Well, time to hit ctrl-shift-F5, for the old Private Eye thing. “With phrases like ‘Watergate — come off it’, ‘Trump is fine’ we may have given the impression … this was an error in sub-editing … the story should gave read …”
Yeah well OK, now it’s like Watergate. Now it’s Watergate on speed. President Donald Trump’s deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein has appointed a special prosecutor, former FBI director Robert Mueller, to investigate links between Donald Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government. The move comes days after a Washington Post report suggesting that Trump had asked other former FBI director James Comey to “let go” the earlier investigation into Russian influence on the US election. “Flynn’s a good guy, let it go.”
The story relies on notes kept by Comey leaked to a source who rang them into the Post, so it remains yet-to-be-confirmed. Comey will be testifying before Congress next week, and is said to have taken meticulous notes of all conversations with Trump. Such notes would have the status of evidence; it would be up to opponents to discredit them.
Now the Watergate rhythm is taking over. What had been revelations every two, three days, or every week, are now tumbling out hourly. Following the appointment of Mueller, a new story emerged: 18 new pieces of evidence of connection between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump helped the process along by tweeting that no special “councel” (sic) had been appointed during the Obama years, a point his enemies were also willing to make. A New York Times headline said it all: “Trump contradicts White House.”
Two elements have kicked the process to a new level: the possibility that Trump had made a bald attempt to obstruct justice through a direct request to an FBI director, and the fact that an deputy attorney-general – at one remove from actual executive power – had commissioned the special prosecutor. Attorney-general and vengeful pro-Trump geek Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any involvement, and so it fell to the assistant. The A-G is a curious role; part of the executive, which also has a judicial role, and gives the lie to the notion of a clean division between the powers (as does the very existence of an FBI).
Hours later, Trump was separating himself from his team at the standard bizarre press conference saying that he could only speak for himself as regards no wrongdoing.
The problem for Trump is not whether he’s actually done anything that constitutes a “high crime and misdemeanour”. The problem is that he has created a dual-pincered force — Comey outside the state, Mueller in — bearing down on him. That may well trap him in a multiple net of wrongdoing. That, in turn, traps the Republican Congress. At some stage they would have to be seen to act, in front of moderate voters.
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Added to Trump’s troubles is a White House believed to be melting down in conflict and incompetence, an executive in which thousands of positions remain unfilled, and a President so bored with the job that his staff are inserting his name into documents, in order to keep him reading. What is occurring now is not merely a crisis of action and execution, but a crisis of legitimacy in the US system. Trump is testing it to destruction. The question for many is what sort of outlandish action he would take as a distraction and delay of such procedures. We’re not the only ones to hit the button on this.