by Bob Cesca
Don't look now, but Congress just checkmated Donald Trump. Both chambers, both parties. Last week, lawmakers delivered a fresh round of sanctions against Iran, North Korea and, yes, Russia to Trump's desk, backed by overwhelming bipartisan support. While the sanctions against Iran and North Korea are important and carry a lot of weight in terms of our ongoing relations (or lack thereof) with those so-called "Axis of Evil" nations, the Russia sanctions were specifically designed to retaliate against Putin's human rights abuses and, mainly, the Kremlin's unprecedented attack on American democracy -- an attack that continues today.
After delaying several days, Trump had no choice but to sign the sanctions. I mean, he literally had nowhere to go except to sign, despite the fact that Russia has volumes and volumes of compromising information on Trump -- "kompromat," as it's known in Russian tradecraft. Additionally, Trump's signature confirms that he's been lying (obviously) about the Russia story being a "hoax" concocted by sour-grapes Democrats. In fact, the official White House statement makes explicit mention of the attack: “I also support making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization.”
Make no mistake, this is good news. Trump did the right thing, finally, but he surely doesn't think so and he'll never admit it. Indeed, anyone who's been following his madness knows that at any moment he'll be back to tweeting and screeching about the attack being a "hoax" without any concern that his people will even be aware of the signing statement that included the above confirmation of the attack.
Along those lines, Trump could've easily vetoed the bill, and his fanboys would've supported him, but it would've been yet another semi-deliberate confession of his guilt and complicity in the Russia attack, telegraphed to the entire world, especially other western nations where Putin is actively trying to interfere. And, besides, Congress would've easily overridden the veto. Ultimately, Trump would've augmented his guilt and the sanctions would've become law anyway.
Then again, by vetoing the sanctions, Trump might've sidestepped any repercussions emerging from his controllers in Moscow. Or maybe not. Russian hardliners might not have viewed a Trump veto as an adequate remedy for the problem, knowing that the sanctions would've become law anyway.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tweeted the following statement: "The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way." Weakness is clearly the lens through which the Kremlin observed Trump's linkage to the sanctions bill, whether he signed or not. Putin and Medvedev see Trump's impotence as the driving force behind sanctions receiving nearly unanimous support in Congress. Had Trump commandeered and sculpted the legislative process, dealing with legislators with more hands-on coercion and deal-making, acting more as a Russian-style strongman than a piece of Oval Office furniture, the sanctions might not have passed in the first place. Welcome to the autocratic worldview of Putin.
Trump was screwed if he signed and screwed if he didn't. It's a lose-lose for the president in more ways that just insulting tweets from Medvedev. Now, this is when we learn whether Russia really possesses kompromat like the so-called "pee pee tape." This is when we learn whether Russia is willing to further damage U.S. relations by dropping all kinds of heretofore unknown dirt on Trump and his associates, including and especially his adult children.
At the very minimum, Russia possesses detailed records, including audio, video and digital documents like texts and emails that it could end up finding their way into the hands of reporters -- information, obviously, that could further expose Trump to catastrophic legal jeopardy in the Mueller investigation, not to mention other emerging probes such as the ready-to-pop investigation by the New York attorney general. (More on this to come.) We're talking about further evidence of money-laundering, conspiracy to hijack the 2016 election and complicity in all sorts of blindingly awful malfeasance we might not know about yet. It doesn't have to be hookers and piss to absolutely screw Trump in dozens of creative ways. The very act of aiding in the cover-up of Don Junior's meeting with Russian operatives at Trump Tower last year is enough evidence of Trump being compromised. And knowing that the Russians seem to record everything, there are potentially new and devastating details of that meeting and others still to come. By the way, we haven't even gotten into the fact that Russia's likely been tapping Trump's phones and email for years, through and including the campaign and transition. The materials on his Android phone alone could nuke Trump's entire world.
As a consequence of this past 10 days, including the failure of Congress to pass a repeal of Obamacare along with the firings of Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci, Trump has reached another dark, desperate milestone. He's weaker today than he was yesterday, and weaker yesterday than he was the day before. Add into the mix his latest poll numbers showing a 38 percent approval rating -- and that's from Rasmussen, the most Trump-friendly pollster around. Quinnipiac, meanwhile, shows Trump at an all-time low of 33 percent.
I've been predicting that impeachment proceedings will begin with GOP support if Trump drops to 25 percent. That said, I've also been hesitant to put a timetable on the Trump presidency, but unless he takes stupendously and uncharacteristically un-Trump-like measures to course correct, it's difficult to see Trump still occupying the Oval Office by this time next year. As the chaos stacks up, Congress will grow more impatient, given the looming midterms. Remember that it was the late Summer of a midterm election year when Barry Goldwater and House Minority Leader John Rhodes appeared in the White House to tell Richard Nixon it was time to go. (On August 7, this Monday, it'll be the 43rd anniversary of that meeting. Next Wednesday, it'll be the 43rd anniversary of Nixon's resignation.)
Is this wishful thinking? Not as much as you might think. But it's difficult to imagine that Russian retaliation on top of the growing evidence against Trump will somehow dissipate. The conspiracy egg won't go back into the shell. This will all collectively end the Trump presidency, and it'll happen faster than we think.
Kompromat's a bitch.