Paul Begala: Donald Trump's complaints about leaks in Flynn case are a shiny object meant to distract from Russia contacts story
Ironic, he says: Trump won office largely due to leaks and well-timed Comey statements. Trump should shed light, not cry foul
Editor’s Note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He was a consultant to Priorities USA Action, the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
In the face of mounting revelations of contacts between his campaign advisers and Russian intelligence, Donald Trump’s best strategy is to come clean: release his tax returns, answer all questions, recuse Attorney General Jeff Sessions from any inquiries and fully cooperate with an independent investigation. That is the only way to put to rest once and for all the notion that the President is compromised by our adversaries in Moscow.
Skilled in the dark arts of deception, Trump instead is turning to a favorite tactic, one that has served him well in the past: Deploy weapons of mass distraction. “Look over there!” he yells, and we do. As a reality TV star, he knows our attention span is short, our desire for drama acute and our interest in shiny new objects extreme.
So he’s shouting “Sabotage!” He’s decrying leaks, and his allies are calling for an investigation of the leakers. Not of the Russians. Not of the campaign advisers who U.S. investigators’ allege spoke with Russians repeatedly throughout the campaign. Not of the supposed compromising information the Russians are reported to have on our new President. No, he’s attacking the whistleblowers.
Keep in mind that when he paid $25 million to people suing him for fraud over Trump University, he distracted the media by tweeting an attack on the cast of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Mr. Trump apparently thought it was rude for cast members to lecture Mike Pence about diversity and inclusion. Because we all know Donald Trump is a stickler for good manners.
But it won’t work this time. Because this time the story goes on, whether he likes it or not. Nothing short of full disclosure and an independent investigation will end the story of Russia’s attempt to tilt the election to Trump.
Donald Trump whining about leaks is like Jack the Ripper complaining about paper cuts. He is President in large part due to leaks. Had the Russians not hacked and robbed the emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, and then weaponized them through WikiLeaks, Trump would probably not be president. In a race determined by fewer than 80,000 votes, that’s hard to dispute.
And in the final days of the campaign, FBI Director James Comey released a letter which essentially reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails once again – based on….well, nothing. Turned out those Anthony Weiner emails had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s case. But the damage was done.
It should be noted that Comey apparently knew about the Trump operatives’ contacts with the Russians. But somehow that never leaked. The contrast between how Comey handled the Clinton case and how he handled the Trump-Russia case boggles the mind.
Donald Trump has benefited from leaks more than the CEO of Depends. So forgive me if I am unpersuaded by Trump’s complaints about them.
They will keep coming. Perhaps because the system of checks and balances seems to be broken. With Republican control of Congress, a full congressional investigation is unlikely. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) candidly told us why. “I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation,” Paul told the “Kilmeade & Friends” radio show. “Particularly of your own party. We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”
Republicans don’t investigate Republicans. Congressional Republicans will not fulfill their oversight obligations; that might interfere with important things, like kicking 20 million Americans off health insurance.
So sensible whistleblowers probably won’t go to the Hill. And they may not trust the Justice Department, either. After all, our new attorney general was an early and effective Trump supporter, and he has no appetite for recusing himself from investigating a campaign he played a crucial role in.
That leaves the free press. The Fourth Estate is the only option for whistleblowers. When the justice system seems compromised and congressional oversight is negligent, government officials with damning information are going to leak. And leak. And leak.
I suppose there is some poetic justice in seeing the man who was made President because of leaks potentially hobbled by them. If you live by the leak, you die by the leak.