My thanks to my friend Ray Abruzzi for the tweet that gave me today's subtitle. It came in a post that linked to one of the many, many, many news stories filed today after FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign's collusion with Russian hackers during the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign.
I'm not sure how that revelation can lead to anything other than a special prosecutor, though I have to admit that I have thus far underestimated the Republican Party's determination to pretend that they can't see the parts of this scandal that played out in plain sight during the 2016 election.
We seem to be plunging quickly into prime Watergate territory despite the best efforts of the US Congress to avoid the inevitable. How it all ends is anybody's guess. About the only thing that has surprised me thus far is the sheer ineptitude of the Trump gang. Although I expected the malevolence and untruthfulness of the Trump Administration, the incompetence has fallen below even my low expectations.
Here's my best guess about what may really will matter as we head down this path:
1. Trump's popularity continues to fall. His approval rating is down to 39% in the Gallup poll and 42.6% in the fivethirtyeight.com compendium of polls. Beyond being unprecedented territory for a newly elected president, some historic lows are not too far from here. This matters because the Congressional GOP will eventually have to decide if their agenda faces a larger threat from internal divisiveness -- which will certainly increase if they impeach Trump -- or from voter fury in the 2018 election. Most Republican voters still back Trump, but that number is falling, too.
Thus far the Republicans in Congress are focused on unity, but that could change quickly as 2018 looms or if GOP agenda items like the repeal of the ACA falter because of the distractions or because of Trump himself. Mike Pence will sign their bills just as happily, if not more happily,. It sounds as if an increasing number of GOP Congressmen are starting to admit off the record that this would be fine with them.
1A. Whatever shreds of credibility Trump used to have seem to be fading away. The true diehards who never raise their heads from the Breitbart/Fox/InfoWars/Limbaugh fever pits may not see it, but the rest of America does. This will be very important in media coverage of this scandal as we progress.
2. New revelations: There's nothing like new news to keep a scandal growing. It seems that new information comes forth nearly every day. As reporters keep digging, they keep turning up evidence that increasingly tie Trump's campaign staff to Russian hackers. This continuing drip, drip, drip of information is what forced the House Intelligence Committee to hold today's hearing. The drip, drip, drip seems likely to continue and to continue to force action.
And at some point the FBI will release the results of their investigation.
3. Concrete evidence that directly ties Trump to the actions of his staff: At this point it seems clear that Trump's campaign staff colluded with Russian hackers, though many of the details are still a bit muddled and hidden. Trump seems unlikely to have issued written orders to collude with the Russians, so it will likely take either testimony or a recorded conversation to provide the smoking gun. Trump's fear of concrete evidence coming out is likely behind is bizarre charges that Obama and/or British Intelligence tapped his wires during the campaign. That accusation feels like the sort of weirdly specific charge issued by a paranoid and guilty mind.
4. Will somebody cut a deal? There's a lot of money changing hands right now to try to secure loyalty. Among the former Trump campaign staffers who haven't been able to get a security clearance for a White House gig it's hard to find one who isn't on a foreign payroll right now. But the FBI is pretty good at finding a wedge. Taking the fall and a long prison term sounds romantic in gangster fiction, but it plays out a lot differently when crony crooks face the option of hard time. Heck, given the rate at which Russian diplomats linked to this scandal seem to be dying premature deaths, the witness protection program may soon start to look pretty good.
So, what next?
Beats me. This is an unstable situation that continues to escalate. But the FBI moves at its own pace, so how quickly it comes to a true head is really hard to predict. Maybe they keep grinding out progress and get to the top eventually. Or maybe the FBI is only able to pin this on a fall guy like Roger Stone, and things ramp down eventually.
The betting odds that Trump gets impeached and removed from keep dropping -- now down to 10/11 at Ladbroke's. The odds seem likely to drop again after today's hearing.
That's worth repeating for emphasis. Two months into his first term a President whose party also controls Congress is now more than a 50-50 bet to be impeached and removed from office in his first term.
There's lots else that we could talk about: the lying, the more lying, the lying about the lies, the abandonment of his promises to working-class Americans about the sort of health-care reform he'd support, the myriad foreign policy blunders. But as I look around at the big picture today, it seems to me that the most astonishing thing is that the legal mechanisms for removing him from office are already in motion, despite the best attempts of the party that controls the White House and the Congress to stop them.
I expected a Trump presidency to be historically bad, but I didn't expect things to go downhill so quickly. Honest to Pete, we're just two months removed from the Inauguration and we're already hip deep in FBI and Congressional investigations.
As I quoted in my subtitle, this disaster can't possibly last four years. It just can't.