By Horus Alas
When I pitched this article at our final Bloc meeting of the semester, I originally intended to focus on a retrospective overview of the Sinister Saga series.
We’ve been running “The Sinister Saga of Donald Trump” articles since February of last year. As a writer, it’s been a rewarding experience documenting the endless atrocities and debacles of the Trump presidential campaign, and now, administration.
A recap piece was the plan. As of Sunday, May 7, that’s what I’d set out to compose. But the events of the past eight days have so jarred priorities in writing about the Trump administration that the original plan is implausible.
As you all are no doubt aware, President Trump fired FBI director James Comey May 9. The administration’s first account of the firing stressed a letter written by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein recommending Comey’s termination.
In his letter, Rosenstein claimed, “I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”
President Trump issued a termination dispatch to Comey in which he claimed to have been informed by the latter on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation.
It would be a clear violation of investigative ethics for Comey to have disclosed such information to the president.
Immediately after the termination, there was swift and widespread condemnation.
Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-NC) remarked, “I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Jim Comey’s termination.” Burr, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, is actively partaking in an investigation on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Rumors abounded that Trump fired Comey over the FBI’s ongoing investigation into potential collusion between his presidential campaign and Russian espionage.
President Trump himself failed to assuage bipartisan fears of a coverup on Russian interference—the very next day, he met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in the Oval Office.
In the days since Trump’s firing of Comey, the White House struggled to put forth a coherent narrative on what prompted the ouster. Frustrated by media backlash, President Trump sat for an interview with Lester Holt on May 11, admitting he had in fact fired Comey over the Russia probe.
In that same interview, Trump claimed to have asked director Comey whether he was under investigation. Comey purportedly responded in the negative.
If true, Trump’s inquiry into his own investigation amounts to an explosive (and probably illegal) breach in investigative protocol between the White House and the FBI. If false, it constitutes a deliberate deceit of the American people and an obfuscation of the ongoing Russia probe.
Amid even more intense media scrutiny on Comey’s dismissal Thursday night, the president took to twitter on the morning of May 12 to threaten, “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
The president’s habit of self-aggrandizing and posturing only fueled the ongoing media firestorm. In the aftermath of Comey’s removal from the FBI, there have been ever-more vigorous calls for an independent investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
All of this, mind you, took place between May 9 and May 12. In four days, the Trump administration unleashed and precipitated one of the most damaging series of events to tarnish the executive branch. The presidency as we know it under Trump now has next to no credibility.
Per an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted over the weekend, 78 percent of a sample size of 800 randomly-selected adults are in favor of an independent investigation into Russian involvement in the election.
The events recounted thus far were all of pressing import on the morning of May 15. As I write this paragraph, it’s now late in the evening of that same day.
The Washington Post has run a story reporting that President Trump disclosed “code-word information” to Lavrov and Kislyak, the Russian foreign minister and US ambassador, respectively. The information was purportedly divulged during Trump’s meeting with the Russian diplomats on May 10.
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president boasted to Lavrov and Kislyak. He then “… revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected [a terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft],” the Post’s Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe report.
Trump’s information leak betrays his intended relations with Russia, and calls into serious question his ability to handle sensitive national security details.
It’s also telling that someone within Trump’s closed circle meeting with the Russian diplomats leaked this information to The Washington Post. White House staff placed contingency calls to the CIA and NSA in an effort to coordinate a response after Trump’s meeting.
“… Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of information on the Islamic State,” write Miller and Jaffe.
As of Monday morning, we’d just survived one of the most tumultuous weeks of any U.S. presidency. Period.
As of Tuesday morning, we now know the president of the United States to have handed over top-tier national security information to a foreign power accused of aiding his presidential campaign.
Trump’s recent actions might well fit within the scope criminalized by the Espionage Act of 1917: “… Obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States.”
At this point, there’s no shortage of material to discuss on the Trump administration. One hundred fifteen days into the new administration, there has been an exhaustive series of scandals, intrigue, conspiracy, etc. It almost seems unfathomable that the Trump White House could be embroiled in yet another scandal, and then, bewilderingly—it is.
If the sinister saga of Donald Trump has a terminus, it’ll likely be explosive. Never before have we had a president who has acted with such clear ignorance and disregard for the laws and national welfare of the nation he supposedly leads.
There will be more to write about, I’m sure. There will be more cataclysm and calamity, and the political world of Washington as we know it might be rent beyond recognition.
At this point, either Congress or the Judiciary will act with sufficient resolve to remove a president who is actively undermining our democratic institutions—or our republic as we know it runs the risk of collapsing from within.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr account.
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.