The Washington Post
By Eugene Robinson
Image courtesy of Christopher Gregory/Getty Images
We need to prepare for the eventuality that the Mueller probe catches President Trump, family members and associates red-handed — and Republicans in Congress refuse to do anything about it.
This is beginning to look like a possible or even probable outcome. With a cravenness matched only by its arrogance, the GOP is Trump’s party now. It no longer has any claim to be Lincoln’s.
Witness the cowardly about-face on the subject of Roy Moore’s candidacy for the Senate. The party initially took a position in line with its purported values: that a credibly accused child molester, who haunted the local mall seeking dates with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, is unworthy of the high office he seeks.
But then Trump endorsed Moore — given that more than a dozen women have accused the president of sexual misconduct, the phrase “birds of a feather” comes to mind — and Republicans changed their tune. The flow of money from national party coffers to Moore’s campaign, briefly interrupted, was resumed. Moore’s fitness became a matter that no longer troubled the GOP’s moral conscience, or what was left of it; only “the people of Alabama” could decide the difference between right and wrong.
Here is the distinction between our two major parties in 2017: Democratic leaders are forcing Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), both accused of harassing women, to resign. Republican leaders are trying to put Moore, accused of harassing teenagers and molesting a 14-year-old, in the Senate.
Given that context, it is naive to assume that anything special counsel Robert S. Mueller III uncovers will lead Republicans to choose principle over political advantage. Trump boasted during the campaign that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose support. As far as the GOP majorities in Congress are concerned, he may be right.
Mueller is doing his job. Ours is to elect Democrats and independents next year who will hold this appalling presidency to account.
The Washington Post
Opinion by Dana Milbank
Image courtesy of Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
At a Washington cocktail party Wednesday night it seemed everybody was chatting about the latest White House insanity: President Trump’s joking about “Pocahontas” to Native Americans, reviving the Obama “birther” allegation, suggesting the “Access Hollywood” video was fake, retweeting anti-Muslim videos made by British white supremacists.
Most assumed Trump was just being crazy, but Bret Baier, the Fox News host, had a theory: Whenever Trump escalates such antics, he is agitated about news that is about to break. Maybe, Baier speculated, Trump knew something about the Russia probe we didn’t yet know.
Now we do. On Friday morning came former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea, the most ominous development for Trump yet in the Russia investigation. Court documents show that Flynn is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and that Flynn’s Russian contacts were done under direction from higher-ups — and there weren’t too many higher than Flynn on the campaign other than Trump himself. The notion that Flynn has the goods on Trump would explain why Trump was reluctant to fire him, tried to get the FBI to stop probing Flynn — and seemed unglued this week as news of Flynn’s cooperation was about to become public.
Though predictions are perilous in the age of Trump, this really could be the beginning of the end of the national horror his tenure has been.
The Washington Post
By Ruth Marcus
Image courtesy of Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
“I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed,” Jonathan Swift observed. That was three centuries ago, so our current, degraded condition has deep historical roots. Yet it feels, more and more, that we are experiencing the end of shame.
Our sad national trajectory has been on display recently with two oddly connected stories: Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and the tax bill. They share a common thread in President Trump, but their significance goes beyond the president. Trump surely helped fuel the end of shame, but just as surely we were already on that degraded path.
No one who has watched Moore expected that reports of how he allegedly preyed on young girls would provoke shame from the egocentric, already discredited judge. Moore has long proved — with his flagrant disregard for constitutional values, his homophobia and racism — that he is impervious to such feelings.
The open question involved Moore’s true-believing supporters and political allies of convenience: At long last, had they any decency? For some, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and most of his colleagues, the answer has been a welcome yes. Others, most prominently Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) and, inevitably, Trump, have failed what should have been an easy test. To conclude that electing an accused child molester to the Senate is preferable to seating a Democrat is the epitome of shamelessness.
If hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, what does it say, exactly, when our most senior public officials feel no such compunction? What does it mean if we lose Swift’s capacity to wonder at the absence of shame?
President Trump famously promised that, if elected president, he would “drain the swamp” — upending the culture in Washington that favors the well-connected.
It is special counsel Robert S. Mueller III whose work seems to be sending shock waves through the capital, by exposing the lucrative work lobbyists from both parties engage in on behalf of foreign interests.
The Mueller probe has already claimed its first K Street casualty: Tony Podesta. His lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, a Washington icon of power and political influence, notified its employees recently that the enterprise is shutting its doors.
Since Mueller was appointed, more people and firms have either filed or amended registrations that make public their work on behalf of foreign interests than had done so over the same time period in each of at least the past 20 years. Lobbyists, lawyers and public relations professionals who work for foreign companies and governments say Mueller’s probe has spooked K Street, and firms are likely to be more careful in their compliance with public disclosure standards.
The Podesta Group was famous for providing access to Washington power, hosting events for a roster of high-profile domestic and international clients who helped make it one of the city’s most successful lobbying firms. Revenue declined after the 2016 election, but the firm remained a powerhouse.
Tony Podesta, 74, the brother of longtime Democratic adviser and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, resigned on the day Mueller announced charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates.
The focus on President Trump’s political strength among white working-class voters distracts from a truth that may be more important: His rise depended on support from rich conservatives, and his program serves the interests of those who have accumulated enormous wealth.
This explains why so few congressional Republicans denounce him, no matter how close he edges toward autocracy, how much bigotry he spreads — or how often he panders to Vladimir Putin and denounces our own intelligence officials, as he did again this weekend.
The GOP leadership knows Trump is tilting our economy toward people just like him, the objective they care about most.
To borrow from the president, he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and still not lose House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as long as they have a reactionary tax bill to push into law.
Trump’s willingness to help Republican leaders pay off their largest contributors is the clearest explanation for why they debase themselves through their complicity with him. If you think this is harsh, consider the words of Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.): “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get this done or don’t ever call me again.’ ”
I bet they are.
The Washington Post
By Margaret Sullivan
Image courtesy of Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
In the year since Donald Trump was elected president, the national news media has congratulated itself on a new golden age of accountability journalism.
And it’s true in many ways. The scoops have been relentless, the digging intense, the results important.
But in another crucial way, the reality-based press has failed.
Too often, it has succumbed to the chaos of covering Trump, who lies and blusters and distracts at every turn.
Of course, given the differences among news organizations, generalizing is a fraught exercise. Nonetheless, each news cycle is an exhausting, confusing blast of conflicting claims, fact-checking, reactions and outrage.
How big was the Inauguration Day crowd? What contact did Michael Flynn have with Russians? Why was James B. Comey fired? Is Puerto Rico being ignored after the hurricane? Did Trump insult a Gold Star widow when he telephoned her?
Trump drives the news, all day and every day, a human fire hose of hyperbolic tweets, insults, oversimplification and bragging.
Keeping track of it is hard enough. Making sense of it almost impossible.
The president has been sowing those seeds of mistrust for many months, and cultivates them daily with extra-strength fertilizer.
President Trump and his surrogates — most especially the Fox News lineup (which includes a fleet of conservative pundits who disgrace themselves by facilitating a political distraction game for Trump), obsequious Republicans in Congress, old allies such as Roger Stone (who wound up getting banned by Twitter) and the talk radio crowd — have been frantically fanning Hillary Clinton non-scandals about Uranium One (it was baseless before and baseless now) and the dossier’s funder. (Fusion GPS initially was hired by the conservative Free Beacon, which at one time claimed not to know the identity of the Republican outfit that first hired Fusion.) The unhinged rants from Trump’s defenders demanding Clinton be locked up for one or both of these reveal how tightly Trump and the right-wing ecosystem that supports him rely on Clinton as an all-purpose distraction.
Upon a moment’s reflection, the non-scandals make no sense (Clinton was colluding with Russia to beat herself in the election?), have been debunked before and in no way affect the liability, if any, of current or ex-Trump administration figures. This is “whataboutism” run amok. It does expose the degree to which Fox News has given up the pretense of a real news organization, preferring the role of state propagandist. (And it’s not just the evening hosts; the non-scandals now monopolize the rest of the schedule.)
The intensity of Trump’s frenzy underscores the peril in which the president now finds himself. Beyond the indictments unsealed this morning, Trump does not know what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has uncovered; which witnesses are flippable; what financial documents have revealed about the Trump business empire; and whether, for example, Mueller finds support for an obstruction of justice charge from Trump’s own public dissembling (e.g., hinting at non-existent tapes of former FBI director James B. Comey). For someone who insists on holding all the cards and intimidating others, Trump finds himself in a uniquely powerless position.
It should surprise no one that congressional Republicans, who have demonstrated their spinelessness again and again, are silent.