Monday, December 4, 2017


By Dominique Paul Noth

As much as I dislike Trump, let’s put the fairest possible interpretation on the speculation around  his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and making it known he has higher ups at the White House to implicate.

The Internet has exploded with graphics about
Flynn's guilty plea and pledge to cooperate.
Bluntly and clearly, Trump’s team violated the “one president at a time” doctrine of longstanding in our culture. It did so despite clear warnings from the Obama White House not to meddle with sanctions imposed because of Russian interference in the US presidential election.

Of course, Nixon did something similar to LBJ, we learn from historical documents, by advising North Vietnam to stall negotiations, which if LBJ had revealed could have been interpreted as treason by a then functionally bipartisan Congress.  But he didn’t.  And Reagan apparently suggested Iran should wait until he was in office before releasing hostages, so Carter wouldn’t look good.  But historians point out some crucial difference in these past cases of dirty politics.  This time it wasn’t pre-election tampering.  The sanctions were already in place under Obama when Trump’s team was undercutting actual completed US policy. 

Trump was openly warned in advance, yet Flynn was quietly telling the Russians not to worry about the sanctions or the appropriated property. That was the message after the election that Flynn was carrying to the Russians while Obama was president, which gives new colorations – even a promise --  to Putin last December not to react then to the Russian diplomats thrown out of the country and property assets seized (though the Russians have since struck back after new sanctions by Congress). 

Those married to the Trump camp still claim there is not yet proven criminal collusion before his election as opposed to afterward.  “Collusion during” seems his big worry – that his presidency is tainted.  So he may openly defy Flynn’s guilty plea by saying in effect, So I jumped the gun, so what?

That does seem the defiant state of mind behind his Dec. 2 tweet admitting he fired Flynn for lying to the FBI as well as to Pence.  He has always claimed there was nothing illegal in poaching in Obama’s waters, though I know constitutional lawyers who disagree with him. (This is unaffected by claims that it was not Trump but his lawyer that posted that tweet. The White House early on established Trump’s tweets are “official statements from the President.”)

He can now draw the line and say yes, there was collusion while Obama was president – just to signal a new openness from the White House and even a willingness to reverse certain sanctions.  But taint my election?  No proof yet.

For that to stick, Trump supporters have to believe there was no quid pro quo – something promised Putin during the election cycle that, beyond Putin’s natural hatred of Clinton, would reward Trump if American voters were further pummeled with misleading stories about her emails, her morals as well as all the long-standing bogeymen of the right against the left. Including the Democrats will tax you to death myth that the GOP's new bill flatly disproves.

His remaining champions have to ignore the likelihood that the Trump team and the Putin team were talking, maybe in code or wink, about you rub my back and I’ll rub yours whether it works or not.  You don’t even have to get to the worst things being said about Trump, that the Russians have long had something on him, to realize this is slimy. 

Our national hubris is a longstanding benefit for any Russian involvement.  Many voters just won’t believe their tactics influenced them.  Though we are learning more daily about the depth of their attack on our social media, most American voters will never confess they voted in error or admit their vote was based in any way on the false information sent.  We are not sheep being led by the nose, they will pontificate, I made up my own mind.  This is a built-in sense of righteousness in a nation that protects the most miserable type of speech imaginable.

Those who don’t use Internet social media will scoff “I wasn’t affected,”   without considering the bleed-over into their regular lives, conversations and radio-TV-cable outlets.  Those who now are forced by proof to accept that the Russians meddled will further demand to know the exact degree.  And they will say in hindsight it never affected them in the voting booth, without examining how months, even years, of dissembling may have seeped into their mental processing.  They have to claim that generations of advertising, dark money and even the power of gossip had no impact on their strong minds.  

True believers in American democracy are right to be outraged about this foreign cyberwar – in the abstract, apparently.   Not among the elected GOP as long as they can finagle a long-desired tax bill.  A lot of our citizens shrug Russia off unless it directly affects them, and they have some curious ideas about what is “direct.”

Blunt basics. The president lied when he insisted there was no collusion between his team and the Russians.  The only remaining question is how deep was his involvement.  MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has an amusing graph pointing out there are already 19 Russians now involved in meetings with Trump’s team, most ahead of his taking office.  So now we know his staff lied about some or all of that.  The only question is what he knew.

His defenders will still argue he didn’t know what his team was doing, which hardly sounds like the way Trump treats his own shop – he demands to know everything.  Yet his diehard fans will fall back on the belief that right now there is no evidence he was playing up to Russian meddling before the election.

This is hard to swallow, given the peculiar timing of Trump’s election tweets on the days before a Clinton dump by Wikileaks and a bizarre history of how Russia didn’t act  -- or did they? -- throughout the 2016 election. 

The American public now has to believe Trump was elected not riding a wave of Russian created efforts but on his own persona.  It’s possible, given how much of the country is sick of the pace and gridlock built into our system. They might be tempted, in one misplaced vote, to throw everything away for a strongman riding in from the hills (or the towers of Manhattan), standing silent as he disables all the mechanisms of checks and balances, proven historic legacy and intelligent appointments of staff.

Writer Ezra Klein
But that is where we stand.  Pundit Ezra Klein,  in a provocative piece suggesting America is too scared of using impeachment powers, points out that it’s pretty much up to Congress to define what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” – there is no  established list, so the GOP could attack Clinton for lying about sex or put Nixon’s misuse of power on the pedestal, forcing him to resign ahead of jailtime.

Ezra’s point is simple: “Being extremely bad at the job of president of the United States should be enough to get you fired.”

Perhaps he's right in a normal world, but can anyone see this Republican dominated Congress accepting such  realities?  Not only cynics say they are keeping Trump around just long enough to protect their flanks. For them, the reality was passing a misleading tax bill that will please their big donors – hardly just a Democratic line of complaint but obvious to anyone reading the bill where all the last minute changes came from lobbyists.

Despite this president and this tax bill, no American wants the economists to be right in the prediction that the economy is heading for a terrible downward spiral in 2018 or 2019 because of built-in excesses and lack of controls, enhanced by this White House.  Sadly, only if that happens do we expect the public to rise up and discover if We the People have any real power left.

About the author:  Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at

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