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Flynngate: the meltdown continues…

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At this point in the brief but increasingly troubling tenure of this current administration, we’re so used to scandals, conflicts of interest and foreign policy blunders that Trouble—with a capital “T,” as The Music Man might sing—has been normalized. This, of course, may well be the aim of Donald Trump, Steven Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and other Trump minions. If there’s so much bad stuff happening almost every day, the media can hardly be expected to follow up on any of it. Too much happening! Short attention span! And, in the interim, Trump & Team get away with the most remarkable breaches of conduct, if not actual crimes.

The latest scandal, of course, is this business with ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. That he deliberately lied to everyone is now proven. That he may have broken numerous Federal laws is likely. That he might have been subject to blackmail by Putin is eerily similar to the suggestions that Trump himself was beholden to Putin in the matter of the Dossier. And so—as Democrats are rightly pointing out—we are faced with the latest iteration of the most famous jurisprudential question ever posed concerning a U.S. President: What did Trump know and when did he know it?

Paul Ryan doesn’t seem to care, although you can see how squeamish he is every time he has to drag his buffed body in front of the cameras to respond to get another Trump disaster. “I’ll let the President speak for himself” is his dodge—embarrassing for him, painful for us to have to watch the Speaker of the House pretend that something we all know is awful doesn’t exist. Over in the Senate, McCain and Graham—as usual—are trying to have it both ways: burnishing their indie cred with skeptical-sounding words, but refusing to put their money where their mouths are by, for instance, demanding hearings. Kellyanne Conway, too, is in deer-in-the-headlights mode. She is so out of the loop, so distrusted by everyone at this point (and she looks so awful, the poor thing) that all she can say at her briefings is something along the lines of, “That’s what the President says.” And Trump himself? In one of his greatest lies to date, he claims the problem is—not Flynn’s motives, not his (Trump’s) own ties to Russia—but the “illegal leaks” by which we found out what Flynn did.

How about everyone’s favorite press secretary? The hapless Sean Spicer, who everyday looks and sounds more and more like Melissa McCarthy, faced the press yesterday—“the fun,” he now calls his daily briefings. What did he say? It hardly matters, because it’s what he didn’t say, and can’t say, that counts. He offered the standard excuse that Flynn had lost the President’s trust. Blah blah. What he dodged—either because he, too, is out of the loop and doesn’t know, or because he would lose his job if he told the truth—was what Trump knew about Flynn’s misdeeds and when he knew it. “The President has been incredibly tough on Russia,” Spicer lied—I swear I heard reporters laughing. He bragged about the “incredibly productive meeting” Trump had with Trudeau, even as reports have surfaced that the young, handsome, progressive Canadian Prime Minister’s body language suggested otherwise.

The Spiceman got in the requisite insults of Barack Obama, and claimed Trump’s historic backing of “civil rights.” (More laughter.) He promised that Trump will end “the Arab-Israeli conflict.” (Odds of that?)  But back to Flynngate. When Spicer finished his P.R. spin, reporters jumped on the Russian connection. Again, no answers. Not even the pretense of an answer. What did the President know? No answer. When did he know it? Since Spicer won’t acknowledge that the President knew anything, the timing of what he didn’t know is meaningless. Still, the reporters wouldn’t let it go; and all a sputtering, struggling Spicer could fall back on was “Flynn lost the President’s trust.” How about Kellyanne’s remark, made on Monday, that Trump still has “full confidence” in Flynn—only to have Flynn resign under pressure that night? “I’m not going to get into details.”

The poor reporters, they hardly know how to handle such mendacity, such stubbornness, such clichés. Reporters face severe constraints in this sort of media briefing. They depend on facts to ask hard-hitting questions, but when they are denied the facts, they’re stymied. A press briefing is not a good format to get to the bottom of anything. A solid investigation by a reputable newspaper, like the New York Times, is the way to dig up the truth—and we have to hope and pray that the Times and other great news organizations are doing just that. At the same time, Congressional and FBI investigations have the force of law and the subpoena—and these, too, are underway. We’ll find out, soon enough, what Trump knew and when he knew it. And then it’s game on.

And finally, how is that bastion of the right, the Wall Street Journal, handling this latest Trumpian fiasco? Not well. On page 4 is the propagandist, Gerald Seib, arguing that—despite the self-inflicted wounds our new President is inflicting on himself and his party every day—Trump still has a “chance for a reboot.” As if. I suppose Germans were arguing, right up to the end, that Hitler, holed up in his bombed-out bunker, could still win the war…miracle weapons and all that. We know how that turned out.

Of more substance—just a bit—is the paper’s second editorial yesterday. The Journal doesn’t like dealing with things, like Flynngate, that are so damaging to their cause, but they have to, in order to preserve whatever shred of journalistic integrity they still have (or believe themselves to still have). And so, there it is: What is the problem with Flynn? In the Journal’s opinion, spies—not Russian ones, but “U.S. spies,” who leaked Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador. The Journal–echoing the new party line–demands, not that this country get to the bottom of the ties between Trump and Russia, but that we find out who the leakers were!

This is classic bait and switch. Distract attention from the crime by pointing to something else. But wait, wasn’t it Donald Trump who urged Vladimir Putin to hack into Hillary’s emails and leak them?

Why, yes, it was.

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