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Has RussiaGate Reached the Tipping Point?

February 15, 2017

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Tonight the New York Times published a story providing details of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence and government officials prior to the election, going considerably further than anything previously made public. Taken against the background of Michael Flynn’s stunning firing/resignation over his conversations with Russian officials, precipitated by the Washington Post’s reporting,  it suggests that we are on the verge of an avalanche of revelations that could potentially imperil the Trump presidency. Commentators and prominent present and former US officials are calling this perhaps bigger than Watergate.

Citing phone records and actual calls intercepted around the time that US intelligence and law enforcement agencies were discovering evidence that Russia was attempting to meddle in the US election against Hillary Clinton, the Times story says that “members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.” Specifically mentioned is Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, whose ties within Russia and employment by a Russian-supported Ukrainian political figure had created controversy last summer.

The story notes that so far there has been no direct evidence of collusion. But the circumstantial evidence is certainly beginning to accumulate.

Democratic leaders are pushing hard for an independent investigatory commission, but until now, Republican congressional leaders have been dismissive about the revelations and resisting any comprehensive investigation. But maintaining that stance is quickly becoming untenable.

The Republicans are trying to keep the scandal confined to Flynn. Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Chair of the House Oversight Committee, has refused to initiate an investigation, saying that the Flynn scandal “had taken care of itself.” It is highly questionable how newly-confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions will play this, because he was at least a de facto member of the Trump campaign himself.

The Flynn scandal is just the sideshow, and the real question is whether the Trump campaign did more than passively benefit from Russian covert operations to fix the election in Trump’s favor.  Until tonight, mainstream media were exercising great caution in talking about this Über-scandal, but that no longer seems to be the case. There will be growing pressure from the public and the media to look into Trump’s business and personal ties with Russia that he has managed to keep concealed until now, and this developing story promises to overwhelm everything else.

I remember vividly being riveted as the Watergate hearings played out on television in the summer of 1973.  The scope of this scandal would seem to make Watergate look laughably quaint by comparison. Potentially, RussiaGate could involve nothing less than a hostile foreign power co-opting a candidate for president of the United States and then using covert means to put him in office.

If we have a Republican party that is so determined to seize and hold power that we can’t have a genuine and thorough investigation of this enormous scandal, then we are well and truly fucked.

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