At various times, Reince Priebus, Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY), and other Republicans have termed a "nothingburger" the meeting to discuss "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 at Trump Tower among three top Donald Trump aides and five individuals with direct or indirect ties to the Kremlin. Now one of Trump's personal attorneys, John Dowd, has claimed that Thursday's report of the President's effort to convince Attorney General Sessions not to recuse himself in the Russia matter is "another NYT nothing burger."
At first glance this may seem to be a nothing burger:
Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham on Friday issued a criminal referral to the Justice Department, urging it to examine whether the former British spy Christopher Steele made false statements to the FBI "about the distribution of claims" contained in a dossier he wrote about alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray, Grassley and Graham wrote: "Attached please find a classified memorandum related to certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple US news outlets regarding the so-called 'Trump dossier' that Mr. Steele compiled on behalf of Fusion GPS for the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee and also provided to the FBI."
The senators, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, continued: "Based on the information contained therein, we are respectfully referring Mr. Steele to you for investigation of potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, for statements the Committee has reason to believe Mr. Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained in the dossier."
The criminal referral does not pertain to the veracity of the dossier's claims and "is not intended to be an allegation of a crime," a press release from the committee says.
There is no there there, but it still is more than a nothing burger (whatever the heck that is, anyway).
The subtle effect of the Grassley-Graham scheme has as its corollary the intensifying attack by the President and his subordinates upon the nation's intelligence and law enforcement agencies. These agencies have long deserved skepticism, though they have consistently received little or none from those who have become their critics in service of Dear Leader.
Nonetheless, they do not deserve to be undermined, with little or no basis, by Republicans intimidated by the President or who fear for their own future if the Trump goes down. This will have lasting impact, and not a positve one, upon the faith of American citizens in these institutions.
In a similar fashion, Grassley & Graham further are chipping away at faith in American political institutions. They are intentionally drawing some attention from the Kremlin's interference with American political players in the political process toward other alleged misbehavior. While they imply this was motivated by anti-Trump bias, they sow distrust in all politicians, engendering a notion that all polticians, not only enablers of the Kremlin, have an angle.
There is another insidious effect of the Grassley-Graham stunt upon American politics. Evidence ironically comes by way of Thursday night's righteous rant of MSNBC contributor Steve Schmidt, a Never Trumper, in which he noted that
the President of the United states was engaged in premeditatively lying to the American people (with) the incompetence, the recklessness, the unpreparedness for duties and responsibilities, around the most powerful person in the world of this entire menagerie around him, the West Wing of the White House.
Granted, John Kelly, HR McMaster, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah H. Sanders, Jared Kushner, Scott Pruitt, Steve Mnuchin, and several others are facilitating the incompetence and recklessness of President Trump. But they are not alone. Steve M recognizes that the cynical move against Steele by Senators Grassley and Graham
will make them heroes on the right -- and in the mainstream, they'll retain their reputations, as respectable-seeming Republicans always do, even after it's unmistakably clear to everyone that they were running interference for a gang of criminals in league with international thugs. They won't be regarded as dishonorable. They'll be treated with respect on Sunday chat shows. We'll purge a certain number of Trumpers, but the vast majority of those who aided and abetted them will be allowed to carry on as if nothing had happened....
The press has made some serious efforts not to normalize Trump, and bravo for that. But McConnell and Ryan, Graham and Grassley, Nunes and Gowdy have all been normalized for years. The press hasn't been willing to portray them as the scoundrels they are. After we're rid of Trump, that will continue to be the case with regard to his enablers.
We'll not know for some time whether Schmidt will be among those in, or on the periphery of, the media who will avoid calling out Graham and Grassley, McConnell and Ryan and Jim Jordan. But most of the commentariat and the working press will refuse, as SM eloquently explains, to acknowledge what the GOP has become- and had become long before there was even a presidential candidate named Donald J. Trump.