Frida Ghitis: President Trump's White House shouldn't be throwing up roadblocks to the investigations
The investigations are the only way to clear up a cloud of suspicion that could hang over the White House for the next four years, she writes
Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Forget all the investigations and the hacked email. Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked if Russia interfered in the US election. “Read my lips,” he answered, “No.” Putin said all the accusations, including the conclusion by 17 US intelligence agencies that Russia worked to help Donald Trump win, are “fictional, illusory, provocations and lies.”
The vast US intelligence community has already concluded that Putin’s statement is false. But another more important question remains: Did the Trump campaign collude with Russia in its efforts to subvert America’s democratic process?
The Russian interference, which former Vice President Dick Cheney labeled an “act of war,” is a serious matter. But if the sitting President of the United States and his team coordinated with a hostile power, the issue would be infinitely more serious. It would raise questions not only about President Trump’s legitimacy but also about the motivation for his policy decisions going forward.
That’s why it is baffling that Trump is not doing everything in his power to clear his name.
Like every person, Trump deserves the presumption of innocence. Fairness demands that we assume he is innocent and then look at the evidence to see if contradicts that assumption.
Trump has two choices. He can work to clear his name, to demonstrate his innocence, or he can fight the investigation. If he is, indeed, innocent, getting all the facts on the table, giving his version of events, would serve his cause. If he has something to hide, it may make more sense to disrupt the probe.
Trump and his advisers seem to be doing the opposite of what one would expect from an innocent party. In the meantime, the questions keep mounting; the record of unreported meetings, questionable decisions, and baffling efforts to push the country’s attention in a different direction make it look as if the administration has something to hide.
Now, Trump’s former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn – fired in a storm of controversy after unreported meetings with Russia’s ambassador – wants immunity from prosecution to tell his story. He once said, “When you’re given immunity… you probably committed a crime.” Trump himself has argued that seeking immunity is a sign of guilt, but on Friday, he tweeted, “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”
The American people want a serious, independent investigation. A recent poll found 63 percent of respondents are concerned about Trump’s ties to Russia; 66 percent say they want an independent commission to investigate possible links between Trump campaign advisers and the Russian government.
If Trump does not clear his name, his entire term of office will remain wrapped in a pungent cloud of suspicion; his agenda and his decisions, particularly on foreign policy, will always raise questions about whether they are meant for the benefit of America or for some other purpose.
FBI Director James Comey told Congress that the bureau has launched a counter-intelligence investigation into whether there was collusion between Trump campaign staff and the Russian government to affect the election.
After just two months in office, Trump’s approval ratings have already scraped below levels reached at any point during eight years of the Obama or Clinton administrations. The Russia questions are surely a factor.
The questions seem endless. Why did so many of his top aides lie or conveniently forget their meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak? Already, Flynn – who had received money from Russia – lost his job after we learned he spoke with the ambassador at least five times, including on the day then-President Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia.
The top goal in Putin’s agenda, remember, is getting the sanctions lifted.
Why did Attorney General Jeff Sessions meet with the Russian ambassador – twice – and then tell the Senate under oath that he “did not have communications with the Russians”? Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, a very close confidant.
And what’s behind Jared Kushner’s meetings with Russians, both the ambassador and Sergey Gorkov, the chairman of a Russian bank under US sanctions? Gorkov is not only close to Putin, he is also a graduate of the FSB academy, which trains people for Russia’s national spy agency.
And what about Paul Manafort?
The Trump administration, incredibly, described Manafort’s role in the campaign as minor. But that is hardly accurate. Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager. The campaign worked behind the scenes at the Republican National Convention to change the party’s platform to suit Russia’s interests, particularly regarding Ukraine. Manafort had worked with Putin’s allies in Ukraine, advising the presidential campaign of Putin ally Victor Yanukovych, who was ultimately deposed.
As Manafort’s legal controversies expand, the Associated Press says it reviewed documents confirming that a decade ago he signed a $10 million contract with a close Putin ally. In exchange for the millions, Manafort agreed to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet Republics to benefit Vladimir Putin’s government.”
Then there’s that curious character, Roger Stone, who all but bragged about being in touch with the Russia-linked hackers who went after Hillary Clinton’s campaign – and never after her rival’s – in a transparent effort to help Trump.
Stone, a longtime friend of Trump’s, tweeted about the hacking of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails before they were released, saying “It will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
The timing of the hacks and the leaks seemed uncannily helpful to the Trump campaign, distracting from his scandals.
Now Trump appears to be trying to distract from the new scandals, flailing about on Twitter with accusations that America’s closest ally, Britain, helped Obama spy on him, or asking that we focus on the Clintons instead of him.
Instead of working to clear Trump’s name, the White House is putting up roadblocks to the investigation. The Washington Post says it saw evidence that the White House tried to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, although now press secretary Sean Spicer says the White House wants her to testify. Then there are the late-night meetings at the White House of House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, adding to the sense that the Trump administration is not being exactly open about its dealings with Congress and the American people.
The Trump administration has two choices. So far, it is not clear the President is choosing the one that exonerates it.