Will the Russia Thing Bring Trump Down?
Written by Moses Bratrud on May 18, 2017
Remember when Trump was supposed to be “our boy?” He won a plurality of the vote among American evangelicals. Our portion of American society clearly thought he was worth casting a vote for. But now, with a new Trump scandal every five minutes, it’s worth revisiting how Christians should react to the Trump administration’s weaknesses. How do we honor our president while holding him accountable to our country’s laws–to God’s laws? This week alone there are rumors of misconduct and miscarriage of justice, even calls for impeachment. I’m going to lay out some details of the latest brush fires, and then we can talk about what this means for Christians.
Last week, Trump sacked FBI Director James Comey in a surprise move, and then created consternation when he admitted flat-out that he had “this Russia thing” on his mind when did so. Only 29% of Americans approved of the president’s decision.
Now it appears that Trump may have leaned on Director Comey to drop the investigation into ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia–and that Comey may have written evidence of this. If so, Trump could plausibly be accused of obstruction of justice–a Democratic congressman from Texas called for Trump’s impeachment on the House floor on May 17 for just that reason.
Unfortunately, and potentially more dangerously to national security, that wasn’t the only big Trump blunder this week. On May 15th, the Washington Post reported that Trump had shared “highly classified” information about ISIS with two top Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting. Specifically, Trump apparently boasted about the intelligence-gathering capabilities of US allies in detecting an ISIS plot in a specific city under ISIS control. A counter-terrorism expert quoted in the Post said that the Kremlin could now use the information from Trump to potentially identify and despoil this information source (which the New York Times reported to be Israeli intelligence).
Why would Russia do such a thing? It comes back to Syria, where, after massive territorial losses in Iraq, ISIS is now predominantly based, with its capital in the northern city of Raqqa. Although the US and Russia are both fighting ISIS, they’ve picked different sides in the Syrian Civil War, which pits the regime of Bashar al-Assad (backed by Russia) against various warring groups of rebels, including al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS itself. The US has tentatively given material support to “moderate” rebel groups in Syria, after an attempt by the Obama administration to land US ground troops in the country failed disastrously in Congress.
The question is not whether Trump acted illegally in sharing sensitive information with representatives of the Russian government. As president, it’s perfectly legal for him to do that. Philip Giraldi, a former CIA analyst, explains that the president can declassify anything by his own presidential power. So this is less a legal threat to his administration as it is a potential threat to a valuable intelligence source. Also, Trump now stands accused of being exceedingly sloppy with classified information–the very thing he accused Hillary Clinton of doing during the campaign.
When the president gives information like this to Russia on a platter, or when he leans on the FBI Director to drop a Russia-related investigation, it feeds into the “Trump Collusion with Russia” story. But that story doesn’t hold water. A president in Putin’s pocket would not have attacked a sensitive area in Syria so brazenly last month that Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said that the strike had “completely ruined” US-Russia relations. Actual collusion with Russia would have been treasonous and highly unlikely, but it’s possible that Trump has more dealings with Russia than he’s ready to admit: his attorneys released a letter detailing $100 million in income from Russian sources over the last ten years. That income comes from a beauty pageant and a house sale–it’s not exactly Hillary Clinton selling uranium to the Russians–but it still could affect his judgment as president. That’s worrying, to say the least.
As an aside, is this whole train of events dizzying and confusing? Definitely. Is there any hope of making it clearer? Yes: this timeline is really helpful in understanding who did what, and when.
There’s no way to sugar-coat it–this is all bad for Trump. The troubling similarities to Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” when he fired a special prosecutor who was getting too close to the Watergate scandal, are creating a media frenzy. For all the hullabaloo, there seems to be more smoke than fire. In a few days, you could argue, Trump will do something else that will stir up a new wave of outrage, and this will be all but forgotten. But on the other hand, new information keeps coming to light — even as I’ve been writing this post I’ve had to update the information several times.
Christians in America are in a tricky spot. We have a few options, none of them will please everyone. We could double-down and support the president–this is our country, right or wrong! We could back away from Trump and come out in favor of an investigation into his administration’s dealings with Russia–maybe he’ll be impeached and Mike Pence will become President! (It may sound unlikely, but apparently conservatives are whispering it). Or we could head for the hills and build small, cloistered communities of faith where we homeschool our children and keep out of the political turf wars that define our age, as Rod Dreher argues in The Benedict Option. I’m interested in your thoughts: do you support Trump, despite the Russia thing? Do you think Pence would be a better president? Is it time to abandon the American political system and start a community in the mountains? Sound off in the comments section. For now, there is one thing we can agree on – Jesus is Lord over politics.