Unintended consequences of summer of ’19
At least three score years ago, my savvy precinct committeewoman impressed upon me an immutable political truth: Every election is not about the candidate(s); no, every election is about the voters … and about the future. I’m relieved that my precinct committeewoman was not around to hear the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates spend four hours of network TV time talking about each other and about themselves and very little about the voters.
But while the Democrats were swapping boasts and brickbats in Miami, the man whose job they all covet was in Japan at the G-20 Summit, where he, the leader of the free world, joked with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Putin’s government meddling in the U.S. elections. Asked by a reporter whether he had warned Putin not to interfere in next year’s U.S. national election, Trump, with an unmistakable smirk on his face, answered, “Yes, of course, I will.” Then he turned to Putin and added: “Don’t meddle in the election, president.” Putin, let it be noted, chuckled, as did U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
So this was just Donald Trump being Donald Trump — typically provocative and outrageous, right? Wrong. We are supposed to forget that American intelligence leaders report Russia is keeping up its election subversion under Putin’s orders and that Russian interference is likely to intensify throughout the 2020 election. FBI Director Christopher Wray, appointed by Trump to replace the dismissed James Comey, referenced the presence of Russian operatives in the U.S. and Putin’s government’s continuing efforts to “pit us against each other, to sow divisiveness and discord, to undermine American faith in democracy.”
We were told this spring that “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” Informed of such foreign intrusion, would President Ronald Reagan have joked at a summit with his Soviet counterpart? President John Kennedy or Dwight Eisenhower or Harry Truman? Not on your life.
Why this might matter is that on July 17 special counsel Robert Mueller is scheduled, reluctantly, to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
Here’s what you should remember about Robert Mueller, a prep school and college athlete who played both hockey and lacrosse. He had severely injured his knee. In 1966, at the height of the U.S. war in Vietnam, he was told after his military physical at Philadelphia Navy Yard that his knee would have to heal before he could serve. Instead of breathing easier because he had dodged the bullet of the military draft, Mueller spent a year in vigorous physical rehab so that he could qualify to serve in the Marine Corps.
In brutal combat, Bob Mueller would earn the Bronze Star for bravery. He would be wounded by a round from a North Vietnamese AK-47 and keep fighting, directing his platoon’s fire. He received the Purple Heart for his combat wounds.
Here’s the question: Will Mueller, an authentic American hero outraged by this president’s apparent tolerance of Putin’s meddling, break his self-imposed vow of silence on the subject of Russian subversion of American democracy and testify fully in public hearings about that threat? After the Trump-Putin comedy show in Japan, it could happen.
Mark Shields is a Creators Syndicate columnist.