Rutland Herald and Montpelier Times Argus

March 25th, 2017

 

In the Prague Spring of 1968, a brave group of Czechoslovakian reformers tried to escape from the dictatorship of the Soviet Union. Their effort was ruthlessly put down by Soviet tanks. But in 1989  Prague, Warsaw, Budapest and East Berlin all successfully threw off their Russian bonds and by the end of 1991 the Soviet Union and its communist party ceased to exist.

Could it be that the spring of 2017 is the American Spring – a season of renewal and rebirth - a time when it will unmask and protect itself from future crippling Russian influence in its political process? A time when it will, through constitutional, non-violent means, begin to shed the regime of President Donald J. Trump, which in just two months has done more to seriously undermine the image of the United States as a stable democracy and reliable ally than any previous administration in the history of the Republic.

The possibility of an American Spring, by which this country can again become true to itself - emerged from a dramatic Congressional hearing on the first day of spring this past week. I am sure you have seen the headlines and some of the news clips, but I want to revisit this hearing and to establish its potentially historic consequences.

Let me begin with FBI Director James Comey’s statement to the House Intelligence Committee.

 “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our intelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”

In a sense, nothing in this statement should come as a surprise, as much of this information merely confirmed what we had heard or read in the public domain. And yet, as spoken by the director of the FBI in a public hearing it carries great import.

As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson began his column on the subject, “The FBI is investigating whether persons involved with President Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russian officials to help Trump win the election. Let that sink in for a moment. Take a deep breath, exhale and try to imagine where this might lead.” To that end I was taken by a quote from the respected historian Douglas Brinkley who said, “There’s a smell of treason in the air.”

But let’s not get carried away. While the FBI investigation has been underway since last July, it will be months and could be years before its investigation is complete – and it may be inconclusive. But as a number of Republican’s have noted, this puts the Trump administration under a cloud.

The White House would have us believe that there is absolutely no evidence of any collusion between Trump people and the Russians. But as Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is the number two on the House Intelligence Committee, there is plenty of “circumstantial evidence” as well as hard evidence that some Trump people have been lying to cover up their contacts with Russia.

In his statement, Schiff laid out a long list of unexplained coincidences that need investigation. For example:

-that following former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador in Washington just after President Obama had expelled dozens of Russian “diplomats,” Vladimir Putin decided not engage in reprisals against US officials in Moscow. Why? We do know that Flynn lied to Vice President Pence about his Russian conversations and was fired once those lies become public knowledge. Flynn’s own Moscow ties also need further explanation.

-that onetime Trump adviser and self- described political dirty-trickster Roger Stone, boasts of being a buddy of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, who published the Democratic party documents hacked by the Russians. Stone predicted ahead of time that Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta was going to be victimized by WikiLeaks. Indeed he was.

-and while former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort denies contact with Russian intelligence, according to a new report in the Associated Press, in the early 2000s he was an adviser on Eastern European matters to a Russian oligarch known for his close ties to Putin. Around 2007 Manafort became a highly paid political guru to Putin’s hand-picked Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovitch.  When he was driven from power in 2014 Yanukovitch fled to Russia where he remains in exile.

Congressman Schiff ended his statement, “It is possible that (these and other facts) are completely unrelated and nothing more than an unhappy coincidence. Yes it is.

“But it is also possible, even more than possible, that they are not coincidences, not unrelated……we simply don’t know. Not yet.”

It’s worth noting that most Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee did not condemn the Russian attempt to interfere in the 2016 election. They, like Trump, fear that could delegitimize his victory. Instead, they focused all their fire on the leaks to the news media, which resulted in General Flynn’s dismissal. Find the leakers and blame the media for publishing the leaks. Both should face criminal prosecution. That was the Republican message.

For there to be an American Spring, when this country can renew itself, the willingness of Republican’s in Congress to acquiesce in Trump’s bizarre behavior will have to change. There really is no way Trump's term can be shortened without them - either through impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

However, Trump's approval rating recently dropped down to 37. If or when it gets to 30 or lower, that almost certainly would shake up his support among those facing the voters in 2018.

In other words, America’s national nightmare can be peacefully ended before its nature as a good, kind, generous and truly free society is fundamentally changed



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