Congress fiddles while America burns

Nothing to see here, folks. No Russia collusion. Look over there! Tax cuts!

By Lucian K. Truscott IV
Published December 20, 2017 7:00PM (EST)

Have you listened to the president lately? Every time he faces a microphone, he’s talking about collusion. Well, “no collusion” anyway. “What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” he said after his former National Security Adviser plead guilty a couple of weeks ago. “There has been absolutely no collusion.” Last Monday, after his return to the White House from Camp David, Trump told the press “There’s no collusion. No collusion whatsoever.”

He’s gone from denying that neither he or his campaign had any contact with Russians, to denying that the contacts they had amounted to anything, to denying “collusion” with any Russians during the election. Meanwhile, his legal factotums are out there with the backup assertion that if there was any “collusion” with Russians, it wasn’t illegal.

That’s where we find ourselves as we near the end of Trump’s first year in office, folks. They’re actually out there preparing to admit that while Russia helped Trump get elected last year, there wasn’t any law against it.

You would think that the United States Congress, even as several of their committees are investigating collusion between Trump and the Russians, might get around to making sure that no hostile powers have the ability to steal the midterm elections scheduled for November of 2018, less than a year from now.

But nooooooo. When they finally got around to passing an actual law this week, what was it? Did they pass the trillion dollar infrastructure bill Trump has promised for two years to fix stuff like, say, railroad tracks? No.

Did they pass a bill funding the Children’s and Infants’ Health Program (CHIP) which provides health coverage to over 9 million poor children in this country, who are currently without coverage? No.

Did they pass any new laws that would prevent Russia from interfering in our elections next year? No.

Did they pass any new laws to make it more illegal than it already is for Russians to hack into American election campaigns and steal confidential information? No.

Did they pass any new laws making it illegal for the governments of hostile nations like Russia to place political advertisements on media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? No.

Did they pass any new laws effectively making electoral “collusion” with the Russians or any other hostile nations illegal? No.

What did they do instead? They passed a massive tax cut for millionaires and billionaires that will add an estimated two trillion dollars to the deficit and not incidentally raise taxes on many middle class families, especially those living in states with high state and local taxes, that’s what they did. It’s the only piece of major legislation the Congress has passed this year, after failing in its attempt last summer to repeal Obamacare.

So with the aid of the Russia-Trump timeline kept by Bill Moyers & Co., let’s take a trip back in time and have a look at the tsunami of collusion with Russians and lies about it that comprised the secret strategy behind the Trump campaign of 2016.

You think your vote in the 2018 midterm elections is safe from Russian mischief? Have a look at what the Congress of the United States has been ignoring while they were passing tax cuts for billionaires:

On March 29, 2016, Donald Trump hires Paul Manafort as an adviser to his campaign. Manafort is a former Republican campaign operative who has extensive contacts in the Ukraine and Moscow with Russian intelligence officials.

On April 26, Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos is contacted in London by a foreign national who has numerous contact with Russian intelligence officials. Papadopoulos is told that the Russians have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and emails from her campaign they want to provide to the Trump campaign.

On June 3, Donald Trump Jr. receives an email from a British PR person who has extensive contacts with Russian oligarchs and intelligence officials informing him that the Russians are in possession of information that will “incriminate” Hillary Clinton and want to meet with him.

On June 9, the meeting between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort and several Russians with intelligence ties takes place at Trump Tower.

About the same time, CIA Director John Brennan starts noticing suspicious contacts between Russians and officials of the Trump campaign. He refers this information to FBI Director James Comey.

On July 7, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page travels to Moscow and gives a speech at the New Economic School. He also meets with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.  

On July 18, Trump campaign adviser Senator Jeff Sessions meets privately with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention. Campaign adviser Carter Page meets separately with Kislyak. Maneuvering on the platform committee by Paul Manafort and other Trump campaign officials removes a plank critical of Russia for its invasion of the Ukraine and Crimea and inserts a friendly plank advocating softening sanctions on Russia.

On July 22, WikiLeaks releases its first tranche of Democratic National Committee emails. It is reported that WikiLeaks very likely received the emails from contacts within Russian intelligence.

In late July, senior FBI officials meet with candidate Trump and warn him that it is highly likely that Russian intelligence will seek to infiltrate and influence his campaign. They ask Trump to have his campaign notify the FBI of an contacts with Russians. There is no evidence the Trump campaign ever contacted the FBI about this.

On July 27, at a Florida press conference, Trump says “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to emails which had apparently been deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server after she was Secretary of State.

Also at the end of July, the FBI opens an official investigation into collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign.

On August 4, CIA Director Brennan speaks to the Director of the Russian Security Service (FSB) and warns him not to get involved in the American political campaign.

Also in early August, the American intelligence community forms a task force to investigate Russian influence on the American presidential election. CIA Director Brennan informs President Obama that Russian President Vladimir Putin is personally involved, giving Russian government officials instructions to help defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump.

On August 12, the first tranche of DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) emails are released by Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0. On August 15, more DCCC emails are released by the Russians. On August 21, still more DCCC private emails are released.

In late August, CIA Director Brennan briefs the so-called “gang of eight” congressional leaders of both parties about Russian hacking intended to benefit Donald Trump. This meeting remains a secret for months.

On September 8, Trump campaign adviser Jeff Sessions meets with Sergey Kislyak again, this time at his Senate office.

In early September, Obama officials meet with the 12 most senior congressional leaders of both parties and inform them of Russian hacking intended to influence the presidential election. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell objects to this information being made public for fear it will “influence” the election. This meeting also remains a secret for months.

On September 15, more DCCC emails are released by Russian intelligence seeking to influence voting in the states of New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois, and North Carolina.

On September 22, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Adam Schiff issue a joint statement revealing that at an intelligence briefing, information had been revealed that Russia is trying to undermine American elections.

On September 23, more DCCC emails are released. On October 4, Russian intelligence leaks documents from the Clinton Foundation through Guccifer 2.0.

On October 7, WikiLeaks begins posting emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Also on that date, the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security issue a statement stating that “The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations . . . We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” 

On November 8, Donald Trump wins the American presidential election.

On November 10, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister reveals that the Kremlin had communicated with Trump’s “immediate entourage.” Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks denies this, claiming the Trump campaign had “no contact with Russian officials.”

On November 12, a Russian politician close to Vladimir Putin posts on Facebook that he had contacts with the Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica, an digital adviser to the Trump campaign. He claims that the intent of the contacts was to help Trump win the election.

On December 13, Jared Kushner meets at Trump Tower with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Gorkov, the director of the Russian state-owned bank, VEB. Gorkov was appointed to the bank by Vladimir Putin. He is also a graduate of the Russian intelligence school.

On December 29, Michael Flynn, by now appointed to be Trump’s National Security Adviser, calls Ambassador Kislyak and promises that Trump will lift sanctions on Russia after he takes office.

On January 3, 4, and 5 of 2017, Trump issues several tweets attacking the American intelligence community for finding that Russia had attempted to influence the election.

On January 6, immediately following Trump’s attacks on them, the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency release a public report stating that “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The report concludes that “the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible.”

On January 10, Buzzfeed publishes the “Steele Dossier” containing numerous instances of connections between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Also on that date, Jeff Sessions misleads the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing for Attorney General, denying that he had any contacts with Russians during the campaign. Also, Trump denounces the “Russia story” as “fake news.”

On January 11, Trump issues more tweets against the Steele Dossier. At a news conference that day, Trump begins his cascade of lies about Russia by denying that there were any contacts between his campaign and Russians.

On January 14, Trump tweets that the Steele Dossier is “a campaign fraud.”

On January 15, in an interview with the Times of London, Trump says “we should trust Putin” on charges about Russia, and claims the Steele Dossier was “made up.”

On January 19, the New York Times reports that Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page are all subjects of an investigation into Russian hacking and collusion.

On January 20, Donald Trump is inaugurated 45th President of the United States.

On January 23, at his first official press briefing, Sean Spicer denies that Michael Flynn talked to Ambassador Kislyak about Russian sanctions.

On January 24, in an interview with the FBI, Flynn lies to the FBI, denying that he talked to any Russians about sanctions.

On January 26, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates goes to the White House and tells Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn lied to the FBI about Kislyak and sanctions.

On January 27, former campaign adviser Papadopoulos lies to the FBI about his contacts with Russians during the campaign. Also on that day, White House Counsel McGahn calls Sally Yates back to the White House and asks her, “Why does it matter to the Department of Justice if one White House official lies to another?”

On January 30, Trump fires Sally Yates. Also on that date, Deutsche Bank, which has loaned Donald Trump several hundred million dollars, pays a $425 billion fine to the United States government for money laundering with Russia.

On February 8, Michael Flynn tells the Washington Post that he did not discuss sanctions against Russia with Ambassador Kislyak.

On February 10, in remarks with reporters, Trump states that he did not know of any contacts between Flynn and Kislyak.

On February 13, the Washington Post breaks the story about Sally Yates informing the White House about Flynn’s lies to the FBI about Kislyak and sanctions. Flynn resigns later that day.

On February 14, the New York Times reports that “phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”

On February 15, Trump tells reporters that Flynn was treated “very, very unfairly by the media” and calls him “a wonderful man.”

On February 16, Trump again defends Michael Flynn at a press conference at the White House and states, “Russia is fake news,” and continues his tsunami of lies about Russia by denying there were any contacts between Russians and his campaign.

On March 1, Jeff Sessions  continues to obfuscate about his own contacts with Russians when he states that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss any issues of the campaign,” a fine-toothed parsing of his earlier denials.

On March 2, Sessions recuses himself from the Russia investigation.

On March 4, Trump tweets from Mar-a-Lago that “Obama tapped my phones.”

On March 20, Trump tweets “Democrats made up and pushed the Russia story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign.”

Later on March 20, appearing before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey reveals that the FBI is investigating Russian interference with the election, including “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” He says the investigation has been ongoing since July of 2016.

On March 22, in the Oval Office, Trump meets with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo and urges them to get Comey to “back off” the Russia investigation. He also asks them to publicly deny there is any evidence of collusion between his campaign and the Russians.

On March 27, the New York Times reports that Kushner met at Trump Tower with Kislyak and VEB Bank Director and Putin crony Sergey Gorkov.

On April 5, Trump tells the New York Times that “the Russia story is a total hoax.”

On April 11, Trump calls Comey and asks him to put out the news that he, Trump, isn’t being investigated and asks him to “lift the Russia cloud.”

On April 29, Trump tells CBS News’ John Dickerson “the concept of Russia with respect to us [the Trump campaign] is a total phony story.”

On May 2, Trump tweets “The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”

On May 3, Comey tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that “The intelligence community with high confidence concluded it was Russia,” referring to the hacking of the DNC emails.

On May 6 and 7, Trump meets at his Bedminster New Jersey with Jared Kushner and others about firing Comey. They come up with a letter that is rejected out of hand by the White House Counsel. On May 8, Trump, Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Vice President Pence meet in the White House about Comey. Sessions and Rosenstein come up with a justification for firing him.

On May 9, Trump fires Comey.

On May 10, at a meeting in the Oval Office, Trump tells Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Comey is “a nut job.” “I faced great pressure because of Russia,” Trump tells the two Russians. “That’s taken off.”

On May 11, during a White House interview, Trump tells NBC News anchor Lester Holt: “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

On May 17, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names Robert Mueller Special Counsel to investigate contacts and collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign and transition.

May 18, Trump tweets, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history! With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”

The “witch hunt” Trump is so exercised about has in recent months resulted in the indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates for tax fraud and money laundering, and in the guilty pleas by former Trump aide George Papadopoulos and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — both for lying about their contacts with Russians.

All of those contacts they had on the Trump campaign were with Russians. Trump and Flynn and Papadopoulos and Manafort and Sessions and Spicer and Hicks and the rest of them, all the lies they told were about only one country, Russia.

But don’t worry. Donald Trump assures us there was “absolutely no collusion” with Russians, and besides, if there was any Russian collusion, it wasn’t illegal.

So don’t you go bothering congressional Republicans with any of this stuff about Russians stealing emails and seeking to influence our elections. There’s nothing to see here folks. Look over there! Tax cuts!

Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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