How Corrupt Are American Institutions?

Blame Sean Hannity. Or give him all the credit. The intrepid talk show host has been claiming for months that there is nothing to the Trump-Russia allegations, that the real tale of Russian collusion is linked to Hillary Clinton. The fact that very few people have taken this seriously has only caused the firebrand conservative to dig in deeper and repeat his talking points both more often and more fervently.

His insistence the Russian story would “boomerang” against the Democrats has been largely based on his communications (both on- and off-air) with Julian Assange and investigative reporters John Solomon and Sara Carter.

It seems like only yesterday justice was closing in on the Travel Office, Whitewater, the Clinton-era transfer of missile technology to the Chinese government, Fast and Furious, Solyndra, IRS harassment of conservative groups, the Clinton emails, Benghazi and a dozen others.

We might have believed Sean Hannity’s predictions, but we’d seen this movie before. Then came Tuesday. John Solomon and Alison Spann of the Hill and Sara Carter of Circa News had a story that may have broken open the largest national security scandal since the Rosenbergs.

In 2009, the Obama Justice Department began investigating a Russian plan to expand Russia’s atomic energy business by acquiring uranium in the United States. Through bribery, kickbacks, money laundering and extortion, the Russians were able to acquire 20% of the uranium mining rights in the United States. Shareholders in the Russian firm Rosatom funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation in the months leading up to the Obama administration’s approval of the transaction.

The sale was officially approved in 2010 by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), whose members included both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder. Apparently neither Holder nor Clinton informed the other members of the committee just what an historic act of corruption they were participants to. Not only did the DOJ and FBI let the sale proceed, they sat on the information they had gathered and let the investigation drag on until 2015, when Rosatom executive Vadim Mikerin and other defendants reached plea deals to little fanfare.

Current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw the FBI’s investigation, as did Andrew McCabe, the current deputy FBI director. And the man in charge of the FBI during most of the Rosatom investigation was none other than Robert Mueller, the special counsel now investigating Russian influence in the 2016 election.

The government informant at the heart of the case was (and remains) forbidden to speak to Congress by an Obama Justice Department gag order (that gag order has yet to be lifted by the Trump Justice Department).

If this story is true, then all our worst fears have been confirmed, and we are indeed living in a banana republic, with one set of rules for the rich and powerful, and another set of rules for everybody else.

The question going forward: what kind of country will we live in tomorrow? Now that we know that Russian collusion is real and that the Obama administration engaged in it, what will be done about it? Will the laws against government corruption finally be enforced, or will the guilty walk again as we’re treated to another round of Congressional committee show hearings?

This scandal will be a true test -- perhaps the final test -- of whether American government can still work for the people. If Republicans walk away from this story for fear of ruffling Democrat feathers, we will know that the fix is in.

A lot of reputations are on the line, beginning with that of Donald Trump. Will he demand of his administration that it faithfully execute the law, without fear or favor.

Then there’s Jeff Sessions. Our attorney general will have to determine if the Trump DOJ has the stomach to investigate the Obama DOJ. Sessions has a chance to end this affair with a reputation as a true champion of law and order. Then again, he may cement his image as a chivalrous knight of old, merciless to peasants who cross borders and deal drugs, but always ready to give his social and political peers the benefit of the doubt.

Congress’ reputation is on the line, too. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP will have a lot to answer for if they fail to demand answers to hard questions. This isn’t a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-Trump anymore. The implications of the Clinton/Rosatom story can’t be overstated, and Congress must lead the charge in determining whether Andrew McCabe, Rod Rosenstein, and Robert Mueller should now have any role in an investigation dealing with Russian influence, and more importantly, whether they should have any role in government at all.

And finally, there’s the media. The New York Times recently announced an ad campaign with the slogan: "the truth is more important than ever." It’s time to prove it. If Russian collusion was a problem yesterday – and the media has breathlessly told us this for ten months – then Russian collusion is a problem today, and the Clinton story should get all the attention the Trump story received and then some, especially seeing as how there’s actual evidence in the Clinton story. It’s probably too much to hope that the media will flip on the Democrats and report the truth, but if justice runs its course while the media pretends there’s nothing to see here, folks, then whatever shred of credibility the press has remaining will be gone.

The early returns aren’t promising. The relentlessly tweeting Trump hasn’t mentioned the story as of this writing. Jeff Sessions, in Capitol Hill testimony on Wednesday, offered only a cryptic statement that he would “review” Charles Grassley’s request that he look into the Clinton matter. (The ever-disappointing Sessions also suggested that Rod Rosenstein might be in charge of reviewing the propriety of an investigation that was led by Rod Rosenstein). On the bright side, Grassley’s committee has opened an inquiry into the matter, but then again, it’s hard to imagine a satisfying outcome to a story that begins with “Grassley’s committee has opened an inquiry…” As for the non-Hannity media, the Clinton story was met with stony silence (no denials, just silence). The big story Wednesday was not $145 million in bribes to the Clintons, but rather a controversy about whether Trump said something inappropriate or awkward to the wife of a soldier killed in battle during a phone call in which Trump offered his condolences.

If we are to remain a country of laws and not of men, the people we’ve chosen to uphold our institutions are going to have to do better than this. It’s one thing if our system of justice and our national security have been put up for sale; it’s quite another if the politicians and bureaucrats who did it face no consequences.

How corrupt are American institutions? We’ll know very soon. 

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