Leading Republicans knew about Russian hacking long before Trump’s nomination. They said nothing and did nothing

Russia scandal goes well beyond Trump: GOP leaders definitely knew about hacking — did they benefit too?

Despite Europe’s clear disdain for President Trump it seems as though he’s over there every other week. In fact he’s arriving in France on Thursday at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron to help celebrate Bastille Day and have dinner at the Eiffel Tower. Considering that Trump has implied repeatedly that Paris is nothing but a hellhole these days, it’s a testament to just how desperate he is to get out of Washington. The heat is on and he wants out of the kitchen.

You have certainly heard that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer to get some promised dirt on Hillary Clinton that was represented as being part of a Russian government program to help Trump get elected. Now we know their breathless protestations that they didn’t know nothin’ about no Russians were lies, and we also know that this particular tawdry scheme reached into the highest levels of the campaign. We’ll have to wait for the next shoe to drop. There is always another shoe.

There was one new story on Wednesday that added an interesting detail to the saga and points to a possible larger conspiracy. McClatchy reported that House and Senate investigators as well as the Justice Department are looking at the Trump campaign’s digital operation, one of Jared Kushner’s pet projects (financed by big-daddy benefactor Robert Mercer), to determine if it may have worked with Russia’s sophisticated micro-targeting and propaganda program during the 2016 campaign.

McClatchy also reported that the Justice Department is looking into “whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton.” That’s an issue I’ve written about previously here on Salonbased on some post-election investigative reporting by the New York Times.

This raises once again the question of just what was going on in the Republican Party during this period. After all, it wasn’t just Donald Trump who benefited from Russian hacking. The GOP-dominated House majority was a major beneficiary as well.

Remember, the congressional leadership knew in 2015 that it was happening. Reuters has reported that the so-called Gang of Eight (Republican leaders in Congress) was told that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party but that the information was so top secret they could not share it. As we know, hackers attacked the Democratic National Committee and the personal email of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. But they also hacked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and information gleaned from that hack was put to use in some 2016 campaigns for Congress.

Also recall that one month before Donald Trump Jr. took that meeting with the Russian lawyer, House Majority Leader Kevin “loose lips” McCarthy was talking about Trump’s connections to Vladimir Putin in a room full of Republicans:

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. […]

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

This was the day after news had broken that the Russians had hacked the DNC and Ryan and McCarthy had just come from a meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister, who “had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.”

Republican leaders kept this from the public for a year, then lied repeatedly about it when confronted until someone produced an audiotape, at which point McCarthy, Ryan, et al., said it was just a joke. Maybe it was. But we know for sure that this idea about Trump being under Putin’s thumb was in the ether in GOP circles even as the party was getting ready to nominate him as its presidential candidate.

Fast forward to late August when the intelligence community was becoming frantic over the evidence of Russian interference and Director of National Intelligence John Brennan held private classified briefings with eight top congressional leaders, telling then that there was evidence the Russians were helping Donald Trump and that unnamed advisers to the Republican nominee might be working with them. In September, intelligence officials convened a big meeting with the Gang of 12, meaning the House and Senate leadership along with chairmen and ranking members of committees on intelligence and homeland security. It was assumed this would result in a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” to protest this threat to the integrity of the American democratic process.

That was an erroneous assumption. The Republicans refused to sign anything that implicated the Russian government, only agreeing to tell state elections officials to beware of “malefactors” attempting to hack election software. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly said he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly “an act of partisan politics.” That was that.

Since the election, when Republican officials aren’t actively helping the White House cover up and misdirect, as House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes did, with a few exceptions they still dismiss the scandal, even in the face of documentary evidence like the Donald Trump Jr. emails.

There’s a lot of punditry every day bemoaning the fact that President Trump refuses to admit that the Russian interference in the campaign happened, seeing it as a stubborn (and insulting) rejection of the U.S. intelligence community and a dangerous unwillingness to take needed action to prevent it happening again. But really, why is Trump the only one on the hook? The Republican leadership has turned a blind eye to what was happening since 2015. They knew. They may have even known more about it than Trump did, at least in the beginning. They did nothing about it then and have shown no signs that they plan to do anything in the future.

It’s not all on Donald Trump. He may been the principal beneficiary but the leaders of his party aided and abetted the crime. We may just learn that they benefited from it too. 

 

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Now we see collusion: Will Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a shadowy Russian lawyer unlock the mystery?

How the tragic story of Sergei Magnitsky led to Donald Trump Jr.’s fateful encounter with a Kremlin-friendly lawyer

A lawyer and whistleblower named Sergei Magnitsky spent 358 days in one of the most notoriously deadly Russian prisons, where he was tortured and eventually died from untreated internal ailments, including pancreatitis, as well as injuries from routine torture incurred at the hands of Russian law enforcement.

Throughout his harrowing incarceration, Magnitsky provided a detailed narrative of his abuse in prison, covered in 450 letters. His stomach-churning story eventually led to a bipartisan American law passed in 2012 known as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, which applied hard-hitting sanctions against a roster of Russian officials linked to a $230 million kleptocratic tax fraud scandal Magnitsky was endeavoring to uncover. After last year’s election, President Barack Obama signed a second law, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, extending the original law to apply to any foreign person found to have links to human rights abuses similar to those inflicted upon Magnitsky.

Russia’s response was typically, well, Russian. The Kremlin blacklisted a menu of American officials, while restricting the adoption of Russian babies by American couples. One of the blacklisted officials, oddly enough, was a prosecutor who’s more than familiar to anyone who’s been following the increasingly breathtaking Trump-Russia scandal: Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York. Among myriad other probes, Bharara was said to have been investigating the Trump Organization’s links to Russian money laundering. He was suddenly and personally fired by President Trump after having apparently been assured by Trump himself, during the transition, that he’d be allowed to remain at his post.

According to a Saturday evening article in the New York Times, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort apparently met in Trump Tower last June with a Russian lawyer with “connections to the Kremlin” named Natalia Veselnitskaya. Before we continue, it’s crucial to note that both Trump Jr. and Kushner confirmed the meeting with Veselnitskaya to the Times. Likewise, Manafort confirmed his participation in the meeting. Manafort also confirmed that Trump Jr. spearheaded it. (In other words, this isn’t “fake news.”) Not insignificantly, Bharara was responsible for pursuing Veselnitskaya’s client, Preveson Holdings, a company linked to the $230 million scam Magnitsky was exposing. The case was settled for $6 million.

Veselnitskaya, the Times reported, is a vocal opponent of the Magnitsky Act and, for her part, told the Times that “the meeting lasted about 30 minutes and focused on the Magnitsky Act and the adoption issue.” Trump Jr. also explained that the meeting was “primarily about an adoption program.” (Keep reading — there’s much more to this explanation.) So it seems more than obvious that the discussion had to do with Veselnitskaya conveying a message to the then-presumptive Republican nominee for president that either the Kremlin wanted the Magnitsky Act fully repealed or sanctions lifted from Russian officials impacted by the law or both.

Not only is this highly suggestive of collusion between Trump’s inner circle and the Kremlin, it could also represent the first real journalistic evidence of a possible quid pro quo arrangement between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Specifically, the lifting of sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act could be seen as a partial payment to Russia for helping Trump during the campaign, either politically or financially or both.

But wait. Hang onto your hats. There’s more.

second New York Times story dropped on Sunday, lending an almost cataclysmic detail to the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort and Veselnitskaya. The Times reported that Trump Jr. convened the June 9, 2016 meeting after Veselnitskaya informed him that she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The following paragraph ought to send chills down your spine:

The meeting — at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trumpclinched the Republican nomination — points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.

The Times added that it’s unclear whether Veselnitskaya handed over the opposition research on Clinton, but “the people interviewed by The Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so.”

This is collusion. Hands down. It appeared more than obvious following the initial Times story on Saturday, but now, with Sunday’s pulse-pounding article, it seems blindingly clear that the meeting was at least intended to be either an offer or a negotiation: Give the Trump campaign Russian-sourced dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for the lifting of sanctions outlined in the Magnitsky Act and beyond.

Adding to the profoundly urgent nature of this news, we learned that during their summit in Hamburg, President Trump agreed to form a joint task force on cybersecurity with Putin. To overstate the obvious here, this would be like the George W. Bush administration entering into a joint task force on airport security with Osama bin Laden. Worse, Trump continues to deny or dispute that there was any collusion at all, while accepting Putin’s word over the word of former President Obama, countless former and current government officials, and the entire U.S. intelligence community.

Incidentally, Trump has repeatedly insisted that only four intelligence agencies agreed that Russia hijacked the 2016 election, when in fact the Oct. 7, 2016, assessment by the director of national intelligence represented the analysis of the entire U.S. intelligence community. In fact, the report began with these words: “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” Then again, words have no meaning in the age of Trump.

Making matters even more desperate, it appears as though the Russian government is attempting to compromise our nuclear energy facilities.

Ultimately, there is no doubt that we were attacked, and based on the words of James Comey and others, it appears the attack will continue and worsen as time rolls on. Yet we have a president who not only accepts Putin’s explanation, but who may have cooperated with Putin in that sinister enterprise. Simply put: American democracy is under severe threat and the president seems to be acting almost as an enemy combatant, openly hostile to anyone who’s sounding the alarm about the increasingly treacherous Russian crisis.

It can’t be stressed enough that any and all legal and constitutional mechanisms for thwarting Trump’s continuing efforts must be triggered by the proper authorities, be they members of Congress, the Justice Department or the special counsel. The future of American sovereignty is hanging in the balance and we can no longer rely on the White House for aid.

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon.com. He’s also the host of “The Bob Cesca Show” podcast, and a weekly guest on both the “Stephanie Miller Show” and “Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

President’s hints on Comey tapes were just more reality-TV tricks

Trump’s tease on the bogus Comey recordings follows a disgraceful pattern learned from reality TV and casino sales

For weeks President Donald Trump has held out the enticing possibility that there were recordings of his meetings with James Comey that would prove him to be a showboating liar for all the world to see. The suspense was killing us. Finally on Thursday, after teasing and teasing, Trump admitted that he hadn’t taped anyone but still suggested he couldn’t be sure that someone else (the National Security Agency? the Russians? a 400-pound guy in his bed?) might have been taping him in the White House.

It’s true that Trump never said outright that he had taped anyone. He just hinted at it starting with this angry tweet in the wee hours of the morning on May 12:

“James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

This was three days after he had abruptly fired Comey and the morning after The New York Times reported that the two of them had a private dinner à deux during which Trump asked for Comey’s “loyalty” and Comey demurred by saying he’d give him “honesty,” which is the last thing Trump would ever want. That Times article was Trump’s first clue that Comey wasn’t going to go away quietly.

That tweet also came the morning after Trump foolishly went on national TV and admitted to NBC News’ Lester Holt that he had fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, saying, “In fact when I decided to just do it. I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story; it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”

We now know that Trump also told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador the morning after Comey’s firing, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” There’s no reason to believe that he whispered in the ambassador’s ear on the way out, “We’re in the clear, comrade.” But it’s not hard to imagine that the Russian official might have taken the president’s comments about Comey in that spirit.

All that set in motion a chain of events that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller and an obstruction-of-justice investigation — to go along with the existing investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Is he tired of all that winning yet?

Trump’s sales technique of promising to show you something bigger and better than you’ve ever seen before was developed when he was casino owner back in the ’80s and ’90s. “Come to my golden palace and you too can be a gazillionaire, just like me!” Of course, he was a terrible casino owner, caught up in money laundering and bad deals and bankruptcy for decades, but that doesn’t mean plenty of people haven’t been taken in by his promise to remake them in his image. God knows why anyone would want that, but there seems to be an endless supply of takers for Trump’s toxic snake oil.

When his plans for gambling riches finally withered away and he was deeply in debt, Trump’s sales technique morphed into the reality-show style of the 2000s such that he finally got the national celebrity attention he’d always craved with his shows “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” Teasing the “big reveal” is a staple of every reality show on TV. They drop hints and show sneak peeks for weeks. They milk the dramatic moments for everything they have all season long until they finally show the much-anticipated denouement in the very last show. But the “big reveal” is often a big flop. That happens a lot in the Donald Trump show, whether on TV or in the White House.

Here are some examples of Trump’s big teases, most of which he never delivered on:

1. In 2011, he started the yearslong “investigation” of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, promising he would reveal his findings. He never did. Last year he begrudgingly admitted that Obama had been born in the U.S. and then took credit for making him prove it.

2.  Trump promised to release his tax returns as soon as an audit was completed but has never done so and has never shown any proof that an audit occurred. We await his release any day now with bated breath.

3. After reports emerged that Melania Trump had worked in the U.S. illegally (in the 1990s), he announced that his wife would give a press conference two weeks later to discuss her immigration status. We’re still waiting.

4. Donad Trump pretended to be seriously running for president several times and in 2000 even did some stumping in New Hampshire as a potential Reform Party candidate before deciding against it. In 2012, of course, he thought he could ride the birther wave until President Obama destroyed him at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. But he teased his 2016 run from that point onward. We know what the big reveal of that one was on Nov. 8.

Since then Trump has claimed that he knows things “other people don’t know” about the hacking of the election and promised to reveal it shortly after the beginning of the year. He apparently forgot about that but he worked his decision on the Paris climate accords more effectively, teasing it like the finale of “Project Runway.”

But the president got himself in serious trouble with his tweeted claim that Obama had “wiretapped” him, and we know how badly he’s damaged himself with the hint that he wiretapped the FBI director. He seems to believe that this sort of “showmanship” is something that translates well in politics. Frankly, he might be right. His followers love him and it keeps him in the press. But it’s not a big winner in the legal system, which is where “reality” drama becomes the real thing. Prosecutors and judges have less of a sense of humor about lies and intimidation tactics.

It’s hard to know how much Trump thinks any of this through. I’d guess very little: He runs on instinct. But his instincts are those of a cheap used car salesman or a TV pitchman. They were good enough to get him into the White House on a fluke, but they don’t give him the skills required to be president. Now they are causing him to create enormous problems for himself, one after another.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

The face of Republican evil: It’s not Donald Trump

Mitch McConnell’s gruesome health care scam reveals the corrupt, antidemocratic character of the entire GOP

In the hellish months since Donald Trump’s inauguration, a dark parlor game of sorts has cropped up in liberal circles that I like to call “Would an Impeachment Even Be Worth It?” With the full acknowledgment that it’s unlikely to happen as long as Republicans are in charge, participants still sip cocktails and ponder out loud the question of whether booting out Trump on his butt would be enough to save our democracy, considering the fact that the Republican slimeball taking his place would invariably sign a bunch of retrograde legislation setting back this country decades.

These discussions break down into two camps: those who think Trump presents a unique threat to our democracy and replacing him with someone in the succession line, like Vice President Mike Pence or House Speaker Paul Ryan, would at least preserve our democratic norms; and those who think the corruption started long before Trump and has spread throughout the Republican Party, rotting it from the inside out.

Consider me in the latter camp, which makes me kind of unpopular in these discussions. Unfortunately, my view that the Republican Party as a whole is irredeemably antidemocratic has been borne out, yet again, in the process that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has put into motion to destroy the Affordable Health Act, a process that will likely take out the U.S. health care system as we know it.

One could even argue that bog-standard Republicans, under the leadership of Ryan and McConnell, represent an bigger threat to our democracy than Trump, possessing as they do more competence and cunning than the TV-addled overgrown toddler in the White House.

As Heather Digby Parton, writing for Salon, recently detailed, McConnell has arranged to have the Senate version of the House’s American Health Care Act (which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would ultimately leave 23 million Americans uninsured) written in secret, with no hearings, no public discussion and no real debate. Republicans are barely even pretending the reason is anything other than the obvious: The bill is so terrible that it defies the will of people of all political stripes and sensibilities, whom legislators supposedly were elected to serve. When called out on this obvious fact, Republicans are just smirking or squawking “fake news” but not actually offering any contravening evidence.

McConnell’s contempt for the processes, much less the defining principles, of democracy couldn’t be more apparent. But he doesn’t really care. No doubt the election of Trump helped confirm the rising sense among Republicans that they can wipe their collective butts with the Constitution, flip the bird at their constituents and not really worry about losing many seats. Republican voters might not like it, but they like liberals, black people and feminists even less, so they will show up and dutifully vote against the Democrats every time. Losing health care access isn’t great, but for conservative voters, admitting that liberals might have a point is a hell from which there is no escape.

This Republican contempt for democracy was evident long before Trump started grasping for the presidential nomination with his stubby orange fingers. McConnell was so unwilling to accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s two substantial presidential election victories that the Republican leader refused to acknowledge Obama’s right to nominate a Supreme Court justice after Antonin Scalia’s death. Not only did that work out perfectly for McConnell — he got Neil Gorsuch onto the high court, instead of rightful nominee Merrick Garland — but it proved once and for all that bedrock conservative voters don’t care about niceties like the rule of law or government by the people. They just want to punish women for having sex and gripe about “Obama phones,” and don’t care if the price paid is the ultimate ruin of this country.

Trump didn’t make Republicans corrupt. They were already there. That’s why he hasn’t really needed to do any arm-twisting or commit blackmail, no matter how much he’d like to, in order to get a GOP-controlled Congress willing to look the other way when presented with a growing pile of evidence that something weird is going on with Trump and the Russians.

It’s easier to not care if Russian intelligence is actively seeking to subvert U.S. elections for those who aggressively try to deny voting rights to millions of Americans, especially people of color and younger voters who insist on voting for Democrats.

At this point, the Republican rejection of democracy is an established fact. The only question is how far the ruling party is willing to take it. The antidemocratic, secretive process surrounding the GOP’s health care bill suggests there may be no real limit.

 

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

Donald Trump in Wonderland

Literally everything our president says and does reflects the opposite of reality

Monday’s fawning Cabinet meeting was just the latest example of a doomed presidency driven by dangerous fictions

Early on Monday a colleague of mine messaged me with a link to a Politico article detailing how Russian intelligence has allegedly gathered “kompromat” on about 2,300 well-known American media personalities and politicians, apparently in conjunction with Vladimir Putin’s ongoing effort to subvert American democracy.

My political writer friend added, “This is scary. What do you think will happen?”

“Nothing,” I wrote back. “Not as long as Trump insists this is nothing more than a scam by the Democrats because Hillary lost.”

We can’t repeat this enough: The United States and our democratic institutions were attacked by a hostile foreign power, yet President Donald Trump refuses to do a damn thing about it. Not only is he still infuriatingly chummy with the Russians, gifting them (without reciprocation) classified intelligence inside the Oval Office and reopening housing compounds that serve as bases for Russian spies. He won’t even acknowledge as legitimate the very basic nut of the story, that Russia hacked the 2015-16 election cycle. Never mind the question of possible collusion for now. The Russians attacked us and there’s copious evidence to prove it.

Imagine if, in the wake of 9/11, the George W. Bush White House had refused to accept that the attack even occurred. The entire world would have thought Bush had lost his mind or that our entire nation was caught in the grip of mass delusion.

Either way, Trump is behaving as if a series of ongoing events that were palpably real weren’t so at all. Those of us who have followed Trump’s ridiculousness since the 1980s know that he’s perpetually full of crap. For example, you may recall his yarn: “Trump Steaks are the world’s greatest steaks and I mean that in every sense of the word.” But as a presidential candidate, and subsequently as the country’s chief executive, his world of make believe is unparalleled. Everything orbiting in Trump’s universe — a universe that includes his 62 million voters along with Fox News — is a fantasy.

Everything that’s real is fake and everything that’s fake is real.

Trump held a Cabinet meeting on Monday morning where he asked his department-level secretaries to offer allegedly unsolicited praise for him and to express effusive gratitude for the honor of serving Trump personally. The usually stoic CNBC reporter John Harwood described the meeting by saying, “Honestly this is like a scene from the Third World.” Indeed. Vice President Mike Pence said serving Trump was “the great honor of [his] life.” (Pence has three children, by the way, whose births must be way down on the list of honors.) Chief of staff Reince Priebus, who’s fighting for his job, said, “Thank you for the blessing you’ve given us.” Yes, I’m sure it’s quite a blessing to be in charge of scooping the rhetorical feces from the cage of a clownish supervillain who needed four tries to correctly spell “hereby.”

The Cabinet’s gooey, over-the-top praise was cloying and artificial, but in Trump’s world of make believe the president and his disciples were sufficiently fluffed, injecting every word of the Cabinet’s Eddie Haskell-ish ass kissing into the news cycle. Insofar as perception is reality, we can assume it worked on the faithful. If all these serious people think Trump is the greatest president God ever created, then it must be true!

Likewise, Trump expects everyone to believe there might be tapes of his one-on-one meetings with former FBI Director James Comey. Knowing Trump and the mendacity of his online blurtings, it’s safe to say there aren’t any tapes even though (to coin a phrase), “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” If the tapes exist, he’d release them. But releasing the tapes is irrelevant because as long as his base believes Comey is what Trump claimed — a crazy, cowardly grandstander who’s obviously lying about the meetings — then pretending that such tapes might exist is enough for the voters who matter.

What else?

Contrary to Trump’s world of make believe, there weren’t 3 million illegal Hillary Clinton voters, nor did former President Barack Obama have Trump’s “wires tapped.” The tax reform bill Trump says is being negotiated doesn’t actually exist. The American Health Care Act (also known as “Trumpcare”) will not provide health insurance to more people and will ultimately leave tens of millions of people with no coverage, among other terrible things. His tweets about the “travel ban” won’t help his chances in court and only make matters worse for the future of his executive order.

Meanwhile, Trump praised his record on jobs so far: While 1.1 million new jobs have been created since Election Day, 1.3 million jobs were created during the previous seven months during former President Barack Obama’s administration. (Trump has also forgotten about the supposedly “real” unemployment rate he mentioned so often during the campaign.) Trump insists the Democrats are feckless, rudderless failures who can’t get anything done yet they’re also effectively obstructing his entire agenda despite the fact that the GOP controls everything. And sorry, James Comey is telling the truth.

I could do this all day. Nothing Trump says is real or accurate — nothing. Even discussing his statements as if they’re mere off-the-shelf political lies serves to only normalize him when, in fact, what he’s doing is galactically destructive. The world has lost faith in America’s leadership or is losing it fast. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe Trump has gone bye-bye. Why? Because his fictitiousness is so completely obvious that we have no choice but to wonder whether he’s mentally fit to lead. (He’s not.) He seems to sincerely believe that his kooky outbursts and cartoonish threats sound legitimate when anyone with a brain knows he’s tilting at windmills — even some of his core supporters.

Congressional Republicans are excusing Trump’s loony behavior, for the moment, as the consequences of his being “new to the job,” arguing that his rookie stature is the source of his nonstop flailing. I’m all in favor of any excuses that underscore the president’s massive incompetence, thanks. But the GOP seems to forget that Trump has acted like this for his entire career. He sculpts his own reality to compensate for his endless roster of inadequacies.

But before too long — and I hope this is true — the president and his supporters will be blindsided by reality. Sometime soon, Trump will be fully exposed for his part in the Trump-Russia attack whether as a willing participant or a conspirator after the fact, orchestrating the cover-up. No fairy tales from his Twitter feed will dig him out. The story has to end this way. Trump and all Trump’s men have to be held accountable, otherwise we might as well resign ourselves to believing our democracy is owned and operated by the Kremlin. We can’t allow Trump’s delusions to become American delusions. The bedtime story Trump is telling has to end and end the right way — or else.

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon.com. He’s also the host of “The Bob Cesca Show” podcast, and a weekly guest on both the “Stephanie Miller Show” and “Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

If the Russians’ objective was to undermine Americans’ faith in democracy, they succeeded — with Trump’s help

Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and the true cause of Donald Trump’s legitimacy crisis — his own actions

Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and the true cause of Donald Trump's legitimacy crisis — his own actions
Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton (Credit: AP/Reuters/Rainier Ehrhardt/Photo montage by Salon)

On Wednesday Vox’s Ezra Klein published a long piece about the current crisis in our government. He wrote that “our president lacks legitimacy, our government is paralyzed, our problems are going unsolved.” I would say that legitimacy, the first of those issues, is the source of all the others.

Donald Trump’s legitimacy problem is not just a matter of losing the popular vote. Other presidents have assumed office after such an outcome. In 1824 John Quincy Adams became president after the election decision was thrown to the House of Representatives. In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes became president after losing the popular vote to Samuel Tilden by more than 250,000 votes — although corruption was so rife in that election it’s fair to say no one will ever know for sure who got the highest tally. In 1888 Benjamin Harrison won 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168, but lost the national count by about 90,000 votes. It didn’t happen again for 112 years when George W. Bush was installed by the Supreme Court after a virtual tie in Florida and a dubious vote count. And then just 16 years later, it happened again.

Throughout that last 16 years questions have been raised about our democracy, including the workings of the anachronistic Electoral College, the fact that every locality and state seems to have a different system, and the way Republicans have systematically disenfranchised voters whom they believe would be likely to vote for their opponents. There has been underlying doubt about the integrity of America’s electoral system simmering for a long time. This year it has come to a boil.

For at least a year we’ve been aware of social-media propaganda and foreign actors hacking the systems of various arms of the Democratic Party in order to influence the presidential campaign. The experts tell us that the Russian government has directed a number of similar cyber operations around the world and that this one was their most sophisticated. Evidently, the idea was to sow chaos and undermine Americans’ already sorely tested faith in our electoral system.

According to a highly detailed investigative report by Massimo Calabresi of Time, the evidence suggests that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had a particular ax to grind against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for what he termed a “signal” she sent in 2011, which he claimed sparked protests against him. The extent to which Putin truly favored Donald Trump is still unknown, and the question of whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is now the focus of various investigations of Congress and a Justice Department special counsel. The odd behavior of Trump’s close associates as well as his obsession with shutting down the investigation certainly raise suspicions. But at this point it is pure speculation to think about what kind of “deal” might have been made.

This week’s story by The Intercept, reporting on an National Security Agency document that showed evidence the Russian military had made serious attempts to infiltrate voter information rolls around the country, suggests, however, yet another way the goals of Donald Trump and the Russian government were the same. Former FBI counterterrorism officer and cybersecurity expert Clinton Watts (best known for his quip “follow the bodies of dead Russians” in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee) raised some additional questions in a piece for the Daily Beast this week. He believes that the main objective of this operation was not to alter the vote count but rather to instill more doubt about the process.

Watts wrote, “I noticed a shift in Kremlin messaging last October, when its overt news outlets, conspiratorial partner websites, and covert social-media personas pushed theories of widespread voter fraud and hacking.” He cited a Reuters article indicating that a Kremlin-backed think tank report “drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election.” The think tank also advised it would be “better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency.”

It’s interesting to note that at the same moment the operation shifted in that direction, Trump himself was relentlessly flogging exactly the same accusation, saying in every rally from October on that Clinton and her campaign had “rigged the system” in her favor. Over and over again he would suggest that the outcome was predetermined:

When the outcome is fixed, when the system is rigged, people lose hope — they stop dreaming, they stop trying

He routinely told his followers stories like this:

One of the reasons I’ve been saying that the system is so corrupt and is so rigged, is not only what happens at the voters’ booth — and you know things happen, folks.

He passed along tweets like this:

@THEREALMOGUL: 41% of American voters believe the election could be “stolen” from DonaldTrump due to widespread voter fraud. – Politico”

Trump even made bizarre accusations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman “John Podesta rigged the polls by oversampling” and notoriously refused to say whether he would abide by the results if Clinton won. It was obvious that Donald Trump was planning to challenge her legitimacy.

In fact, Trump did more to create mistrust and doubt in the U.S. electoral system than the Russian government’s highly developed hacking and misinformation campaign. Whether they were working together is still unknown but they were definitely rowing in the same direction. As much as the president likes to whine and complain about the Democrats being sore losers, the irony is that Trump himself played the greatest role in undermining the legitimacy of his win.

A coup in real time?

Historian Timothy Snyder says the Comey firing is Trump’s “open admission of collusion with Russia”

Yale historian says Trump has now admitted guilt; former intelligence officer says Flynn was a Russian agent

A coup in real time? Historian Timothy Snyder says the Comey firing is Trump's "open admission of collusion with Russia"
James Comey, Donald J. Trump(Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Mark Wilson)

Has the other shoe finally dropped? Is this the beginning of Donald Trump’s attempted coup?

Trump is a plutocratic authoritarian. As I have previously argued, it is fair to call him a fascist. He has repeatedly demonstrated this fact through his words and deeds both during the 2016 presidential election and now while serving as president.

Like the leader of a banana republic or a Mafia boss, Trump has surrounded himself with a small group of advisers and confidantes comprised mainly of his family members. He has contempt for journalists and the concept of a free press. He leads a cult of personality, marketing himself as an autocratic who will protect and defend his “forgotten Americans” against all threats foreign and domestic. Trump has no respect for the standing norms of American democracy. He and his supporters evidently believe that the rule of law does not apply to him.

Authoritarians are paranoid by definition. To that end, they ruthlessly consolidate power and eliminate any threats to their power. In keeping with this script, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, in a hastily written letter of dismissal delivered to FBI headquarters by Keith Schiller, the leader of the president’s personal Praetorian Guard. Comey’s firing was also endorsed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who has no credibility after having been caught repeatedly lying about his own contacts with representatives of the Russian government.

Comey’s dismissal comes one day after Trump appeared to threaten former acting Attorney General Sally Yates before she gave testimony to the Senate about Vladimir Putin’s efforts to subvert American democracy and the dangers posed by likely Russian operative and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump’s dismissal of Comey came on the same day it was announced that a federal grand jury is investigating Flynn and his associates regarding their financial connections to Russian interests.

Trump’s claim that Comey acted inappropriately in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email “scandal” is an obvious smoke screen. In fact, Trump repeatedly praised Comey’s controversial decision to release on one of the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign a damning statement about Clinton’s emails, which clearly helped Trump defeat Clinton and win the White House.

The president’s decision to fire Comey is an enormous abuse of presidential authority. To all appearances, Trump is removing a threat posed by the person who is leading the investigation of his administration’s (and his campaign’s) possibly treasonous connections with Russia. Trump will now be able to appoint a political loyalist as Comey’s successor.

For a widely read interview posted last week on Salon, I spoke with historian Timothy Snyder about what Trump’s election means for America. (He is the author of the new book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.”) During that conversation, Snyder warned that the American people have less than a year to resist the creeping tide of authoritarianism embodied by Donald Trump’s regime.

Snyder also predicted: Donald Trump will stage his own version of Adolf Hitler’s Reichstag fire — a manufactured crisis or some other type of political or social upheaval — to enact a state of emergency or otherwise consolidate his power by subverting America’s political institutions.

Is Trump’s firing of Comey the next step in this direction? I corresponded with Snyder by email on Wednesday to learn his thoughts about this new development.

His “very first thought” on hearing the Comey news, Snyder wrote, “was that this was a far more open admission of collusion with Russia than even a confession would be.”

Snyder also saw the Comey dismissal as a step toward Trump expanding his power, in keeping with a pattern influenced by Putin’s Russia:

I wrote the first article about Trump and Russia 13 months ago, using Russian sources. The evidence has been overwhelming for a long time. I think it is only our basic desire to cling to some familiar reality that prevented us from seeing all this in 2016. The man shared his political advisers with the Kremlin and Ukrainian oligarchs. Trump owed his success as a developer to mysterious inflows of Russian cash. He won on the Internet thanks in part to Russian trolls, bots, and fake news. Some of that information war ran through Cambridge Analytica, where Steve Bannon was on the board.

Trump’s first foreign policy speech was written by someone on the payroll of a Russian fossil fuels company. Carter Page was also working for the Russians. And that’s not even considering what has come to light about Michael Flynn. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner failed to mention his own Russian contacts to get security clearance. Sessions also lied by omission, perjuring himself to become attorney general, about his Russian contacts. And on and on.

Trump’s whole campaign was an imitation of Putin’s political style, punctuated by pathetic appeals to Putin for friendship. This is what is known through English-language open sources. When you include that Russia has been carrying out operations to derail democracy and support favored candidates elsewhere, the pattern takes shape.

Snyder also said that Trump’s recent moves are consistent with the predictions made in his book “On Tyranny”:

First, the continued attack on truth, twisting it and undermining it. Using Comey as a source for his argument that he is innocent and then firing Comey. Praising and blaming Comey for how he handled the Clinton case. Undermining an investigation that is after a simple and important truth.

My Russian friends refer to agencies like the FBI as siloviki. The agencies that use force. For Trump to build an authoritarian state in the USA, the FBI must cease to be a police agency that investigates according to law, and become a top-down instrument of force: siloviki. That I think is what Trump would regard as normal.

Or to use the example of Communist takeovers: Communists always first went for what they called the power ministries.

Is firing James Comey Trump’s Reichstag fire moment? Look, we have here a president with no interest in democracy and no popular policies to get him through 2018 or 2020, who admired foreign dictators and their approach to terrorism — which means their exploitation of terrorism to create an authoritarian state. That’s the template Hitler left from his use of the Reichstag fire. But for that to work here, agencies like the FBI would have to go along.

I asked Snyder how the American people should respond. “Realize that the presumption now must be that this man is covering up a meaningful relationship with a foreign power that helped get him elected,” he wrote. “Read the press. Pay for it. Support investigative journalists. Demand an independent investigation. Urge multiple institutions to investigate. Continue resisting in all other areas.”

Former U.S. counterintelligence operative Naveed Jamali, author of the new book “How to Catch a Russian Spy,” has also been trying to warn the American people about the threat to democracy posed by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a phone conversation, Jamali connected Comey’s dismissal to the unanswered questions surrounding the Michael Flynn case, saying the following:

Flynn was, in my opinion, targeted and recruited by the Russians and was in fact a directed agent. But that targeted recruitment happened well before he met Donald Trump. Sally Yates informed the White House of those concerns. Once you are informed of those security concerns, your duty is to remove those personnel who are under suspicion. Trump’s decision to not do that raises serious concerns about his judgment, and frankly a lot of people will question if that event rises to a level where he should not remain president.

Jamali added this:

Keeping someone as a national security adviser — one of the highest-level Cabinet positions — when the Department of Justice and FBI present you with concerns that this man is a security risk, and to keep this person in place because of partisan reasons, questions Trump’s credibility and ability to stay neutral. It is very simply one of the greatest impacts of the 2016 election.

What is not being discussed is that this is a breathtaking counterintelligence failure on our part. The Russians succeeded. That this is not being discussed is disturbing. I want Americans to understand that the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans or Iranians may use a similar tactic. We as a country have to take a stance like after 9/11, where we investigate and take a different posture more suitable for these new threats from abroad.

In total, Trump’s firing of Comey, his hostility to an independent judiciary, his authoritarian behavior and his evident attempts to control or contain the investigation into his connections to Russia add up to a constitutional crisis. Unfortunately, Trump is being aided and abetted in his irresponsible, and perhaps even criminal behavior, by a Republican Party that, to this point, values power and partisan politics over loyalty to country and true patriotism. Trump’s supporters among the American people are deeply devoted to their leader, even if that means siding with Putin’s Russia and spitting in the face of American democracy. They are authoritarian lemmings.

While the supposedly “liberal” news media wrestles with its confusion about telling the ugly truth about Trump and the fascist movement he represents, the conservative media serves as Trump’s personal echo chamber, much as Pravda and other state-sponsored publications served the Communist Party during the Soviet era.

Unfortunately, this state of emergency is the new normal in America. In the future, people who are now living will tell their children and grandchildren how they watched American democracy being surrendered to plutocratic authoritarianism and fascism in real time. These same children and grandchildren will ask, “Why didn’t you do anything to stop it?” What will we tell them?

History is watching. The American people now have to choose if they will be bystanders or agents in their own destiny. I am deeply saddened that so many Americans seem ready and willing to choose the first option.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.