From where I normally sit in France (I'm currently visiting Canada), the ongoing Trump-Russia fever dream that has played out in the U.S. over the last year barely even qualifies as background noise. I guess the world has more important things to worry about than whether Russian President Vladimir Putin personally zombified the nearly 63 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in November's presidential election. Not so here in North America, where up close it comes across as a form of psychosis.
All of this started last summer, when a collection of Democratic National Committee emails were published by WikiLeaks. Many of those emails exposed underhanded political maneuvering within the DNC to benefit Clinton in her primary campaign against Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Clinton beat Sanders for the Democratic nomination, then Trump beat Clinton in November, and both establishment and opposition critics accused Russia of hacking the election to benefit Trump. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who served under former President Barack Obama, told the House Intelligence Committee last month: "I know of no evidence that through cyber intrusion, votes were altered or suppressed in some way."
The issue really should have ended there. But of course, it didn't.
So now we've fallen down the conspiracy rabbit hole, with recent media coverage desperately trying to keep the Russia-Trump smear alive in the public conscience.
Trump has long been an international real estate magnate, and now we're told that there are rich Russians in New York and Atlantic City who have lived in Trump's skyscrapers, some of whom might be shady. Yeah? At least one senior member of the Saudi royal family lives there as well -- and Saudi Arabia funded the Islamic State. So why isn't there any investigation into Trump-Saudi collusion?
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Saudis and the CIA have collaborated on some "projects," such as the attempt to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by arming and training local "rebels," some of whom morphed into the Islamic State. (It was Trump who just shut down that covert CIA program.) Why is it perfectly acceptable to collude with the Saudis and other countries while Russia and the U.S. are expected to behave like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt during the 2005 press tour for "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," standing apart from each other during photo ops to avoid any hint of closeness?
Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and adviser, appeared before congressional investigators on Monday to explain why he failed to list Russians he'd met with (and other foreign contacts, for that matter) on his SF-86 security clearance application. The form is 127 pages long and necessitates the detailing of all foreign contacts of both applicant and spouse going back seven years. An international businessperson could spend weeks filling out the foreign-contacts section of the application.
Silly Jared. Don't you know how Washington works? Of course no one wants to fill out these forms. That's why establishment politicians typically hire expensive consultants to meet with foreigners -- then they can safely say haven't met with any.
Donald Trump Jr. is also appearing before a congressional committee this week to explain a meeting with a Russian lobbyist last year. Trump Jr. had been invited via a third party to meet with a Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, during the campaign because she supposedly had dirt on Clinton. (Veselnitskaya reportedly failed to deliver and was more interested in discussing adoption issues.)
When Washington elites say they never would have taken such a meeting, what they really mean is that they wouldn't have done so personally. They would have hired someone to take it for them -- someone who's contractually obligated to keep their yap shut about it for eternity. Some might even retain a political event operative to create a customized "international forum" as a cover for any sensitive discussions.
If Trump wants to kill this Russia nonsense, he should threaten to sign an executive order making it a criminal offense for any elected official to engage with any domestic representative of foreign interests. Want to bet on how fast the establishment types would drop the Russia obsession? And if the criticism persists, Trump should sign the order. Then we'll quickly find out who's really colluding with foreign interests.