Facts will be uncovered by ongoing investigations but the motives behind a web of broken trust at the White House must not remain murky. Legislators need to uncover any links that may put the United States at risk.
Supporters of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hold signs during a campaign rally in Springfield, Ohio, in October. (Evan Vucci / AP)
Donald Trump loves short, pithy expressions. Along with “lock her up” and “build the wall,” the phrase “drain the swamp” came to define the Trump campaign. Ronald Reagan originally used the words in 1983 when he promised to restrain the growth of government.
Trump channelled the same analogy but enlarged Reagan’s vision to include not only the reach of government, but the ethics of government. He pledged to implement an ethics package with a vow to “make our government honest once again.” What he never envisaged was that the very swamp he threatened to drain might also drown him and some of his colleagues in their own “ethical behaviour.”
Full of potential conflict of interests, the president’s business and political ties to Russia, which would have been unthinkable in Reagan’s era, are now under intense scrutiny. Equally astonishing are allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow in order to disrupt the last presidential election. Individual careers are already taking hits.
Last January, the president suddenly fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, who had warned that the appointment of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser was risky. By February, Yates was proved to be correct as Flynn was forced to submit his resignation when it was revealed he had given “incomplete information” to the vice president about a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
As rumours escalated, James Comey, the controversial FBI director who started, then stopped, the Hillary Clinton email investigation during the dying days of the election, became the next casualty. Democrats were upset at what appeared to be Comey’s unwarranted intrusion during the campaign, but were mollified when it was apparent that Comey was investigating Flynn’s connection to Russia. Without warning, Trump aimed his firing finger at Comey, allegedly because Comey would not drop his investigation. Outrage mounted.
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice, responded by appointing a highly respected former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as special counsel in order to investigate the alleged election interference and accusations of collusion. In a tit for tat, Trump was apparently given only a half-hour’s notice of the appointment. (The revolving FBI door may continue as Trump is poised to appoint a new director.)
Mueller has the ability to subpoena records and bring criminal charges in conjunction with the FBI, if appropriate. He may also explore matters that “arise directly from the investigation.” Who knows which doors may now be opened?
If evidence of collusion, and/or of obstruction of justice, is found, the United States will be on a long, winding road to an unknown destination. If not, Trump is off the legal hook unless public investigations by Congressional committees unearth other problems.