Thursday, October 19, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He finally found something he was willing to blame Russia for.

This morning, Trump posed this question on Twitter: "Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?"

Trump is actually correct that the firm behind the "Steele Dossier" (named for the former British intelligence agent who wrote it) invoked their fifth amendment privileges against self-incrimination. To do so is not an admission of a crime. Trump himself has pleaded the fifth ninety-seven times, and not in circumstances where he was truly suspected of prosecutable criminal activity. 

However, as desperately as Trump might wish it were so, the dossier is not "discredited and Fake." Some parts of it remain unverified, like the salacious (but not especially criminal) claim that Trump hired prostitutes to urinate on a bed President Obama had once slept on. Many of the more substantial parts--the identity of suspected Russian spies in the US, the existence of previously hidden meetings between Trump associates and Russian agents, or the involvement of the Trump campaign in changing the Republican Party platform to tolerate Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territory--have been independently confirmed. No part has been discredited or disproved.

Nevertheless, Trump's claim of a Democratic Party/FBI/Russia conspiracy is interesting in one way: he has otherwise steadfastly refused to admit any possibility that Russia was in any way involved in the 2016 election. Trump is essentially the only person in the United States government who even claims to believe this.

Russia has continued to disrupt democratic elections in the meantime, and there is a broad bipartisan consensus in the intelligence and legislative communities that it intends to influence the 2018 elections as well.

Why is this bad?

  • A president who cannot acknowledge anything that makes him look bad cannot do his job.
  • Things are not true or false just because a president wants them to be.
  • It's bad if a president's response to a threats to democracy itself is to ignore them.
  • A president totally innocent of conspiring with a hostile foreign power would probably want more attention paid to the investigation, not less.