US president Donald Trump's first 100 days have seen a White House engulfed in chaos and infighting.
But after Donald Trump Jr admitted on Monday that he met with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign at the behest of a Moscow-based singer with family ties to Trump's businesses, hoping to get information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, this scandal feels different.
Even to jaded newsmen who have seen everything. Legendary newsman Dan Rather took to Facebook, to exclaim:
"The American people deserve to know what in God's name is happening. Our legal system demands a presumption of innocence until the evidence proves otherwise. But the evidence is piling up," says Rather. "The revelations of the emails that set up the meeting between Donald Trump Jr – and let us not forget both Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner – with an agent of the Russian government is unlike anything I could even have imagined."
According to one White House staffer, speaking to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, what's happening behind the scenes is a 'Category 5 hurricane'.
In fact, some would say that this scandal is unpresidented. However, it can be instructive to look at the last time a scandal reached the inner circle of the President of the United States: Monicagate. Also known as the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which burst into the public consciousness in 1999, captivated millions, humiliated a young woman and imperiled Bill Clinton's second term.
Clinton had repeated sexual encounters with the young intern, and later lied about it when he was testifying in a case. The US House, which was controlled by Republicans, impeached Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice. Although the Senate eventually acquitted Clinton and allowed him to serve out his full term, his legacy was tarnished. Clinton remains only the second president in American history to be impeached. For now.
A rose by any other name
Now, as then, a special counsel was appointed. As Bill Clinton would learn, much to his sorrow, once a special prosecutor begins his investigation, no one can be quite sure what twist or turn the investigation will take. Remember, special counsel Kenneth Starr was appointed to look the Whitewater scandal when he stumbled on to Monicagate.
This time, former FBI chief Robert Mueller has been tasked to look at whether Trump's team colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in the president's favour. Mueller, who has assembled an all star legal team, is a notorious straight shooter and is unlikely to cut the president any ice or profess oaths of loyalty. Mueller's probe could easily expand into Trump's murky finances or his reported links with Russian oligarchs.
Journalist George Stephanopoulos, who worked in the Clinton White House, told CNN that the Trump White House had no idea what it felt like to work under the cloud of a special prosecutor. "They have no idea," Stephanopoulos said. "That ended up being what Bill Clinton got impeached over. Special counsels can go in any direction they want," he told CNN.
Minding the message
Trump, wisely, has hired a lawyer, who also interestingly has hired his own lawyer. However, controlling the messaging is everything. Adam Goldberg, who was White House special associate counsel during Clinton's administration told Talking Points Memo that if Trump's private attorney emulates Clinton attorney David Kendall, he might find himself losing control of the narrative.
“There was just a shutdown of information. For close to a year, the president didn’t go out and answer questions, he didn’t admit what happened or talk about it. It made it very, very difficult for us to communicate with the public. We were cut off and blindsided by news events. I think that was part of why he got impeached. He didn’t control the message,” he told Talking Points Memo.
Trump has reacted much the same way. Other than appearing on the ever friendly Fox News, the president has not made a public appearance since his return from Europe on Saturday. He is enraged that the Russia cloud still hangs over his presidency and is exasperated that his eldest son and namesake has become engulfed by it, according to The Washington Post.
Despite tweeting otherwise, the president reportedly spends his time obsessively watching television and raging against the media. Top White House officials and advisers say even his senior aides have not been spared his wrath. It's clear that the White House is, at this point, under siege and the president has lost control of the narrative.
According to a report in Vanity Fair, Bob Bennett, the Washington lawyer who represented Clinton said proving conspiracy is no easy task. “But it could be easier to prove false statements, and that’s the government’s favourite charge. I don’t see a criminal case yet. But Trump and his people are certainly making an effort to show that there is one.”
Bennett described Donald Jr's act of releasing his e-mails as a serious blunder. “I don’t see what benefit you get out of releasing something like those e-mails. A scandal needs oxygen,” he told Vanity Fair.
In retrospect, perhaps Donald Trump Jr should have done things a little differently.
Maybe those words by Clinton are destined to go down in infamy and become the new: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.
With inputs from agencies
Published Date: Jul 13, 2017 14:36 PM | Updated Date: Jul 13, 2017 14:36 PM