By J.D. Munch
In case you have not yet learned this, President Trump is a prolific liar. This was true years ago, and it remains true today. Anyone holding notions of a presidential turn that would reveal a new gravitas and respect for the institution in which he operates should, by now, accept that this is not and will not become the case. He averages more than four lies per day, with no sign of slowing down. He lies about who he has talked to and what they have said, about the size of his crowds and the number of his accomplishments. No topic is too big or small.
When we consider the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian operatives, this must remain the context through which we analyze what we uncover. Every opportunity that Trump has, he proclaims that the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt” and “fake news,” and he bellows over and over that the investigation is a sham because there is “no evidence” of a Russian connection or any collusion by Trump or his campaign. We should take those claims with exactly the amount of respect due to the statements of any other person with no regard for the truth. And seemingly with every week that passes, we discover new information that undermines the story Trump is peddling.
Trump’s Pursuit of Business in Russia
Trump has stated often that he has no business interests in Russia. He claimed during the campaign not to have any connections that would undermine his ability to deal with Russia as needed. In the meantime, though, he continues to cast doubt on the idea that Putin meddled in the presidential campaign, and has taken a decidedly pro-Russia stance almost every time he has made a statement on that country. The questions about his ties to Russia include the infamous Steele dossier, but come as much or more from the way Trump behaves toward Putin and Russia.
Of course, we do not need a Maury Povich lie detector episode to know Trump is not being forthcoming. We know he has pursued business interests in Russia, and now know that in 2015, after he had begun his presidential campaign, he personally signed a letter of intent to look in to building a Trump Tower in Moscow. Emails surrounding the proposed deal suggested that Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen and Trump Organization associate Felix Sater openly discussed the idea of building relationships in Moscow that would lead to a Trump presidency. Trump was told at least three times about this proposed deal, besides putting his own signature on the letter of intent.
Conflicts of Interest Abound
Part of Trump’s defense of this, of course, is that the transaction never occurred, and that the activities of the Trump Organization were unrelated to the presidential campaign. And that would be fine, if it were true. Unfortunately, this is a powerful example of why Trump’s business entanglements create conflicts of interests for him as president. When Trump was pursuing the Oval Office, he was also trying to get a foothold in Russia for his business. He had not yet ceded nominal control of his companies to his sons, meaning he was ultimately responsible for the activities of both his campaign and his company. One required him to maximize his corporate profits, while the other was required to act ethically under the campaign laws and ultimately demonstrate a commitment to public service.
The latter, of course, is something Trump has yet to do, seven months into his disastrous presidency. He continues to act against the best interests of the nation, instead lashing out against every perceived attack, lying to the American people at every opportunity, and slashing regulations in place to protect workers and the environment. Trump shouts from the rooftops about the greatness of his presidency, but does so without taking into account anyone he is expected to serve. His position is about stroking his own ego and lining the coffers of his businesses.
This is why Trump’s refusal to divest his businesses matters. Every time he travels, he goes to a Trump property. He spends millions of taxpayer dollars to meet in non-secure environments with foreign leaders, to golf almost every weekend, and to tweet when he should be leading. Everything he does pushes his brand and pours money into the organization. Whether he runs the organization in name or not, he knows that he is acting to improve the profits his company generates, whether or not that serves the country. Not only does this represent a clear conflict of interest, but it shows that where there is a conflict, he will always choose his business interests first.
Collusion and Obstruction
This, in itself, makes Trump a dangerous man to be in the Oval Office. The Constitution was drafted with the idea of a President taking a role of grave responsibility to the nation, and serving with a clear focus on the good of the United States. Republicans and Democrats for years have occupied the White House with this understanding; while they may believe in different visions of what is best for the country, they always cared. Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, the other Bush, and Obama all made mistakes. Each of them was a human being, flawed in different ways. But each one cared about how they served the United States.
Trump, from all appearances, wants to be seen as a great man. But everything he does comes in service to himself. He lies constantly because he wants to promote himself and give himself a chance to serve as the savior to a country that needs not a savior, but real leadership. He sets up rhetorical enemies and attacks them, through Twitter and campaign speeches and a network of followers ready to back him up on any disgusting thing he says or does. In doing so, he ignores the role of President as uniter; he consciously divides the nation into favored and unfavored classes. And he will do anything he can do to push his own agenda.
And here we reach the crux of the Russia problem. We have clear evidence that members of Trump’s campaign met with Russian officials, and then lied about it. We now know that Trump, too, was working with Russian interests for some combination of his business and political interests. He did not extricate himself fully from either one of those, instead choosing to commingle everything throughout. This violates campaign rules and sets up exactly the kind of collusion that we are seeing unfold, with a Russian government that was clearly—and with a consensus from the entire U.S. Intelligence community confirming—operating to try to get Trump elected. Despite the Trump statements that there is no evidence of collusion, new evidence comes out every day.
And the flip side of the apparent collusion remains that most potent source of a potential impeachment: obstruction of justice. Every lie Trump has told serves as an attempt to impede the investigation into the Russian role in the 2016 election. Every misdirection, every veiled or open threat to investigators, and every fired official lines up as part of a pattern of obstructing justice. He has flailed against the pursuit of justice at every opportunity. These are not the actions of a man who believes himself to be innocent, but rather the rantings of a man terrified at what the investigation might uncover. Every protest makes clearer the undeniable fact that he has something to hide.
In the end, Trump remains motivated by what is best for Trump. The investigation by Robert Mueller’s team does not fall within that category. We have meetings in which Trump associates, including his son and son-in-law, met with Russians in the attempt to get foreign intelligence with which to attack his opponent. We have every intelligence organization within the government agreeing that Russia was working to try to help Trump win. We have Trump soft-pedaling every statement about Russia, disputing the intelligence consensus, and lying about every instance of contacts between the campaign and the Russian government. Despite Trump’s lies about the topic, every bit of this is evidence that there was some collusion.
Trump has performed poorly in every aspect of the presidency: foreign relations, domestic policy, and basic constitutional understanding. He embarrasses the United States on the international stage, and he encourages hatred within our own country. Those who continue to defend him do so on blind loyalty—the only kind Trump can inspire. No one examining his record with anything approaching objectivity believes he is a good president. But beyond this, he has assaulted the very government institutions he should be leading. His collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice on all fronts cannot continue. We must keep resisting his agenda and his ongoing deterioration of an office that, just a year ago, inspired Americans and immigrants alike. It is time to move on from this odious President.