications from campaign staffers that may have been intercepted legally. It was an extraordinary moment, and not just for the content of the briefing. Nunes chose to run to the White House to tell the subject of his committee’s investigation what new evidence he received, and he did so before briefing any of the fellow members of his committee — the separation of powers be damned.

Nunes, deservedly, caught hell for running to the president when a piece of information came his way. But this week the episode got even more absurd, when it turned out that the source for the information Nunes gave to Trump was someone in the administration. The information about the intercepts is apparently in classified documents that cannot leave the grounds where they are stored, so Nunes had to travel to the source to see the documents. Nunes received a phone call on Tuesday evening while he was traveling with staffers. Nunes left the vehicle in which they were traveling, hailed an Uber, and went to see his source somewhere on White House grounds. The next day, he returned to the White House to brief Trump on what he saw, then gave a press conference on the White House lawn about the briefing. That same day, Trump used the information he received from Nunes as retroactive proof of the tweets he sent out a couple of weeks back claiming that Obama tapped the phones at Trump Tower.

So here’s the situation, as best I can work it out. Trump tweets nonsense. Trump refuses to admit nonsense, so he sets his staff to work proving said nonsense. They turn over enough rocks to find some peripheral communications had been intercepted, but nothing close to the allegations made in Trump’s tweets. Never mind that, though. This could be enough to change the narrative.

That was when someone in the administration made the decision to share the information with Nunes. He makes his way to the White House, receives the information, then goes back to the White House the next day to regurgitate that information back into the waiting ears of President Trump. Trump then claims validation of his Tweets.

It reminds me of the long gone days of 2002, when the Bush administration would feed claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to Judith Miller of the New York Times. That paper would publish an article using the information that came from the White House. Then administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, would hit the Sunday news shows to beat the war drums, claiming the articles in the Times as yet more justification for war, when the information in those articles came from the very people citing them. It’s like a game of telephone, but with only two people.

The Trump administration is in deep trouble. Every week that goes by brings more revelations of campaign and administration figures with ties to Russia, whether it be in business or politics (in Russia there is little difference between the two). The web of Russia ties has even touched the Trump family, with questions being raised about Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s dealings with a Russian state-owned bank whose chairman was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin doesn’t play. Oftentimes American politics can feel like it has all the consequence of a TV reality show. Indeed, it’s common to describe politics as a game. But it’s not. There are very real threats that exist in this world, and we are not as insulated from them as we might expect.

Vladimir Putin is an expert at power politics, and he is willing to use whatever means are at his disposal to weaken his enemies from the shadows. For Russian citizens who oppose his rule, that could mean assassination. For whole countries, like the United States, that could mean turning loose Russian intelligence agencies to undermine stable political systems. Besides all the ratfucking that went on during the election, Russia has reportedly been backing at least one group advocating for California secession. The end goal for Putin, even though it seems unlikely, might be the breakup of the United States.

It is a sickening thought that the past election was a successful Russian intelligence operation, but ignoring the possibility won’t make things any better. Whether or not Russia tried to undermine the election is no longer in any doubt. The only remaining questions surround the involvement of Americans. This is not just your everyday Iran Contra scandal, which was bad enough that some very powerful people should have spent time behind bars for it. This is worse. We are facing the possibility that the presidency of the United States was won by a campaign that colluded with a foreign power to undermine the opposing candidate. That’s treason. The people of this country might want to get over their denial of the situation right quick. There is an existential threat out there, and it’s not ISIS.