Today, the Twittersphere is abuzz with last night’s New York Times article that the Trump presidential campaign had “constant” contact with Russian intelligence officials. I’m somewhat surprised by the scale of the outrage because I figured this was already an accepted truth among anti-Trump folks such as myself. Nevertheless, it appears this constant contact angle is giving the controversy legs, especially since the report emerged soon after the resignation of Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn, who may have broken the law by having contact with the Russians before Trump was inaugurated.
The details of the Flynn timeline can be confusing since it involves events, lying about events, news about events, and then news about lying about events. But the most important details involve Trump and when he knew about the events or the lying. As unwrapped by Roger Sollenberger at Paste Magazine the implications could be historically bad. The more deeply involved Russian intelligence was with the Trump campaign, the more likely it will be revealed that Trump knowingly colluded with Russian intelligence to win the presidency. (Which would give even more importance to the conversation between Flynn and Mike Pence — if Flynn lied to Pence, it suggests that Pence wasn’t aware of any collusion and would still be around to serve as our 46th president.)
What I think is particularly interesting about Sollenger’s telling of it is that Trump appears to have lied about knowing about Flynn’s conversations, and about Flynn’s lying, since he had warned about both by White House counsel. Further, he had previously been briefed about contact between his campaign and Russian intelligence, so there was already a context to add meaning to the whole episode. It wasn’t as if a random reporter asked about a random phone call. He knew it mattered.
But Trump didn’t just lie or obfuscate. He went on the offensive and accused the intelligence community of leading a witch hunt, of acting like Nazis, and today, of being un-American. This sort of thing reminds me Lance Armstrong, the famous bicyclist who was often accused of doping. Rather than just deny that he was a cheater, Armstrong took a scorched earth approach when attacked and sued anybody who added credibility to the claim. He deliberately, and quite aggressively hurt people whose only crime was telling the truth. It’s a pathological level of dishonesty that is almost entertaining for its outrageousness.
But one of the takeaways from the Armstrong controversy is that when the truth eventually comes out, it removes all credibility from any attempts to walk back the lie. You can’t sue your detractors, then claim it was all a misunderstanding. Everybody now knows that Armstrong is a horrible person, not just somebody who wanted to win races.
Similarly, the more Trump attacks his detractors, the harder it will be to believe that he didn’t know about Russian involvement in his campaign. Had he just let the controversy play out naturally, it would certainly be plausible that people in Trump’s campaign had contact with the Russians without his knowing. True or not, Trump could easily throw Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, or Carter Page under the bus and claim he was not directing the collusion. Presidents scapegoating their advisors is a great American tradition.
But the more Trump strikes out, the less likely that will appear to be the case. When the truth comes out, we’ll know that Trump was actively involved in the cover-up.