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The Russia poison that’s paralyzing the Trump presidency

A hairless creature with thin
lips, beady eyes and the hint of a smirk on its face, it stalks animals
many times its size. A dragon attack often ends with the prey dashing
away with barely a scratch. The tiniest nip, however, is enough to
deposit a few drops of dragon saliva and start an infection. After a
slow death, the dragon feasts.

The
example of the Komodo lizard suggests a compelling political metaphor
for our time. The dragon is a calculating Vladimir Putin. The nip may
well have been delivered more than a year ago by Natalia Veselnitskaya, a
Russian lawyer with Kremlin connections. The victim is the Trump
presidency, which is in the grips of a festering and potentially fatal
scandal.
In the latest
twist in the Trump/Putin crisis, The New York Times has revealed that
the President’s son, Donald Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his
one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Veselnitskaya in June
2016, after being told she had Russian government information that could
be damaging to their opponent in the 2016 election.
And on Tuesday

the younger Trump released, via Twitter,

the chain of emails he apparently received prior to the encounter, in
which an intermediary told him the Trump team would receive “documents
and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with
Russia” and proffered “very high level and sensitive information”
described as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr.
Trump.”
These revelations could
point to the day and the location — Trump Tower — where Team Trump was
poisoned by the Russian campaign to destabilize American politics and
destroy Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Putin
bears a well-established animus toward Clinton and has been engaged in a
longterm effort to restore Russia, with an economy one-tenth the size
of America’s, to superpower status.
Accomplished
with computer hackers and a deluge of propaganda, Russia’s meddling in
the US election was cheap and effective and has burdened the Trump
presidency with a scandal that has diminished the United States’
standing in the world and made Team Trump appear at best inept and at
worst corrupt.
Ineptitude would be the
most innocent explanation for Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to meet with
Veselnitskaya on the recommendation of an acquaintance who represents a
Russian pop star, whose own father co-sponsored Donald Trump’s 2013 Miss
America pageant in Moscow. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
A
seasoned political pro would have recognized the danger, but Trump Jr.,
who belongs to a clan that considers self-confidence to be the same as
competence, not only welcomed Veselnitskaya but brought Kushner and
Manafort into the meeting.
During and
after the election campaign, President Trump and his aides have
repeatedly denied working with Russia to win the presidency. Instead of
thoroughly investigating the Russian cyberattack on behalf of the United
States, they have feverishly denied any collusion, lambasted those who
revealed hidden facts, and reminded the world over and over that they
won the election.
The President
himself denied any wrongdoing, attacked the integrity of the journalists
who reported on the burgeoning scandal, and attempted to quell the
“pressure” by suddenly firing FBI Director James Comey.
With each turn in this crisis, Team Trump has stumbled and writhed.

Trump Jr. first claimed

that
he was led astray by “an acquaintance” who didn’t even tell him the
name of the Russian he would meet. He said nothing of hoping to gather
some Russian dirt about Clinton, explaining instead that the discussion
was about restoring a process that let couples in the United States
adopt Russian orphans.
Less than
a day later came a second statement that confirmed that Trump Jr. had
been intrigued by a promise of Russian help in defeating Clinton, and
that the encounter included discussion of American sanctions against
Russian individuals and entities suspected of corruption and human
rights abuses. The law enabling these sanctions, the Magnitsky Act, is
named for a Russian whistleblower who died in custody after he claimed
Kremlin cronies had cheated the government.
Why Russia-probe investigators are looking at anti-money laundering database
The
Veselnitskaya chapter in the Trump/Russia controversy could have been
avoided completely if someone at Trump Tower, perhaps even Donald Trump
Jr., had put her name into an internet search engine and glanced at the
results that show her work against the Magnitsky Act sanctions — her
passion mirroring Putin’s anger over the sanctions, which he has called
“outrageous.” Instead, men who were among Donald Trump’s most trusted
advisers, piled into a room hoping for the delivery of some juicy
information.
To believe that

Trump Jr. welcomed

a
mystery guest from a hostile nation to meet in a room not far from
where the GOP candidate for President was at work, we would have to
believe he is dangerously lacking in intelligence and common sense.
Considering
Donald Jr.’s own claims to superior abilities, which he has made to me
personally, I have to think that he knew who was coming to see him, and
his excitement at what she might reveal moved him to draw in Kushner and
Manafort. According to the second statement issued by Trump Jr., “It
quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
In
another context, the Veselnitskaya episode would be relegated to the
barrel of oddities where one would find Billy Carter and Roger Clinton.
Instead, however, it appears to be a serious piece of evidence pointing
to the kind of possible Russia/Trump collusion that has been
consistently denied by the President, his aides, and his supporters.
45 years after Watergate, we're back in the same kind of mess
It comes after national security adviser Michael Flynn

was forced to quit

after it was shown that he had failed to declare payments from Russian entities. And it follows Jared Kushner’s

backward-looking correction

of
an application for a security clearance, which had initially omitted
his contacts with Russia. Add Attorney General Jeff Sessions’

failure to disclose his meetings with Russians

, and President Trump

yukking it up in the Oval Office

with Russian officials whom he told about his decision to dismiss the
“nut job” Comey, and the implications of the latest episode come into
focus.
In nature, the Komodo
dragon’s bite spells the end for its prey because it causes an
infection; injury is followed by raging illness and fever before its
target succumbs. In the case of Russia and the Trump campaign and
presidency, the danger posed by the dragon was ignored by a group that,
like its candidate, was aggressive to the point of seeming, at times,
unhinged.
Metaphorically, like the
dragon’s prey, they lacked the elements of a proper immune system
defense — humility, caution, and ethical limits — required to
preserve themselves. Nearly paralyzed, the administration now labors
under a cloud of scandal that casts a shadow over the nation and the
world, both of which have been deprived of proper leadership by the
White House.
If the dragon prevails, June 9, 2016 may be identified as the day the fatal wound was inflicted.
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