Why did the raid of a Republican consulting firm with ties to former Trump Campaign manager Paul Manafort take place on Friday afternoon? Because the night before the President went on television to volunteer a sterling case against himself for obstruction of justice in the Russia scandal.
Since then, many have noted a marked shift in mainstream media coverage: From language describing the investigation in terms of intelligence-gathering to framing it in terms of eventual criminal prosecution.
“The FBI has started pulling that string,” said former Republican Congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. “And they are still pulling that string where it leads is not just an election issue, it is a criminal issue – and Trump knows that.”
Contrary to the President’s hopes, Comey’s dismissal has actually propelled the investigation into its next phase – publicly, at least. It had already been confirmed that grand juries have been impaneled to consider evidence related to the investigation. And there are as-yet unconfirmed reports that those grand juries have generated dozens of indictments under seal with many more to come.
Sources outside the traditional media – most notably Louise Mensch, a conservative former British Member of Parliament now working as an independent journalist in New York – have been ahead of the curve on Trump-Russia. It was Mensch who broke the FISA warrant story just days before the November election. That information was eventually corroborated by mainstream media reports but not formally confirmed until Comey testified publicly in March.
The same day the FBI descended on the office of the GOP consulting firm, Mensch reported the existence of a New York state-level racketeering and corruption (RICO) case against the Republican Party. The raid was coordinated between the FBI and the Eastern Virginia District Court of Virginia, overseen by Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana Boente. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance are conducting their own investigations into Trump campaign associates’ business dealings.
Like any criminal investigation, to topple powerful people – especially in the highest positions of government – even overwhelming evidence may be insufficient to get convictions. To take down the big game requires nailing lower-level actors and flipping them to work up the food chain. And when the threat of executive power looms, the order of operations and inter-agency coordination becomes even more essential.
Also vital is a critical mass of public pressure on the Republicans to place country before party. For that to happen, a scandal that is complex and hard to understand needs to be distilled into a plot busy people can readily follow. Reagan never went down in the Iran-Contra affair for many reasons, but a major one is that the public never quite knew who did what wrong.
Two years ago, in covering the “Bridgegate” scandal that embroiled Chris Christie and his associates, the New York Times’ Jim Dwyer quoted the Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Aregood in citing a basic law of politics that the New Jersey Governor violated:
“Never do anything crooked or evil that the average person can understand.”
By going on camera and bragging he canned Comey because the Russia investigation was based on a “made-up story,” Trump not only violated a basic law of politics, he confessed to violating the law of the land. He will learn in disgrace, as Richard Nixon did, that he is not above it.