We have reached the point where not only do Donald Trump’s scandals, crimes and abuses anger and disturb us, but they begin to boggle our minds. There is almost too much to take in. Few instances of our president disgracing his office illustrate this so well as the newly exposed scandal concerning the bounties Russian military intelligence put on the heads of American and allied troops in Afghanistan.
These bounties are not an isolated incident, but are linked to multiple ongoing patterns of wrongdoing, corruption, incompetence and unfitness that extend throughout the entire Trump presidency and even into his campaign for the office.
The facts behind this case are still emerging, but we know a few key details from reliable accounts in multiple trusted news organizations. The White House learned of the Russian military intelligence program to offer cash bounties to the Taliban for kills of Americans or our allies early in 2019. Then National Security Adviser John Bolton personally briefed the president last year on the intelligence detailing the Russian program. This year, reports on the program appeared in the President’s Daily Brief on at least two occasions. Yet information about the Russian bounty program was not shared with Congress, as the law mandates.
When the story finally broke, the White House initially claimed it was “fake news.” When the facts became too widely known to be denied, the president first briefed not Congress but only Congressional Republicans at the White House, contrary to all existing norms in such matters. The White House has argued this week that the president was not briefed on these matters. When that was disproven, it argued that he did not recall the briefing (on Tuesday afternoon, the White House said that Trump had just been briefed on the information that had been in his daily written intelligence briefing in February). Leakers were decried in an effort to distract from the core story. But at no point have the core facts of the matter been denied.
Since Bolton’s briefing, Trump has remained in regular contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not only is there no evidence that the U.S. protested the program or did anything to stop it, but Trump sought to reward the Russians with attendance at the G7 Summit that was to be held in the U.S. and by advocating for them to join that group. He also invited the Taliban to Camp David, although the invitation was later rescinded.
So we are left, based on news reports and White House responses to grapple with several competing potential scandals. There is either the potential that such a program existed and the president was not briefed about it, or the scandal that the president was briefed but ignored or forgot about it. There is also the scandal that the administration knew of this Russian-Taliban collaboration and did not share the information with the Gang of Eight or the intelligence committees in Congress. We should not forget in this welter of scandals the scandal that should be associated with them lying to the American public when the story broke, of their continuing to lie, of their continuing to target leakers and whistleblowers who show more patriotism than the president.
But of course, none of these scandals exist in a void. If we were to suffer the president’s ignorance of the facts, it would not be the first time. Nor would it be a first for officials in the administration not to want to share information with the president that he did not like. We have often seen the president ignore intelligence with which he was presented. Likewise, an enduring theme of this presidency is the president rewarding Russia despite regular evidence being presented that they are an active enemy of the U.S., attacking us via every means available to them.
Does this White House lie? This president? Constantly? Do they try to sidestep their obligations to Congress and by extension to the American people? The answer to all of these is yes. Just this past week it was revealed they are seeking to find ways to avoid needing Congressional approval for overseas arms sales.
Would this be the first scandal pertaining to Bolton? The first instance in which the president’s corrupted intelligence community leadership placed political loyalty ahead of their sworn duty to the nation? The first lies from Ratcliffe or Meadows or McEnany? The answer to all of these is no.
Nor of course would this be the first instance in which this fatally flawed president of the United States was revealed to be unfit for his office, cavalier about American lives, contemptuous of the truth, and of Congress, and of his oath of office. This would not be the first time that fair-minded Americans would conclude that this president had betrayed the country, that he in fact was a traitor.
As such, shocking as this week’s revelations have been, as much as we have yet to learn about this case, its greatest impact comes when we see it as a prism showing the manifold defects of this president, his presidency, this Administration, its defenders and supporters on Capitol Hill and those overseas.
This is a man helped into office by our enemies, who chose to serve those enemies rather than his country. Selling us out, putting us at risk and sacrificing American lives is what he does.
The tragic loss of the lives of our soldiers is part of a legacy of blood and failed leadership that extends from the cages full of children at the border to the unnecessary deaths in Puerto Rico, from the butchered corpse of Jamal Khashoggi to the tens of thousands who need not have died in this pandemic to these soldiers and marines who deaths were paid for by the president’s closest ally in the world.
The most shocking part of this complex, many-layered, major scandal is that no aspect of it is new, none stands apart from that which came before or that which is likely yet to come, nothing about it is shocking at all.