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Tuesday night massacre: Trump’s Watergate moment

2017-05-12 00:00:56
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1923

The moment of truth has come for the United States. But in politics, truth is rarely told -- and if told, it is told for a self-centred motive. Therefore it is naïve to assume that the embattled White House will tell the truth and nothing but the truth with regard to the allegation that Donald Trump had collaborated with Russia to get elected at the November 2016 election. 


In Trump’s victory at the 2016 election, there is always more than meets the eye. So is it in Tuesday night’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, ostensibly on the grounds that he was not handling the Hillary Clinton email probe well.  Trump said he fired Comey “because he wasn’t doing a 
good job.”


But Comey was also conducting investigations into allegations that Russia had a role in the Hillary Clinton email leaks and that the Trump team collaborated with Russia to influence the outcome of the election. It was only days before he was fired that Comey sought more funds for the Russia probe. Sacking the FBI director is nothing unusual. Bill Clinton did it in 1993. But people smell a rat when it’s done in the midst of a crucial investigation. 


The allegations are serious. So is the sacking of Comey. The media could not resist the temptation of drawing parallels between the Comey crisis and the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon in 1974. 


Yes, it is now becoming more than clear that Trump’s Watergate moment has come. Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating allegations that the White House had a role in the break-in at the Democratic Party office situated at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC.
Analysts said that Cox was close to prove that Nixon was part of the scandal. He asked the White House to release the tapes of conversations the President had secretly recorded. Nixon refused to oblige. Despite a public outcry for the President to comply with the request, a defiant Nixon first issued an order instructing Cox that he should seek no further material from the White House, and then sacked him in what came to be known as ‘the Saturday Night Massacre’. Alas! It only expedited Nixon’s fall from whatever grace he had been left with by then. With the Democrats dominating Congress, Nixon faced the prospect of being impeached.  Unable to face the ignominy, he resigned.
Now, history appears to be repeating itself. 


Most opposition Democratic Party politicians believe that Comey was fired because, like Cox, he was closing in on the truth. What could this truth be? Given the controversies that scuttled Clinton’s chances at the election and Trump’s admiration for Russia, it appears that the allegations regarding Trump’s Russian connections are not totally without any basis.


Days before Trump’s inauguration on January 20, a dossier prepared by a former British spy working for private clients claimed that the Russians were in possession of some salacious video tapes of the President-elect. 


If these claims were true, then hats off to Putin for his ingenuity.  Perhaps, for the first time, a state, other than Israel, has demonstrated its ability to influence the outcome of the US presidential election. 


The claims that Putin had unleashed a regime change operation in the US are not altogether surprising, given his animosity arising from Washington’s disdain for Russia’s security concerns, especially with regard to Ukraine. A US-engineered coup in Ukraine in 2014 overthrew the pro-Russian government there, prompting Russia to annex Crimea.


The ex-British spy identified as Christopher Steele, by July last year, had collected enough material. He felt the information was explosive and its implications could be overwhelming. The agent shared his dossier with his friends in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but he doubted FBI chief Comey’s impartiality.  This was because, days before the elections, Comey scuttled Clinton’s chances of victory by announcing he was launching a fresh probe into Clinton emails – a move that, in the voters’ mind, raised questions about Clinton’s ability to hold the post of commander in chief. 
The Bureau indeed opened an investigation into Trump and his team’s dealings with Russia, though it did not make an announcement, fearing that it might be interpreted as interfering with the vote. But following a meeting Republican Senator John McCain had with Comey after the election, US intelligence chiefs – including Comey -- met the President-elect. They had showed him Steele’s dossier and a memo based on it. No sooner this meeting took place than CNN and Buzzfeed carried the dossier’s contents, prompting Trump to rubbish them as fake news and accuse the intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier to the media.


One of the shocking claims the dossier made was: Trump booked into Moscow’s Ritz hotel and occupied the same room President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle had once occupied. He had allegedly watched prostitutes perform a ‘golden showers’ act (urination) on the bed to express his deep dislike for the Obamas. 


The dossier claimed that the Russians were secretly filming the perverted sex acts in the room. If the claims are true, it means the Russians have compromising material or immense liverage on the next US president. 


Strangely enough, nothing brings out the Trump administration’s Russian connection like its decision last month to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria, Russia’s closest ally in the Middle East.  It was an attack aimed not so much at destroying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air power. It was rather a well calculated measure aimed at misleading the gullible American people into believing that Trump had no special love for Russia. 


On Wednesday, visiting the White House for a meeting with President Trump to further strengthen the ties were Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the diplomat in the centre of many a controversy linked to the Trump administration.  Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned in February following disclosures that he had discussed with Kislyak policy issues – including the possibility of lifting economic sanctions on Russia.  Apart from Flynn, several top Trump officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have come under scrutiny for their Russian links.


Fortunately, for Trump, the Democratic Party is in minority in both the Houses of Congress. Also, quite a number of Republican lawmakers are firmly behind him and are willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, in their support, the President will have some respite. But the question is: For how long? The US constitution, regarded as the best man-made document on the face of the earth, gives those who abuse political power enough ropes to hang themselves.


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