Concentrated coverage of the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 campaign and the 24-hour news cycle with its minute-by-minute reporting have converted Washington into a kind of circus. The best seats under the tent are up high, where you can keep an eye on the multiple rings.
To your left, watch media performers act out their delivery of “breaking news” and headline-attracting scoops, such as this Post-exclusive jaw-dropper: “FBI questioned Trump campaign adviser … at length in Russia probe.”
To your right, watch as lawmakers perform choreographed acts of congressional oversight using skills honed to suggest they are doing something of consequence when they are only posturing. The possibility of Russians having their hooks into the Trump crowd is the last thing the GOP-controlled Congress wants to face.
In the center ring, find President Donald Trump himself, the greatest showman on Earth.
Watch as the ringmaster shamelessly tweets obnoxious comments about the other performing acts. Listen to his whining about “fake news” and witch hunts. See how he skillfully moves the circus audience away from notions of collusion, cyberattacks and Russia’s wanting him in the White House.
And what’s a circus without clowns? To wit: the trio of Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose antics are more cause for pathos than amusement.
Yet Washington’s Big Top Circus is, in truth, a mere sideshow.
The Main Event is being staged far from the public’s eye. It’s where special counsel Robert Mueller III, and his team of first-rate prosecutors and federal agents, are focused laser-like on the Russian government’s campaign to disrupt and undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential race; the possible involvement of Trump or his campaign with the attempted foreign sabotage; and Trump’s possible obstruction of justice in the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
The daily claims of Trump, his White House staff and personal counsel, and right-wing media that the FBI investigation has come up empty, call to mind the movie “The Untouchables,” and crime boss Al Capone’s sneering taunt to pursuing federal agent Eliot Ness: “You got nothing.”
Capone learned better. The Trump cabal’s dismissal of the federal probe is little more than a blustering attempt to put on a brave front.
Trump does not know what information the army of prosecutors and investigators are busily acquiring from witnesses at home and abroad, including, ta-da, possible sources within Trump’s own political and business circles.
Watergate got started like this.
The beginning of Richard M. Nixon’s demise was launched by the surreptitious penetration of the Democratic National Committee to steal information and set up means to illegally monitor DNC operations. The five arrested culprits, dismissed by Nixon’s press secretary as participants in a “third-rate burglary,” were found to be tied to Nixon’s own Committee to Re-Elect the President, appropriately known as CREEP.
After the break-in, Nixon OK’d the payment of hush money to the burglars. He went so far as to work with his staff to hatch a plan to have the CIA impede the FBI investigation - an act that led the House Judiciary Committee to vote an article of impeachment that prompted his resignation from office on Aug. 9, 1974.
Fast-forward to 2015.
Once again, thieves set out to surreptitiously penetrate the Democratic National Committee to monitor and steal internal information. This time, however, the cyber- intrusion was the handiwork of Russian agents. According to U.S. intelligence services, their assault on U.S. democracy, and other actions to disrupt the presidential election, were launched on the specific instructions of Russian President Vladimir Putin with the expressed objective of defeating, or at least damaging, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and helping to elect Trump.
Putin had his reasons for loathing Clinton. She took a hard line on Russia. She supported the 2011 protests against Putin’s government.
But the Kremlin also had its reasons for wanting Trump in the White House.
No American presidential candidate since Communist Party-USA boss Gus Hall has ever enjoyed greater Moscow acceptance.
Certainly no candidate in U.S. history, whether Democratic or Republican, has had deeper Russian business and financial connections than Trump.
He has even confirmed his business links to Russia and his meetings with Russian oligarchs closely connected with Putin.
What’s more, no White House prospect has had more campaign, business and family associates with personal ties to Russia’s politically connected.
In Trump, Russia saw the prospect of having a good friend in the White House. Probably, the best ever.
Helping get Trump there served the Kremlin’s best interests. And, of course, Trump’s, as well.
Mueller and the feds are not on a fishing expedition. They have been told what’s in the water. They are baiting their hooks and assembling all the facts about Putin’s operation to defeat or damage Clinton, including any swimmers on the American side who knew about and helped to achieve Putin’s wicked objectives.
That makes this not a circus, but an outright criminal probe. One day, Washington is going to learn the difference.
Colbert I. King is a Washington Post columnist.