This is Watergate 2.0: Trump on the ropes over Russian links

by Diane Francis


Stock markets fell this week along with U.S. President Donald Trump’s popularity and Republican legislative hopes as Watergate 2.0 unfolds.

The testimony by The Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey confirmed an investigation is under way to assess whether the Trump team colluded with the Russians.

This is eerily similar to 1972 when U.S. President Richard Nixon operatives undertook dirty tricks, then broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington to find information that could damage the Democrats’ electoral chances.

After the burglars were caught, links to the White House were drawn and eventually evidence of a conspiracy in the form of secret tapes led Republican leaders to convince Nixon that he should resign.

Today’s scandal is, once again, a burglary of the Democratic National Committee, but a “virtual” or cyber break-in designed to damage the Democrats and Hillary Clinton. This time, the perpetrators were Russian hackers hired by the Kremlin and the FBI believes there may be links to the Trump team.

These revelations cast a cloud over President Trump, the Republicans, and the U.S. economy.

The question is, given Trump’s admiration of Putin, “what does Russia have on him?” asked Senator Bernie Sanders.

Clearly, myriad financial links to the Russians have been established. Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and national security advisor General Michael Flynn – both key to Trump’s campaign — were thrown under the bus after it came to light that they were, or had been, moonlighting for the Russians.

There are other White House advisors with cozy relationships to the Kremlin, and Trump’s business career is littered with Russian oligarchs as partners, lenders or property buyers. Some deals – like the overpayment for a Florida house — are eyebrow raisers and will be contextualized by investigators.

Like Nixon, Trump approval ratings have plummeted. Polls this week registered that 60 per cent of Americans believe he is “dishonest” and 63 per cent don’t approve of his job performance.

Of course, Trump has always been verbally reckless, but he went too far when he tweeted that then-president Barack Obama wiretapped the Trump Towers followed by another that Britain’s secret service did.

The Director of the FBI, leading Republicans and all other experts say these statements were thoroughly groundless. Similarly, his statements that he has nothing to do with Russia are taken with a grain of salt, thanks to his fake facts and tweets.

Undaunted, he told a Time Magazine reporter in an interview that he is neither inaccurate nor unpopular. “I can’t be doing so badly because I’m President and you’re not”, was one response. Another vindication he offered was that large crowds in Kentucky that came to his rally recently prove “that I’m right”.

Such antics are driving a wedge in the already fragmented Republican majority and all week a health care initiative was on life support. Stock markets fell, in part, because as Trump flops so will his agenda of tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

By Wednesday, the Republican Wall Street Journal threw in the towel too. Its editorial against Trump said: “if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President”. Then it added: “the President clings to his assertion [about Obama wiretapping Trump Tower] like a drunk to an empty gin bottle.”

But controversy, petulance and hoaxes are Trump’s stock in trade. He became a political figure with his “birther” movement that falsely claimed Obama lied about his birthplace for years. He accused rivals of being crooks and liars and even accused Republican rival Ted Cruz’s father as being part of the conspiracy that led to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Behind the scenes, government politicians and officials are discussing the next steps, especially after this week’s tipping point. Trump cannot externalize blame or distract from his flaws and now there are concerns he may tweet out secret information or scurrilous lies that could result in violence or an economic meltdown.

He may be the first President to be a lame duck at the beginning, not the end, of his term.

If charges are laid or he continues to flail around, the 25th amendment to the constitution, could kick in. It was devised after Kennedy was shot but remained barely alive and allows the vice-president and a simple majority of cabinet ministers to declare the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” – physically and/or mentally. Then Vice-President Mike Pence will take over.

Some are already wagering on this or a full-blown impeachment if charges are laid.

On Thursday, Britain’s betting giant Ladbrokes offered 2 to 1 odds that Trump may not finish out the year in office.

First published National Post