Story highlights

Errol Louis: It's time for Americans to ponder the gravity of the scandal engulfing the White House

Louis: Expect more pressure on Pelosi to speak the truth: Top Trump officials have been lying about Russia

Editor’s Note: Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

CNN —  

Can Democrats finally start talking about impeachment, Nancy Pelosi?

The leader of the party’s House conference warned last month against harping on the impeachment of President Donald Trump. “It’s not someplace that I think we should go,” she said on CNN.

As a skilled politician and former speaker of the House, Pelosi has forgotten more about national politics than most of us will ever know. But recent events suggest she may be off base here – that it’s time for the American public to ponder the gravity and consequences of the scandal engulfing the White House.

It will take time for all of us to fully absorb the mind-boggling fact that Michael Flynn – who as national security adviser was entrusted with safeguarding the nation – has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador.

At a minimum, Flynn’s guilty plea Friday utterly destroys the repeated claims by President Trump and his team that concerns about collusion with Russia amount to a petty distraction – a “nothingburger,” as Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., called it.

Back in May, the President publicly called the investigation of Russian meddling a “hoax” and a “taxpayer funded charade.” As recently as last week, Trump issued another statement on Twitter, complaining that “Since the first day I took office, all you hear is the phony Democrat excuse for losing the election, Russia, Russia,Russia.”

We now know that concerns about Russia links are not a nothingburger, charade or “phony Democrat excuse,” but a well-justified suspicion of criminal activity, to which Trump’s top security adviser has pleaded guilty.

We also know that Flynn did not act alone. If you read through the official plea papers signed by Flynn, he admits – on pain of perjury – to speaking with unnamed senior members of the Trump transition team before and after contacting the Russian ambassador about how to moderate Russia’s response to American economic sanctions. Flynn later lied to the FBI about those conversations with the ambassador.

Flynn is not the only Trump figure caught lying about Russia connections. A close look at the timeline of events shows that on January 27 of this year – three days after Flynn lied to the FBI about his calls with the Russian ambassador – a low-ranking foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, met with the FBI and also lied about his own contacts with Russian officials.

We know that President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in part because Comey would not back off from investigating links to Russia in general and Michael Flynn in particular. On February 14, according to Comey, the President told him in a closed-door meeting: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”

Comey did not let anything go, and was fired on May 9. Two days later, in a nationally televised interview, Trump explained exactly why he sacked the FBI director, telling NBC anchor Lester Holt: “When I decided to (fire Comey), I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

This Russia thing with Trump is not a made-up story. We know Trump has been trying in every way possible to deny, delay or discredit efforts by the Justice Department to ferret out the connections between the administration and a hostile foreign power.

And we know the commander in chief’s efforts aren’t working. Friday, CNN’s Jim Sciutto put the question directly to Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: Has the President been lying about Russia?

“Abundantly and frequently, and in just about every way,” Schiff said. “When he says to the country ‘we don’t know,’ that’s a lie. When he says ‘we had no contacts with the Russians,’ that’s a lie. When his son says ‘I had no contacts with Wikileaks,’ that’s a lie. When General Flynn said ‘I never discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador,’ that was a lie. And unfortunately, the list goes on and on.”

Schiff added, for good measure: “This may not be the last guilty plea we see.”

Expect to hear more tough talk like that from Democrats – and more pressure on Pelosi and other national Democratic leaders to speak the truth about what everybody now knows: People at the highest level of the Trump campaign, transition and administration have been lying about their connections and conversations with Russia.

That’s going to be a potent issue in the 2018 elections, no matter how many politicians try to tell us there’s nothing to see here.