LAST Saturday had the potential to be one of the great news days of 2018, and it delivered on that promise. In the continuing, deepening battle between Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the US Department of Justice and the FBI on one side and American president Donald Trump and his scarred administration on the other, last Saturday could have represented a home run for either side.
In the end, a referee might have called it a draw.
Like most big city dailies with aspirations for national significance, The Washington Post faced a dilemma when measuring up the biggest stories of the day. Mueller and his investigative team delivered a major result with the announced indictment of 13 people and three companies for criminally interfering with the 2016 US presidential election. A lot of Russians were included in the indictments.
Not that he or his supporters likely care, but the indictments appear to lay bare yet another Trump bit of misdirection. For over a year, Trump has dismissed the claims of Russian interference in the US election as “fake news”, perpetuated by Democrats looking for any excuse to delegitimise his victory in the presidential race.
Not only is it now obvious that the Russians under KGB-trained leader Vladimir Putin did exactly what they had been accused of doing, but earlier in the week, some of America’s most respected senior intelligence officials had issued a public call to arms by advising that the Russians are actively preparing for even more skullduggery, presumably also in support of the Republican party and Trump, in the coming congressional elections this November.
The Post ran the following banner headline on the top of its Saturday front page: “Russians indicted in 2016 election interference.” While the main story detailed the Justice Department charges, a second item reported that “what the President calls a ‘hoax’ turns out to be real.”
So how could Saturday represent a no decision in the media for the president? Just below the top story, the Post chose to run another story that could have major implications for all the issues in the stories running above it.
The Post headlined “FBI failed to act on warning about Fla suspect” in the tragic massacre in a Broward County school which claimed 17 lives. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter, a disaffected, mentally unbalanced young man with a history of threats and bizarre behaviour, had been tipped to the FBI on a public hotline six weeks before last week’s horrific shootings, but the Bureau had not apparently acted on the information.
To the agency’s credit, the FBI readily admitted its failure, rather than adopting the far more common Washington response of stealth, subterfuge and cover up.
Some Republican legislators are predictably already calling for the resignation of FBI’s newly Trump-appointed director Christopher Wray. But whatever fate has in store for Wray, it seems unlikely that Trump, his administration and his acolytes on Capitol Hill will miss this opportunity to further attempt to impugn the integrity and competence of the FBI and the Department of Justice.
The more the Trump team attacks its accusers, the greater is the likelihood they will hit on an issue that might resonate with voters and instill some doubt as to the truthfulness or objectivity of Bureau or Department findings in matters touching more directly on the president, such as the Russia election tampering probe.
Two other stories that came out on Saturday might persuade Trump to reflect a bit. In one, it was revealed that son-in-law Jared Kushner has never received the proper security clearance for the types of highly classified information to which he has regular, daily access. Perhaps chastened by his perceived laxity in dealing with alleged wife-beater Rob Porter the previous week, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will supposedly now restrict information access for people like Kushner whose foreign contacts put them in a questionable security clearance category.
In the other news item, a former Playboy model revealed she had received money to conceal a lengthy affair with Trump soon after he married Melania. But does anyone really care? Who can still be shocked or offended by this president? Perhaps we will find out in November.