Opinion

The near-certain guilt of President Trump

This is the simplest explanation for all the "Russiagate" news

On Monday we learned that despite going to prison as part of a plea deal, President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort continued to lie to the FBI, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Then on Tuesday, The Guardian reported that Manafort met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange multiple times, including in March 2016, the same month Manafort was first hired by the Trump campaign. It's as yet unknown what they supposedly discussed — though "Russians" also reportedly were among Assange's visitors.

There is no conclusive smoking gun here, and WikiLeaks has as usual denied everything. But (provided The Guardian has the goods here) politics is not a criminal court, and people can draw sensible conclusions. At this point, we can say with near certainty that Trump conspired at some level with Russian sources to win the presidential election and has tried over and over to cover it up. It's obvious.

Let's review some evidence.

Item one: In April 2016, a professor with ties to the Russian government contacted Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, offering him opposition research on Hillary Clinton from "thousands of emails." Papadopoulos later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about this and recently reported to prison for a two-week sentence.

Item two: On July 3, 2016, a music producer contacted Donald Trump, Jr. and offered him dirt on Clinton, writing: "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Jr. responded: "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer." Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner then took a meeting with several Russians in Trump Tower, including a lawyer with close ties to the Russian government.

Item three: On July 26, 2016, WikiLeaks posted the first of several tranches of Democratic emails, first from the DNC and then later from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, dribbling them out in a clear attempt to damage Clinton politically.

Item four: On July 28, 2016, Donald Trump publicly called for the Russians to release Clinton's private emails. Per the Mueller indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers, that same day Russian state hackers attempted to do just that.

Item five: Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 (where he has gone increasingly off the deep end) due to fears of being extradited to the United States to face espionage charges over publishing diplomatic cables in 2010. Whether one agrees with the treatment of Assange or not, it gives him a clear motive. As The Guardian writes: "One person familiar with WikiLeaks said Assange was motivated to damage the Democrats' campaign because he believed a future Trump administration would be less likely to seek his extradition."

Item six:

Item seven: After the 2016 election but before Trump took office, the Obama administration placed sanctions on Russia for meddling in the election. Michael Flynn (who would briefly become national security adviser) contacted Russia's ambassador Sergey Kislyak, asking them not to escalate the situation, with the clear implication that Trump would walk back the sanctions after taking power. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about this (and several other things).

Item eight: Trump has repeatedly attempted to slow or stop the Russia investigation. Former FBI Director James Comey testified that Trump demanded personal loyalty to him after taking office. When Trump didn't get it, he fired Comey and told NBC's Lester Holt that he did it to stop the Russia investigation. In early 2017, Trump attempted to bully then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions into resigning because he was mad at Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation. In December 2017, he attempted to fire Mueller directly and only stopped when then-White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. After the 2018 midterms, he did push Sessions out, replaced him with Matthew Whitaker (a toady who has publicly criticized the investigation), and said he would "allow" Whitaker to limit the investigation.

Item nine: As president, Trump met privately with Putin, with nobody but translators present — a nearly unprecedented occurrence — and has displayed a marked and highly unusual deference to the Russian president. Prior to taking office, Trump routinely praised Putin's personality and authoritarian politics.

Item 10: Trump lies constantly, about everything.

Here's a simple, clear explanation that fits the above facts perfectly: Russia helped Donald Trump win the 2016 election by hacking the emails of the DNC and John Podesta, and they used WikiLeaks as an intermediary to disguise their involvement. The circumstantial case is frankly overwhelming, and if Trump weren't president, he would likely be in very serious trouble.

Now, that does not mean that "Russiagate" is the only story that matters, nor that it was the most important factor behind Trump's victory (which was Clinton's deep unpopularity), nor that Democrats should adopt a posture of fanatical warmongering to compensate. At bottom, it's much more a story about the bone-deep financial and moral corruption of the Republican Party than it is about a foreign country "hacking" an American election.

But it does matter, and no amount of Republican dissembling or whataboutism can change that. President Trump is almost certainly guilty.

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