Witcover: Trump sinks to a new low in his response to the Florida school massacre
By Jules Witcover
Feb 02, 2018 | 12:20 PM
Students who survived the Parkland shooting are lashing out at Trump on Twitter.
Donald Trump not only talks dirty; he also plays dirty, as seen in tweets over the weekend. On Saturday evening he tweeted that the FBI failed to act on information about the latest mass school murderer in Florida because the bureau was preoccupied investigating possible Russian collusion with his presidential campaign in 2016. The next morning he wrote that the Russians "are laughing their asses off" at the discord the probe has caused.
His crass and crude linking the two matters was his most insidious and self-serving example yet of a mind-set focused only protecting himself against real and imagined threats and his freedom to assert his will. On the heels of his visit to the victims, Mr. Trump swiftly pivoted to his fight with the FBI and the Justice Department he says are out to get him.
As the students of the attacked high school have taken to national television to rally fellow teenagers for a massive march on Washington on March 24, Mr. Trump has callously used the deplorable event that claimed 17 more victims in his latest all-about-me news-cycle strategy.
Meanwhile, among the most intriguing aspects of the Justice indictment of 13 Russians in the 2016 elections meddling was its labeling of certain Americans involved as "unwitting." Was it a deft way of the Robert Mueller investigative team to give them cover against disclosure and/or prosecution for collusion, and thus make them more cooperative?
At the heart of the inquiry, beyond the matter of interfering with our hallowed elections, has been pursuit of possible evidence that the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump or Mr. Trump himself may have colluded with Russians, which he stoutly denies. Doing so could be strong grounds for obstruction of justice in a House impeachment trial against him.
It seems logical now that the Mueller team is or will be going after any "witting" American collaborators in the meddling, pointedly revealed in the indictment as actively laboring to help elect Trump and defeat his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The Mueller investigation appears now to be intensifying its quest for more actionable evidence with which to establish the collusion that Mr. Trump so determinedly rejects. The weekend brought new reports that the team has stepped up its questioning of Rick Gates, protégé of Paul Manafort, the indicted former Trump campaign manager, in the wake of the extraordinary breadth and detail of the latest indictment of multiple Russian players in the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg.
The scope of that published indictment, aired in rare press conference by Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, underscored the Justice Department's commitment to Special Counsel Mueller in the face of repeated speculation that Mr. Trump might fire both men in his fear of growing legal peril to his presidency.
Even as that speculation may have been cooled by Mr. Rosenstein's surprise appearance and new indictments, the president demonstrated particular irritation at the comment of his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, at a NATO conference in Munich that the new evidence of the Russian elections meddling was "incontrovertible."
It dealt a heavy blow to Mr. Trump's repeated allegations that the Mueller inquiry was "a hoax" and "a witch hunt" designed to discredit his legitimate 2016 election by virtue of winning the electoral college vote, despite losing the popular vote to rival Hillary Clinton.
It's clear now that Donald Trump is behaving like a man deeply insecure about his presidency, for all his transparent braggadocio. Most public-opinion polls give him no more than 40 percent approval ratings at the present time.
Still, he is the president, and the question now is what is he doing to cope with the interference in the American process of self-government? The answer apparently is absolutely nothing, not even imposing more economic sanctions against Russia. He continues to say he believes his good friend Vladimir Putin that the meddling doesn't exist, thus demeaning his own intelligence services and Mueller, who have now so persuasively demonstrated otherwise.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is email@example.com.