COMMENTARY

You remember Tail-Gunner Joe, the senator who claimed he had lists of ___ (fill in any outlandish number) communists working in the State Department. McCarthy garnered a lot of publicity for himself without ever outing a single commie before the U.S. Senate finally censored him.

That was more than 60 years ago. Now the U.S. government faces another crisis of confidence in the institutions of government. Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has issued a four-page memo sowing doubts about the FISA court, which limits surveillance on American citizens, the Mueller investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department and the FBI. Democrats failed to stop the release of the memo, which the FBI and the Justice Department have said is deeply flawed and misleading. President Trump seems to be egging on Nunes and his GOP colleagues in an effort to cast doubt on the Mueller investigation. Trump, Nunes and other GOP sycophants, do not appear to be concerned that their actions are harming public confidence in the FBI, the Justice Department, and other institutions.

Despite all of the back-and-forth over the release of the disputed memo, no one has pointed out what should be obvious: The Trump presidential campaign was infiltrated by individuals who were Russian agents or had clear links to the Russians. Carter Page, the Trump advisor who was the subject of a surveillance request (plus renewals) sent to the FISA court, had been on U.S. intelligence services’ radar for his Kremlin connections since at least 2013. (A friend with closer ties to Washington doubts that Page was ever a Russian agent, but he had been in contact with the Kremlin.) Michael Flynn, another Russia-linked Trump advisor, was fired by Trump after Flynn lied about his Russia contacts. Another Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, has admitted to lying to investigators about his contacts with Russian agents during the 2016 campaign. It was Papadopoulos’ contacts with Russian agents that first alerted U.S. intelligence agencies to Russian meddling and Page. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had worked for the Kremlin-backed government of Ukraine. Even Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was tainted by his Russian contacts during the campaign and had to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

Trump, meanwhile, seems to be considering firing FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, both of whom were hired by Trump, as a way of stalling or capsizing the entire Russia investigation under Robert Mueller. Trump has spent much of his presidency trying to derail or de-legitimize the Mueller investigation.

During the paranoia of the Cold War, any foreign influence into U.S. policy would have sparked an outcry from the public, an outcry McCarthy adroitly exploited, at least for a while. With the Cold War nearly 30 years in the grave, worries about Russian (no longer Soviet or Communist) infiltration into the highest ranks of government seems hopelessly anachronistic. But U.S. and other intelligence services say the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin is manipulating the electorate in Western Democracies in order to expand Russia’s own global influence and military strength.

Who will have the courage to channel Joe McCarthy and declare, “Mr. Chairman, I have here a list of four Russian agents who played active roles in the Trump presidential campaign.” This time, the list would have actual names (see above) of real Russian agents or sympathizers who advised Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Now, what McCarthy did in the early 1950s and what needs to be done today are totally different. McCarthy needlessly inflamed public opinion to advance his own political career as he falsely alleged unnamed employees of the State Department were communists or communist sympathizers. What is needed now is someone who will point out the fact that the Trump campaign and the Trump presidency have attracted an extraordinary number of people with connections to the Kremlin. Whether there was collusion or coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign may not matter as much as this question: Why have so many people with Russian ties ended up in the Trump campaign or administration? Russian agents or sympathizers have gained the ear of the president — something the Americans of McCarthy’s day would have considered treasonous.

Nunes tried to inflame public opinion about a surveillance court application while ignoring the far more serious and undisputed fact that a U.S. presidential candidate was depending on advisors who were or had been agents or advocates of a foreign power.


Hal Tarleton spent more than three decades as a working journalist and editor of The Wilson (NC) Daily Times. This post originally appeared on his blog, The Erstwhile Editor.  His opinions are his own. 

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