Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cover-Up Necessary

A few days ago the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal created quite a stir when it argued

Mr Trump seems to realize he has a problem because the White House has announced the hiring of white-collar Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to manage its Russia defence. He’ll presumably supersede the White House counsel, whom Mr Trump ignores, and New York outside counsel Marc Kasowitz, who is out of his political depth.

Mr Cobb has an opening to change the Trump strategy to one with the best chance of saving his Presidency: radical transparency. Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. Mr Cobb and his team should tell every Trump family member, campaign operative and White House aide to disclose every detail that might be relevant to the Russian investigations.

Everything, the editorialists maintain, should be released

to the public. Whatever short-term political damage this might cause couldn’t be worse than the death by a thousand cuts of selective leaks, often out of context, from political opponents in Congress or the special counsel’s office. If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations, transparency will prove it. Americans will give Mr Trump credit for trusting their ability to make a fair judgment. Pre-emptive disclosure is the only chance to contain the political harm from future revelations.

Jonathan Chait begs to differ, noting

Nowhere in the editorial does the Journal consider the possibility that Trump and his inner circle have lied systematically about the contacts with Russia because they have something to hide. “Whatever short-term political damage this might cause couldn’t be worse than the death by a thousand cuts of selective leaks, often out of context, from political opponents in Congress or the special counsel’s office,” the editorial asserts. But what if the truth is really bad? The Journal does not say.

“If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations,” the editorial posits, “transparency will prove it.” That is true! But what if, as now appears overwhelmingly probable, there isn’t nothing to the Russia collusion allegation? Well, the editorial doesn’t say. It just moves on to other questions.

The WSJ contends that transparency

means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or email. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years.

This should include every relevant part of Mr Trump’s tax returns, which the President will resist but Mr Mueller is sure to seek anyway.

Clever enough to get elected while demonstrably unqualified, unprepared, and pretentiously boastful, Donald Trump has been insufficiently transparent because he has much more to hide, and is better off distracting and denying than letting everything out.

But opaqueness is not Trump's operating principle, unlike, say, grifting. Late on July 17, the report of the meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin was reported by Ian Bremmer, president of international consulting firm Eurasia Group and

“There were a lot of empty seats,” he said, setting the scene of the dinner, which followed a concert at the Elbphilharmonie, on the banks of the Elbe river. “Donald Trump got up from the table and sat down with Putin for about an hour. It was very animated and very friendly. Putin’s translator was translating. I found out about it because people were startled.”

This was not Deep Throat, conducting a meeting in an underground garage. It was not in a back alley or privately by phone but in front of dozens of witnesses:

Indeed, Bremmer says, others present at the dinner were so troubled by the fact that Trump was engaged in the conversation, that someone decided to bring it to his attention. “It’s very clear that Trump’s best single relationship in the G20 is with Putin,” he added. “U.S. allies were surprised, flummoxed, disheartened. You’ve got Trump in the room with all these allies and who is the one he spends time with?”

“I sat on this for days hoping they would talk about it. I knew last week. It didn’t happen. I’m an analyst; I’m not in the business of breaking news,” said Bremmer.

Then The Washington Post reported "US officials" have ended the clandestine C.I.A. program to aid anti-Assad rebels in Syria, which according to The New York Times is "bound to be welcomed by the Russians, whose military has backed Mr. Assad’s government and relentlessly attacked some of the rebel groups that the United States was supplying, under the guise of helping to eradicate terrorists."

Though made nearly a month earlier, the decision was announced a few hours after Bremmer pointed out that the President had held a second, suspicious meeting with Vladimir Putin.

"Coincidence takes a lot of planning," Malcolm Nance says in a reworking of the adage that "there is no such thing as coincidence." The announcement of the Syria change may have been timed to take some of the attention away from the nearly-hour long Hamburg meeting in full view of many people, at least a couple of whom would be likely to notify someone who could make it public. It might have been, as odd as it seems,  Donald J. Trump saying "You want collusion, I'll show you collusion."

Notwithstanding The Wall Street Journal's hand-wringing about "transparency," the real problem is not failure to disclose, but what would be disclosed.

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