On the morning of inauguration day, I awoke to a cold, gloomy, lightly falling rain, and an alarming New York Times story concerning the man who would, in a matter of hours, become the 45th president of the United States.
The investigation of Russia’s role in Donald Trump’s election victory, it appears, is just heating up:
“American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of [Trump], including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.“
As I read the story, TV coverage showed Donald and Melania Trump heading for the White House to have tea with the Obamas.
“The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.“
The TV coverage cut back to the U.S. Capitol, where dignitaries had gathered—one of my favorite parts of the spectacle. It was during this parade eight years ago that an NBC announcer had mistakenly confused Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother, for Reggie Love, an Obama aide. Obviously, he mistook one black guy for another black guy. There was no chance of that happening during today’s inauguration because there was hardly a black guy in sight.
“It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself. It is also unclear whether the inquiry has anything to do with an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and other attempts to disrupt the elections in November. The American government has concluded that the Russian government was responsible for a broad computer hacking campaign, including the operation against the D.N.C.“
Back at the Capitol, Steven Bannon made his entrance. He’s the former Goldman Sachs investment banker and one-time executive chairman of Breitbart News, who played a role in turning the far-right website into a must-read for Americans terrified that Obama was turning the country over to Muslims, Mexicans, and black militants. As part of one deal he helped broker during his days as an investment banker, Bannon was compensated with a stake in Seinfeld. (Yes, Seinfeld.)
“The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.”
On my TV, former House speaker Newt Gingrich was chatting with Sheldon Adelson, who made his fortune running an empire of casinos in Vegas, Singapore, and China—among other places. Adelson’s a big contributor to the Republican Party—in the fall, he donated $25 million to Future45, a PAC that blasted Hillary. He said something that made Gingrich laugh. (Better laugh at those jokes, Newt—Adelson’s paying the bills.)
“Mr. Manafort is among at least three Trump campaign advisers whose possible links to Russia are under scrutiny. Two others are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative.“
Onto the Capitol steps came Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for secretary of education. Her father is the billionaire owner of an automobile parts supply company. Her husband is the billionaire son of the guy who founded Amway. She herself runs an investment firm. If approved by the Senate, DeVos pledges to do what she can to redirect money from regular public schools, whose teachers are unionized, to private schools, including religious ones, whose teachers are not unionized. She says she’s doing this because she loves children, especially poor black ones. I’m sure it’s only a coincidence that she’ll also be undercutting teachers unions, thus fortifying the power of Republicans who already control the Senate, the House of Representatives, and now the White House.
“In an emailed statement Thursday evening, Mr. Manafort called allegations that he had interactions with the Russian government a ‘Democrat Party dirty trick and completely false.’ ‘I have never had any relationship with the Russian government or any Russian officials. I was never in contact with anyone, or directed anyone to be in contact with anyone,’ he said. On the ‘Russian hacking of the D.N.C.,’ he said, ‘my only knowledge of it is what I have read in the papers.’“
Hillary Clinton appeared with Bill at her side. She looked about as gloomy as the weather. The TV announcers pointed out the fact that she won about three million more votes than Trump. They wondered what she was thinking. My guess is she also read the article in today’s Times.
“The decision to open the investigations was not based on a dossier of salacious, uncorroborated allegations that were compiled by a former British spy working for a Washington research firm. The F.B.I. is also examining the allegations in that dossier, and a summary of its contents was provided to Mr. Trump earlier this month. Representatives of the agencies involved declined to comment. Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases.“
Finally, the Obamas and Trumps entered. As they took their seats, the TV host mentioned this is all part of our glorious, time-honored tradition of peacefully transitioning power. In this case, President Obama turned the reins over to President Putin.
“The Senate intelligence committee has started its own investigation into Russia’s purported attempts to disrupt the election. The committee’s inquiry is broad, and will include an examination of Russian hacking and possible ties between people associated with Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.“
After Trump took the oath of office, he delivered a speech in which he declared “we will be protected by God.” As part of his effort to heal the campaign wounds, he refrained from having Hillary carted off in chains, as some of his more enthusiastic backers undoubtedly wish he would do.
Afterward, they brought out a rabbi and two reverends for the closing prayers. The rabbi managed to get through his prayer without mentioning Jesus. The reverends made up for that oversight by mentioning Jesus several times. Just in case anyone forgot whose side God is on.
“The lingering investigations will pose a test for Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who has been nominated for attorney general. If Mr. Sessions is confirmed, he will for a time be the only person in the government authorized to seek foreign intelligence wiretaps on American soil. Mr. Sessions said at his confirmation hearing that he would recuse himself from any investigations involving Mrs. Clinton. He was not asked whether he would do so in cases involving associates of Mr. Trump.“
And so begins the Trump era. Your guess is as good as mine as to how it will end.