Russian Connections: If They’re Not Inappropriate, Why Lie About Them?


If these were normal times, there might be nothing exceptional about a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee meeting with the Russian ambassador to the US. If Trump’s presidency was at all normal, there might be nothing untoward about his National Security Advisor doing the same. If the Trump White House followed the anti-nepotism rules that have applied to normal administrations, there might be nothing questionable about a young man of modest accomplishments receiving a $50,000 payment for giving a speech at a dinner hosted by a pro-Russian Syrian organization.

If Trump had followed the normal practice of releasing his tax returns while he was running for president, his connections with Russian financiers might be seen as an unremarkable detail for a businessman who has multiple overseas operations and connections. If the presidential campaign of 2016 had been a normal presidential contest, questions about why the Republican nominee’s computer server was in daily communication with a Russian bank might have been cleared up with a simple disclosure of information. In a normal election year, the resignation of a candidate’s campaign chairman following news of his past political work for pro-Russian political candidates in Ukraine would have been forgotten by now.

Any and all of these events may have relatively innocuous explanations. But Trump and his people seem not to have learned the chief lessons of the political scandals of the last fifty years. It’s not the conduct that does the most damage; it’s the cover-up, the evasions, and the lies. Nixon didn’t resign because some of his people broke into the Watergate building; he resigned because he went to elaborate lengths to attempt to thwart the investigation into it. Clinton wasn’t impeached for having sex with an intern; he was impeached for perjuring himself about it.

In the Clinton and Nixon administrations, it was lying, evasion, and attempts to influence the outcome of lawful investigations that was the smoke that convinced so many people that there must be a fire somewhere. History would have been different if those Presidents had made an early, full disclosure of their administration’s actions. It wasn’t their crimes that were so serious; it was the cover-ups.

Considered in isolation from each other, the Trump administration’s many contacts with Russian interests would be back-page news. In normal times, such connections would scarcely be newsworthy. But these are not normal times. These revelations are coming out against a backdrop of substantial evidence that Russian interests attempted to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election. They’re coming out in relation to a President who is abnormally averse to revealing information about his foreign business interests. They are coming out in an abnormal time when the President himself attacks the legitimacy of the judicial system and impugns the integrity of the news media. And they are being responded to with lies, evasions, obstruction, and attempts to influence the investigations into them. We’ve seen where this leads.

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