I haven’t seen anything yet to convince me that the Putin-Trump collaboration was a big deal. Ugly and unprincipled, sure, but politically consequential, probably not.
A contrary view, expressed by Harry Litman in today’s New York Times, is that this is the beginning of the end for the Trumpster. The evidence is accumulating that, between his election in November of last year and his inauguration on January 20 of this one, Trump and his inner coterie worked back channels to undermine Obama’s foreign policy. Litman characterizes these efforts as “abuses of power arguably well beyond those in the Watergate and Iran-contra affairs.” He further sees the possibility that Trump will be cited for obstruction of justice in his attempts to keep these activities secret.
I’m not convinced. On the face of it, Trump intervening in foreign policy after his election is less condemnable than Nixon’s secret disruption of a Vietnam peace deal during the 1968 campaign. The Nixon escapade was an open secret almost from the beginning, and he got away with it. Iran-Contra was nasty stuff, but Reagan made it through intact, as did his Nicaragua policy, and even the underlings caught red-handed survived and prospered.
But let’s not compare Trump to Nixon and Reagan; that just shows how old some of us are. Let’s speculate on the political fallout from a potential prosecutor’s report that Trump cut deals with Putin before taking office. Litman says this is something “that nobody on either side of the aisle could possibly defend.” Why not? What happens if the Republicans in the House and Senate say, hey, it’s just a bureaucratic detail, since he was already elected? And why wouldn’t they say this? How would that be any more outrageous than anything else they’ve said or done in recent memory? Who would stop them?