Russian bug: Trump in trouble

Dhaka,  Sat,  23 September 2017
Published : 20 May 2017, 18:10:18

Russian bug: Trump in trouble

M Serajul Islam
President Trump's creation of the world of alternative facts to dismiss anything and everything he does not like has finally crumbled. Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General (DAG) in the absence of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has rescued himself from the Russian investigations, issued an order appointing the former FBI Director Robert Mueller as the Special Counsel to run an independent inquiry to determine whether the Russians influenced the last presidential election and determine its extent and identify those involved.

The White House came to know of the order appointing the Special Counsellor half an hour after it was issued. This underlined that not just the President's world of alternative facts but also his constitutional powers to govern the country is now under serious threat.

In fact, while briefing the 100 Senators after appointing the Special Counsel, the DAG gave the impression that the Russian investigation would be criminal in nature. The Special Counsel has been appointed following the extraordinary week-long drama in Washington that President Donald Trump both scripted and directed. That is now in real time moving towards dangerous consequences for him and his administration.

The unbelievably fast-moving drama started with the President firing FBI Director James Comey that raised question of obstructing justice, an impeachable offence. It ended in the midst of charges that no President in US history ever faced, the charge of passing state secrets to its arch enemy, the Russians. And to add spice to the unbelievable drama, the Russians offered to clear the President of the allegation of passing secrets to them!

The firing of James Comey was not unusual because the President acted lawfully. Matters started to drift away when sensitive information about the dismissal started to pour into the public domain. First, leaks from the FBI's investigations on Russian involvement suggested the involvement of people now working in the White House or of General Michael Flynn working there. Second, a parallel Senate investigation also cast doubts that the President himself may have had knowledge of the Russian involvement.

The President dismissed James Comey in the midst of these dangerous leaks and exposures and in doing so, pushed the drama spiralling against him. The President's inconsistency in explaining the dismissal also harmed his interests. At first, he said he had fired James Comey on the DAG's recommendation because he had mishandled the investigation of Hillary Clinton's email investigation, making FBI lose people's confidence. 

The President then changed his explanation in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt to micromanage the furore and fallout. In the interview, he said he had made up his mind to fire James Comey on his own soon after assuming office long before DAG's recommendation. In giving the new explanation, he forgot how profusely he had congratulated James Comey for his courage to open Hillary Clinton's email investigations 10 days before the election that titled it in his favour.

In a scenario that kept moving and changing literally by the hours, leaks appeared in the media from the FBI investigations that stated that the President had sought James Comey's loyalty in a one-to-one dinner at the White House on January 27, which the latter declined. The leaks also stated that the President had asked James Comey if the FBI's Russian investigations were directed against him, and that James Comey answered in the negative. These, no doubt, sparked public suspicion that he was worried about the investigations.

Therefore, by his own contradictory actions taken in undue haste and by acting alone, the President created suspicion in the public mind about his Russian connections, if any. That the President was also aware of the vast and extensive powers of investigation of the FBI and that the Director's term was made for 10 years, following the Watergate to insulate him from pressure from the White House, led many to believe that the President had fired him to either stop or delay the investigations. 

That was a prima facie case of obstruction to justice, one upon which impeachment procedures could be brought against him in the Congress. And with those developments before the public, more damaging news came from sources close to the fired Director. One was that James Comey had written an internal memo after his meeting with the President, and that the latter had asked him to stop investigation on General Flynn who was sacked because of his alleged Russian connections.

President Trump did something unbelievable when these developments came to public knowledge. He met the Russian Foreign Minister at the White House accompanied by the Russian Ambassador. He shunned all media including the Americans to cover the meeting allowing just the Russian media to cover it! And it was revealed in that meeting that President Trump had passed on critical intelligence information to Russia including one received from Israel without informing Israel about it!

President Putin, perhaps because he was unable to resist all the drama in Washington implicating his country directly, decided to pitch in. He offered to share Russian record of what transpired at the President's meeting with the Russian FM to establish that no sensitive secret was passed! That, of course, made the drama surreal -- that the Russian President was defending the American President of passing sensitive secret. It made the latter's case even more suspicious and complicated.

Thus in just over a week, from May 07 when he had fired James Comey to May 17 when the Special Counsel was named, President Trump was brought down from the lofty pedestal from where he was running the administration with Louis the XIV's infamous mindset "I am the state" to where he is now -- the subject of an investigation by a Special Counsel. 

The appointment of the Special Counsel also established that significant number of Republicans must have had enough of the President and supported the appointment. They had to do something, arguing that it would give the President a chance to come out clean, in denial about what would happen if the charges were established. The President himself underlined the fears when in one of his tweets he said that he was being subjected to one of the worst witch-hunts in US history. The President has good reasons to express fears because Bob Mueller is known for his integrity and his ability for leading independent investigations at the highest level.

Postscript: In the end, Rod Rodenstein, the Deputy Attorney General evaluated the facts and concluded that as the officer in charge of the Attorney General's Office for the case, it was his legal and constitutional duty to appoint a Special Counsel whose investigation would not exempt the President. He did so without consulting the President, and the President has been forced to accept it, utterly powerless and totally humiliated that underlines the strength of the US constitution and its rule of law.

The writer is a retired Ambassador.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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