Opinion: Trump did this all to himself

It took President Donald Trump all of 118 days to force the appointment of a special counsel, a speed record that will probably never be broken. At least I hope not.

And make no mistake, this was entirely Trump’s doing. Set aside questions about the underlying facts and allegations, which cut to the core of our democratic system. The only reason that we have a special counsel investigating the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians is because Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in a clumsy attempt to make this all go away.

And while the decision to name a special counsel tells us nothing about ultimate guilt or innocence, it does tell us that the investigation is nowhere close to concluding and that FBI officials take it very seriously. In fact, it grows more complex with each passing news cycle.

For example, in his response to the appointment of a special counsel, Trump reiterated his claim that there had been “no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity.” That language is strikingly similar to language that his team used during the campaign and transition to deny charges that it had been in secret contact with Russia.

“It never happened,” Trump’s longtime spokesperson Hope Hicks said in November. “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity.”

That denial was false. According to Reuters:

“Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.”

According to Reuters, six of those undisclosed contacts came in phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn. Given that history, we now know why Trump took so long to fire Flynn after a warning from acting Attorney General Sally Yates. What Yates and her team saw as an alarming illicit outreach by Flynn was in fact the mere continuation of a longstanding arrangement between the Trump team and the Russians.

It’s important to note that none of those 18 previously undisclosed contacts constitute evidence of actual collusion. I continue to doubt that such evidence will be uncovered, but we’ll see. That’s why we need an independent investigation.

However, the main reason that I doubt we’ll find such evidence is that actual collusion wasn’t necessary. Both the Trump campaign and the Putin regime understood that they were on parallel tracks toward the same goal, which was Trump’s election, and thus no coordination was needed. That interpretation is bolstered by the revelations from Reuters, which reports:

“Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.”

Putin must have been licking his chops. In Trump, he had an American neophyte with a history of pro-Russian and pro-Putin statements, a man who dismissed NATO as obsolete and wanted to lift sanctions against Russia. It didn't take KGB training to know that such a man would be far preferable than Hillary Clinton.

If Putin could then lure that naive president into separating himself from U.S. national security experts, like a calf cut off from the herd, he would be easy pickings for Russian wolves. As we saw in the recent Oval Office meeting between Trump and top Russian officials, that dream is still alive.

About the Author