WASHINGTON — Average citizens, political insiders and journalists cannot keep up. In each day, three or four once-in-a-forever bombshells seem to drop regarding some aspect of the Russia and obstruction of justice scandal(s). On Friday alone we learned:
“The Times reports that an official transcript of the meeting between [President] Trump and Lavrov includes Trump calling [former FBI director James B.] Comey a ‘nut job’ and, more significantly, that he ‘faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off,’ thanks to the Comey firing. (The White House didn’t deny that report; one official claimed that Trump was simply trying to establish a better bargaining position.)
“The Post followed up with a scoop of our own: The federal investigation into Russia included a focus on a senior White House official. In other words, someone working closely with Trump at the moment is currently under scrutiny.
“Over at McClatchy, there was news that [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein informed members of Congress that the investigation into Russian meddling now included an assessment of whether there had been a coverup.”
And before the day was done, we learned from CNN: “Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated a strong relationship with former Trump adviser retired Gen. Michael Flynn and believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team.” Oh, and CNN also reported that Comey “believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe.”
By day’s end, recalling what happened just 24 hours earlier becomes challenging. You can attribute the pace of revelations to extraordinary journalism (blasted out by social media in a 24/7 news environment) and the flood of leaks that spill out faster that journalists and voters can soak them up. Moreover, uniquely in this scandal, the president himself cannot keep from spilling the beans in interviews and meetings (with the Russians, no less!).
Given the number of people potentially involved in the scandal and the legal peril in which Flynn finds himself, prosecutors may have any number of witnesses they can “flip,” allowing the investigation to surge ahead at an even faster clip. The news comes faster than we can grab hold of it.
Most Washington scandals (Iran-contra, Watergate, Monica Lewinsky) evolved over many months and years. In the case of the Trump fiasco, one senses we will have a full accounting far sooner than that. Witness interviews, depositions, document requests and grand jury testimony will need to take place, but we can imagine this all coming to a head this year.
Forget the overly ambitious GOP agenda (healthcare, tax reform, trade renegotiation). It is hard to see how the White House will manage less august tasks (keeping the government open, completing a fraction of the political appointments). A chief executive who never understood the dimensions of the job will find it hard to function at all for very long under such conditions, especially when he does not trust his staff.
We face the prospect, a dangerous one, of an immobilized White House. A wounded president and paralyzed government pose a great enticement for foreign aggressors to strike. The chaos Trump creates will begin to affect markets, which abhor uncertainty. In short, Congress, the Justice Department and the FBI need to work diligently and quickly. The country requires a functioning chief executive and commander in chief. We will not have one as long as Trump remains in office.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.