There’s something out there that has a lot of people scared, but no one’s telling the full story. Yet.
For months and weeks, bits and pieces of the story of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Russian intelligence and its influence on the 2016 elections have been dribbling out, thanks to leaks and solid reporting by a free and independent press.
Eventually we may get to the whole truth, but already it seems clear that deep down, all these secrets coming to light, one by one, are part of a greater, as yet unrevealed, wrong.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo had just the right metaphor: “Astronomers can’t see black holes directly. They map them by their event horizon and their effect on nearby stars and stellar matter. We can’t see yet what’s at the center of the Trump/Russia black hole. But we can tell a lot about its magnitude by the scope of the event horizon and the degree of its gravitational pull, which is immense.”
Attorney General and Trump loyalist Jeff Sessions did the right thing Thursday afternoon, recusing himself from participating in investigations being undertaken by the Justice Department’s FBI. He jumped before he was pushed; calls for his resignation were getting louder (and haven’t diminished much, despite his announcement).
All of this came after The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that Sessions had not been forthcoming during his confirmation testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee—that he indeed may have lied under oath.
Here’s The Post: “At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign. ‘I’m not aware of any of those activities,’ he responded. He added: ‘I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.’”
But he did. Turns out there were two meetings that Sessions had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak—one an informal encounter during a diplomacy conference at last summer’s Republican National Convention and another in Sessions’ Senate office on Sept. 8, at the same time the media was trumpeting news that the FBI and other intelligence agencies were in hot pursuit of evidence that Russia was deliberately hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee to discredit Hillary Clinton and boost the Trump candidacy.
That Kislyak is quite a guy. Like Lamont Cranston, “The Shadow” of the old-time radio show, he apparently has “the power to cloud men’s minds”—no one ever seems to remember their conversations with him. First, recently fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was in denial about talks with him, then Sessions.
Now, according to The New York Times, it seems that the ambassador also met Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in December meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, an encounter Flynn attended and apparently engineered.
But that’s not all. USA Today reported Thursday night that, “At least two more members of the Trump campaign’s national security officials [sic] also spoke with Kislyak” at the Republican convention event, “and several more Trump national security advisers were in attendance.” The two in question are J.D. Gordon, the Trump campaign’s director of national security, and Carter Page, that on-again, off-again foreign policy adviser whose name often has popped up in stories about Trump associates who allegedly have been in touch with Russian intelligence—stories Page denies.
Gordon was involved in that brief tussle at the convention platform meetings to successfully tone down an amendment to give “lethal defense weapons” to Ukraine to fight Russian separatists; Page sent a rambling, hyperbolic letter to the Justice Department last month in which he said he had been smeared by the Hillary Clinton campaign over his alleged links to Russia, writing: “The actions by the Clinton regime and their associates may be among the most extreme examples of human rights violations observed during any election in US history since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was similarly targeted for his antiwar views in the 1960s.”
All of these contacts would not seem quite so significant but for the ongoing investigations and the myriad instances Trump and his campaign have denied any contact at all with Russia—some 20 times since last July. Why so nervous?
Methinks, as the witches in Macbeth pronounce, something wicked this way comes. Wednesday night, The New York Times reported that Obama intelligence officials were so frightened about what they had learned about Russia and Trump they consciously took steps to protect the evidence before Trump took office.
Among those revelations from The Times: “American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials—and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin—and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”
The Trump administration has been told by its lawyer to preserve all evidence. The House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating, and Republicans claim this is enough to get the job done. But any shred of integrity the committees may have had went flying out the window when The Washington Post revealed last week that the White House had persuaded the chairs of each committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Rep. Devin Nunes (D-CA), to call members of the press and discredit intelligence reports that Trump associates had regular contact with Russian officials during the campaign.
There’s only one way to really get the answers. We’ve said it before: Appoint a special prosecutor or create an independent, nonpartisan commission with subpoena power to investigate the whole tangled mess.
Whether Russia’s goal is as basic as getting sanctions against it lifted or a grand scheme by Putin to bedevil and subvert what’s left of Western democracy—not just in America but all over Europe as well—a thorough and honest investigation must take place immediately. We believe that the black hole of a secret is out there. Unless we get to the truth, our government may be inextricably sucked into the gravitational pull of its void.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship.