Taylor Armerding

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net.

CNHI News Service

There are dozens of stories swirling around the connections between the Russians and associates of President Trump, along with the Russians’ alleged meddling in last year’s presidential election. Indeed, it seems there is a new “bombshell” or “firestorm” revelation every day.

But they all basically fall into two story lines. One: Has there been collusion between Trump associates and the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin? Two: Who are those behind the rampant leaks of classified information – which are felony crimes – collected by U.S. intelligence agencies that have identified so many Trump associates in connection with Russia?

As is predictably and lamentably the case, each party wants only one of those stories told. They both need to be told. In fact, if the parties care at all about restoring some of the bipartisanship they allegedly support, this would be a place to start.

If both stories don’t get told in a credible way, it will undermine faith in democracy that both parties claim to care so much about.

Republicans are increasingly guilty of what, last fall, could be described as Hillary Clinton syndrome.

As the Washington Post put it this past week, members of the Trump administration have “said repeatedly that attention should be focused on who unmasked and leaked, rather than on the information revealed.”

Good point. It’s just ironic that the Post never seemed much concerned about that last fall when Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, was asked many times about the “information revealed” in emails dumped by Wikileaks from the Democratic National Committee and from her campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Clinton’s stock response was to duck the question by saying “the real story” was Russian interference.

Yes, Russian interference was a real story. But so was the information. That is the case here, as well.

If Republicans ignore, or try to duck questions about the increasing list of Trump associates connected to Russia, they look like they are trying to hide things that may be illegal, or at least unethical.

Trump’s associates may have done nothing more serious here than what Democrats have done in the past regarding Russia, including Clinton’s famous “reset” button presented to the Russian ambassador, or President Obama’s promise to Russia’s then-president that he would have “more flexibility” on missile defense once he made it past the 2012 election.

But the way to get past the story is to get the story out. Republicans should stop the diversion on “Story One,” and push harder to get a thorough investigation completed. Otherwise, the “drip, drip, drip“ will crush their ability to get much of anything else done.

Democrats, on the other hand, seem not just unconcerned but supportive of leaks that would seem to validate their story line – that Russian collusion with Trump and his associates essentially stole the election from Clinton.

A recent example is Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser. Rice, like Clinton (and yes, like President Trump too!) has an, uh, unusual relationship with the truth.

But even her most famous lie – that the planned terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead was really just a spontaneous demonstration by people angry with a YouTube video – left her relatively unscathed, at least in the eyes of mainstream media.

And, this past week she was back again, with a carefully choreographed response to reports that she had been connected to the leaking of the names of Trump associates, which were classified and supposed to remain secret.

The problem is not the “incidental” collection of intelligence on American citizens who are communicating with others – generally foreigners – who are the actual targets of surveillance.

That is both inevitable and understandable.

One problem – and there are several – is that the rules, which FBI Director James Comey has said his agency is “obsessive” about following, require that names of U.S. citizens who are not targets of the surveillance be redacted, or “minimized.”

And, as we have seen, there has been rampant and highly selective “unmasking” of certain names – those that just happen to be those of Trump associates.

Another problem is that it is only intelligence agencies – the FBI, CIA and NSA – that are authorized to unmask the identities of citizens caught up in incidental collection. Recent word is that Rice requested that some identities be unmasked.

Rice, who claimed a couple of weeks ago that “I know nothing” about the matter, was a White House staffer, not part of the “intelligence community.” 

So she went to what is known in the trade as one of her “pet” journalists – Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Mitchell, the famous “journalist,” scored a big “get” – the interview of the week that was endlessly replayed on other networks and social media. Rice got a lapdog, not a watchdog, to ask “straw man” questions that are easily knocked down and aren’t even really at issue.

It was almost as though it was scripted in advance.

“I leaked nothing to nobody,” Rice said – the soundbite that was replayed again and again. Of course, she didn’t. That isn’t the relevant question, which is whether she sought to unmask the names of those in the Trump orbit. Because we all know that if she did, there are numerous others who would leak it, so Rice wouldn’t have to get her hands dirty and could answer Mitchell’s question “honestly.”

That real question never got asked.

Where is former “Saturday Night Live” star Dana Carvey when we need him to morph into the Church Lady and observe “how convenient” for Susan Rice?

Meanwhile, neither of two crucial stories is being credibly told.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net

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