Is the Trump-Russia Scandal Really Watergate 2.0? – Vanity Fair
If you’re not confused by the news, you’re either ignoring it or interpreting it way too confidently. The former describes many of us. The latter is people you want to avoid at parties. We just don’t know that much. The factors leading up to the resignation of General Michael Flynn as national security adviser are confusing and disputed. The alleged misdeeds of Donald Trump or his team vis-à-vis Russia or cover-ups are even more confusing and disputed.
The New York Times is in three-alarm mode, but this has been its setting for much of the past year. The Washington Post, for its part, has run some particularly dubious anti-Russia stories, one of which now carries a long introductory disclaimer and another of which fell apart completely. (Russia didn’t hack a utility in Vermont after all.) So both outlets, and many others, must be treated with even more skepticism than usual.
Why did Flynn resign? The official reason is that he lied to Mike Pence about the content of his conversation with Russian officials. But people suspect there’s an unofficial reason, too. After all, would Flynn discuss sanctions with the Russians if Trump hadn’t authorized it? Also, it seems that intelligence sources had already shared with Trump what they knew about Flynn weeks ago. So perhaps Trump knew more than he let on, leading to questions of what he knew and when.
Video: Steve Bannon: The Shadow President
Is this all a big deal? I’m still trying to understand that. The New York Times just ran a story with the headline, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.” This sounded striking. But so, if you read on, were the caveats.
The sources for the story, asked about outright collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, said they had found “no evidence of such cooperation.”
Also: “It is not unusual for American businessmen to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly, in countries like Russia and Ukraine.”
Also: “It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Mr. Trump himself.”
Who’s doing the leaking and why? Some, like Joe Scarborough and David Frum, see whoever did it as “patriots” standing up for the greater good. Others see an abuse of power. Damon Linker, writing in The Week, suggests that the ouster of Flynn, while a good thing for national safety (because Flynn is a kook), was a troubling “soft coup” by the intelligence community. Whatever Flynn did, states Linker, “it is simply not the role of the deep state to target a man working in one of the political branches of the government by dishing to reporters about information it has gathered clandestinely.”
How many of our views on this are the result of confirmation bias? If you’re convinced Trump is a Russian mole, then you’ll find the evidence you need no matter what. If you’re convinced that Trump is a god and his critics evil liars, then you’ll find evidence of that no matter what. Even at less extreme points on the continuum, opinions are hugely divided. On the left, we see a belief that this is the next Watergate scandal and that Trump will be out in months. On the right, we see a belief that the permanent state is trying by every means available to depose the president, or at the least, to reject his new way of going about the business of the government. Maybe both are true. I don’t know. Either way, those rubbing their hands must consider the consequences of a president whom voters elected to take on an unresponsive and arrogant Establishment getting taken out by that same Establishment.