The constant turmoil concerning the confrontation between Donald Trump and former FBI Director James Comey conceals the true scandal: Russia tried to sabotage U.S. democracy and the president looks the other way. Why?
Comey was a ratings success. Almost 20 million Americans watched as the former FBI director testified as the key witness against U.S. President Donald Trump. Around 90 million more viewers followed parts of the Senate hearing online.
This confrontation will have its impact on the world this week too. Comey’s testimony raised new questions. Who is lying? Who is telling the truth? Did Trump commit a crime when he interfered in the FBI’s Russia investigation? As for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Comey’s direct superior at the time, what was his role? Sessions is also expected to explain himself to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday. Record ratings are guaranteed.
This televised squabbling makes us forget, though, what the point really was – and still is. We are talking about a far more serious danger that would have much worse consequences for America’s democracy than the power struggle between an egomaniacal president and a clever and inflexible subordinate.
Comey made this threat clear without beating around the bush. However, because of the personal drama contained in his testimony, nobody truly took notice.
“The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle,” said Comey. “They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. And it was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that.”
Let that sink in: Russia tried to sabotage America’s central political process. Thus, Moscow’s hackers did not just break into the servers of the Democrats, but rather into the computers of hundreds, if not more than 1,000, U.S. agencies, businesses and private individuals.
There is more. According to intelligence documents allegedly made public on the website Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner, who was arrested last week, Russian secret services even gained access to the company that produces voting software employed in eight American states. Among those, we find swing states Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
Trump Does ... Nothing
This modern Cold War is already paying off for Moscow. The U.S. is hopelessly divided; its society is deeply split and characterized by mistrust. In addition, thanks to Trump’s maniacal disdain for democratic rules, the whole system is deteriorating, both nationally and internationally. Comey expects further attacks by the Russians in the congressional election in the coming year and in the 2020 presidential elections: “They’ll be back.”
And yet, what does Trump do? Nothing. According to Comey, the president did not bring up this “big deal” once during their meeting. “Never?” pressed Sen. Martin Heinrich incredulously. “No,” repeated Comey.
Instead, Trump constantly trivializes Russia’s interference as “fake news” propagated by “sore”* Democrats, and attacks Comey, calling him a liar and a “leaker.” In the meantime, 25-year-old whistleblower Winner was been charged with revealing classified information and faces a sentence of up to 10 years. While the U.S. media delve into her private background, barely anyone discusses the terrifying knowledge she brought to light.
It is a headlong rush into destruction. Why is Trump covering for Russia? In the best-case scenario, because of his ego. People who question the elections devalue Trump’s victory in his eyes and nothing angers him more. To this day, he mentions – and exaggerates – the successful outcome he only barely achieved, even though seven months have gone by since then.
In the worst case, there is an unholy alliance between Moscow and Trump’s team, if not Trump himself. At least seven advisers had contacts with Russians before and after the elections, a fact that they sometimes “forget” to report.
What, why, how: This is something that can only be made clear by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, Comey’s predecessor as FBI director. Mueller is honorable and meticulous; he will take his time. During the weekend, the news came out that he has enlisted attorney Michael Dreeben, one of the top experts in U.S. criminal law.
Therefore, this surreal reality show is unlikely to end soon. Even Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 began much earlier with investigations into a real estate investment that had nothing to do with the later Lewinsky scandal. It took seven years before the impeachment process began.
*Editor’s note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be verified. Vladimir Putin and some conservative commentators have called Democrats “sore losers.”