The World At Home - Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2018-02-01 17:00:00 -
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Last month I wondered if US President Donald Trump had been one of the recipients of some of the $10bn in laundered Russian money for which Deutsche Bank had recently paid a $630m fine. Now it would appear that despite the Trump administration’s repeated claims that the Russia-Trump collusion story is a ‘total hoax’, the White House has told its staffers they should refuse to answer questions from the Congressional committees investigating those links. Trump’s lawyers are telling staffers they should refuse to answer questions about their post-election activities.

 

On 17 January, in response to journalists’ questions about Steve Bannon’s refusal to answer questions from congressional investigators, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed: “We’ve been fully co-operative with the ongoing investigations, and we’re going to continue to do so. We encourage the committees to work with us to find the appropriate accommodation in order to ensure Congress obtains all the information that they’re looking for.” 

 

But behind the scenes, President Trump’s lawyers are telling witnesses to keep stumm. The lawyers contend that all of the activities of current and former members of Trump’s transition and his administration that occurred after Trump’s 2016 election are regarded as executive privilege; they can’t testify about these activities because only President Trump can waive privilege. 

 

Maybe I’m just naïve, but it seems to me that if there really is no basis for the Russia-Trump collusion story, then there is also no reason why White House lawyers should be telling members of the Trump administration to refuse to answer questions about their activities before or after the election.

 

While I may be a lifelong Republican, I am not and never have been an apologist for the actions of Republican politicians. Furthermore, for the past 20 years I have probably been more critical of Republican presidents and Congressional leaders than I have been of their Democratic counterparts. I have been more than a little disenchanted by the divisive political tactics used by Republicans like Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Senator Ted Cruz to advance their right-wing political agendas. I have also been disgusted by Republican politicians’ use of anti-immigrant and racist political rhetoric.

 

As for President Trump, while I still have some hope that he will eventually begin to embrace the more moderate political views espoused by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the window for him to do so is closing fast. Mid-term elections for the House of Representatives and 34 Senate seats are only nine months away. Because of the increasingly partisan tenor of American elections, the closer they get, the harder it becomes to forge the moderate bi-partisan compromises that governing requires.

 

With only a couple of exceptions, President Trump has thus far shown little inclination to support political compromises that he believes would alienate his base of conservative voters. In fact, virtually every executive order and legislative proposal he has made during his first year in office has been designed to appeal to that base. Furthermore, even though Steve Bannon is now persona non grata in the White House, senior advisor Stephen Miller and Chief of Staff John Kelly are still there, pushing Trump to refuse to compromise on issues like immigration.

 

Miller is a fervent anti-immigration ‘closet white nationalist’ and a younger version of Steve Bannon. And Kelly supports many of the same anti-immigrant policy prescriptions espoused by Bannon, Miller and President Trump. I believe Kelly’s hardline views on immigration are an outgrowth of his three-year stint in charge of the United States Southern Command, which is responsible for drug trafficking and illegal immigration operations and security in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.

 

Just how influential are Kelly’s perspectives on immigration issues? Well, most of the Democratic and Republican Senators who had worked together on a bipartisan compromise bill that would keep the government running blamed Kelly for torpedoing their proposal and forcing last month’s government shutdown. While this group has continued to work on a more comprehensive piece of legislation that would allow the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States, they are not optimistic that Trump will support it if Kelly still has his ear.

 

At the very least, the 20 January government shutdown, which came on the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, demonstrates how difficult it will be to pass any significant legislation leading up to 2018 mid-terms on 6 November. While the Senate may yet pass a law that legalises the status of ‘dreamers’ who were brought to America irregularly while they were still children, I don’t see the Republican-controlled House passing the same bill and sending it on to the president. I also believe it will be very difficult for the president to get his infrastructure bill approved.

 

As for the Russia investigation, I have a feeling that trouble lies ahead for President Trump and members of his family like Don Jr and Jared Kushner. But does that mean I also think there was collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia? Not exactly.

 

While I do believe Russia used ‘fake news’ to try and sway the election, I actually don’t believe the president or the Trump presidential campaign was colluding with Russia. Why? Because if there was any collusion, Trump would have expected to win instead of being surprised that he had won. I suspect that this Trump-Russia story actually goes back three decades, long before his 2016 election.


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

 

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