Going Overboard with #Russiagate

It’s a sad day for politics in America when Rep. Trey Gowdy has to plead with Democrats in Congress to be “constructive” and responsible in finding the truth, but Gowdy knows as well as anyone that his appeal is doomed to fall on deaf ears. Democrats in Congress and their allies in the media have officially become obsessed with the alleged links between the Trump administration and Russia, and it has very little to do with concerns over the integrity of the electoral process or the fate of American democracy.

In reality, the president’s opponents see the investigations into Trump campaign associates and hangers-on as an invaluable weapon. With the electorate booting the Democratic Party completely out of power, what better way is there to undermine the administration and cast a cloud of illegitimacy over the duly elected commander-in-chief?

Tim Weiner puts it perfectly when he says the FBI’s investigation could take “years to resolve,” which is music to anti-Trump ears. After all, as long as the press and the Democrats can keep RussiaGate on the front page, President Trump and the GOP will never have a chance to tackle their legislative priorities and will be stuck in a constant cycle of mini-scandals that undermine the administration without ever actually impugning it. The objective isn’t to figure out whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton, but to dominate the political agenda and suffocate any real discussion of policy.

This is why, regardless of the results of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation and an FBI probe into allegations of collusion between Moscow and senior members of Trump’s team, the Left will do all it can to prevent the RussiaGate narrative from dying.

Of course, the main weakness in the Russia case is that there is not a shred of evidence pinning the President to the Kremlin. The closest the Democrats can get is onetime advisors such as Paul Manafort, who chaired the Trump campaign for a few months last year but who was forced out after the allegations of corruption dating back to his work for Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych emerged. Manafort was removed from the campaign well before the election and plays no part whatsoever in the administration, but none of that matters to the media: they are perfectly happy to keep mining Manafort’s past to score points against his former clients.

As it turns out, Trump is not the only billionaire whose reputation Manafort has unfairly tarred by association. Last month, the Associated Press published claims that Manafort secretly worked for Russia’s Oleg Deripaska on a plan that would “greatly benefit the Putin government.” The news agency quoted anonymous sources as saying Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska in 2006, after pitching a strategy that would boost Russia’s influence in the U.S.

Deripaska, though, refused to take the aspersions lying down. Instead, he took out quarter-page and later full-page advertisements in outlets like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal to refute the idea any such contract was ever signed. On top of that, he signaled his readiness to take part in any Congressional hearings on the subject in order to clear his name. His letter makes an important point: the Associated Press produced no evidence to support the claims it published, and the only thing linking Deripaska to a pro-Putin influence campaign is Manafort’s alleged attempt to sell him on it. The Russian businessman’s ties with Trump, for that matter? Nonexistent.

Like Trump, Deripaska’s only crime was apparently hiring Manafort to do any work whatsoever. Unfortunately for the Russian, not even being cheated by the political operative is enough to keep him from being lumped into the wider feeding frenzy.

Again, protestations to the contrary don’t matter. Regardless of what comes to light as part of the probes into Trump’s alleged links with Moscow, Democratic lawmakers, the media, and the president’s enemies within the Republican Party have no intention of letting this go. This is all they have after the desperate attempt to overturn the results of the election in the Electoral College failed (although Faith Spotted Eagle is presumably enjoying her one electoral vote). Rather than accept that Trump won the election fair and square and fight him on policy, his opponents have decided that the Russian scandal is the best way to handicap the new administration. As some on the Left openly admit, the final objective is impeachment: a pipe dream, but an enticing one.

President Trump’s opponents will continue to lay this trap for as long as they can, and the administration needs to take care not to fall into it by indulging conspiracy theories and letting themselves get bogged down fighting interference actions. Instead, Republicans need to remain focused on policy priorities. Without a real leg to stand on, the story will eventually run out of steam. The only question is how much of Trump’s time in office it manages to eat up before it does.

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