Trump and Russia, again
In a significant development last week, yet another member of US President Donald Trump's inner circle came under fire for his ties with Moscow. As per reports in the Washington Post and New York Times, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had allegedly in December 2016 proposed to discuss with Russian Ambassador to America Sergei Kislyak the possibility of creating a "secret communication channel" between the Trump's campaign team and Moscow. During the meeting, last December, also attended by disgraced former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, Kushner is believed to have proposed the idea of using Russian diplomatic facilities to protect their discussions from monitoring by American investigative agencies, primarily the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Kushner is now under the scrutiny of the FBI and is part of the probe agency's larger investigations into the Trump's campaign team's links with Russian officials seeking to influence the outcome of the 2016 US election. However, Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations. Trump, meanwhile, has consistently said that he did not collaborate with Russia. There are two possible versions of what possibly went down in the December 2016 meeting and what that may entail. One version of events suggests that Kushner actions nearly amount to treason as he sought to conceal communications with Russia from American intelligence services. Another version suggests that the entire episode was entirely above board and merely reflected a desire "to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues", as reported by the New York Times. In the past month, events in Washington have provided a fresh twist to allegations of anti-constitutional acts committed by Trump. The appointment of the former FBI Director Robert Mueller as the special counsel to investigations into the Trump campaign's collusion with the Russians has upped the ante on the embattled president.
What makes the appointment of Mueller a significant threat to the Trump administration is that the President has found himself mired in allegations of obstructing justice. The issue will be whether the President has obstructed justice first by asking the former FBI Director James Comey to let his former national security advisor Michael Flynn off the hook for his alleged ties with Moscow. After Comey had declined Trump's request, he was fired. Trump has complicated his position further by tweeting "Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations". In the US, obstruction of justice by the sitting President is a serious offence. Reports suggest that President Trump was aware of Flynn's alleged indiscretions after receiving warning former his predecessor Barack Obama and then acting attorney general Sally Yates. They warned him that Flynn had served as a lobbyist for the Turkish government, apart from his Russia connections. Despite these inputs, he appointed Flynn as national security adviser and supported him until it was impossible to do so any longer.
If the FBI investigation indeed finds concrete proof that the Trump campaign had coordinated with Moscow, it would end up as a kind of scandal that could render the US President vulnerable to impeachment. Herein lay the catch. There is yet no concrete proof to definitively suggest that the Trump campaign team, aided and abetted by the Moscow, undermined the US Presidential elections. As some supporters of the Trump administration suggest, this could be a case of unelected officials hiding behind the veil of 'national interest' trying to boot out an elected government. Nonetheless, reports that Trump tried to undermine the FBI's investigation into the links between the Trump campaign team and Moscow is severe, as it details a President abusing his power to obstruct the course of justice. His decision to fire Comey is a major scandal.
Trump threw further fuel to this fire by admitting that he had fired Comey with "this Russia thing" on his mind. Both Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon had faced impeachment proceedings for obstruction of justice. Imagine if a party in India that won the general elections were alleged to have links with Beijing and that Chinese officials influenced the outcome of our general elections. These are the kind of allegations that Trump and his team are facing. Under no circumstances, however, should we lionise officials like Comey and Mueller. The Edward Snowden expose showed exactly how American intelligence and investigative agencies exerted investigative and surveillance powers to new and controversial limits and employed tactics that had little basis in ethics or morals. Individuals like Comey and Mueller were representative of a system that not only sought to undermine the rights of American citizens in the name of national security, but also other sovereign nations, and in some cases, US allies.