“I never worked for Russia,” President Donald Trump told reporters on Monday, a day after dodging the question by telling an interviewer, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”
If Trump is lying, the insult is to the American people — particularly those who have dedicated careers to countering Russian, and previously Soviet, threats. But the question had to be asked after back-to-back bombshell reports over the weekend about Trump’s opaque relationship with Russia.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, the bureau “began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.”
Beyond the grave national security implications, there was a possible obstruction of justice component to the investigation. That’s also the subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which has since superseded the initial FBI probe.
The Times’ story was followed by another deeply disturbing report from the Washington Post: that Trump had gone to great lengths to hide details from his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including taking possession of notes from an interpreter and demanding that what was discussed not be revealed with administration officials, and by extension, Congress, the news media and — most profoundly — the American people. The result, the Post reported, is that there is not even a detailed classified record of at least five face-to-face meetings between Putin and Trump over the last two years.
This isn’t right. And it’s not normal, under any administration.
At least publicly, it’s not known if Trump is actually acting on Moscow’s behalf, even unwittingly, or whether this latest breach of presidential protocol is just yet another component of his reckless presidency.
If there’s anyone who can get the necessary answers, it’s Mueller, a man best-known for a lifetime of selfless service to his country.
He must be allowed to finish his job and report to Congress and the American people. Accordingly, it was reassuring that William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, has signaled in a letter sent to the Senate before he begins confirmation hearings Tuesday that he intends to let Mueller finish his investigation and supports maximum transparency in the results.
“I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation,” Barr wrote. He later added: “I believe it is in the best interest of everyone — the president, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work. The country needs a credible resolution of these issues.”
That’s a reassuring statement because Barr has previously criticized aspects of the investigation. Congress could offer its own reassurances, but protection of the Mueller investigation has been thwarted by the Republican-led Senate in a dispiriting display of putting party over country.
Trump has countered that “he’s been tougher on Russia than anybody else.” No, he hasn’t. Sure, sanctions have been imposed, but mainly at the behest of more principled administration figures or Congress. Trump also has denigrated U.S. intelligence agencies’ consensus of Russian interference in the 2016 election, he has called NATO “obsolete,” he has hastened Russia’s hold on Syria and he even parroted Putin’s lie about the Soviet Union’s Afghanistan invasion, among other examples of being soft of Moscow.
The reports from the Times and the Post should trouble all Americans — and increase public support for Mueller’s investigation.