JOHN BRUMMETT: The story so far ...

Published 6 December 2017

Every day Democrats spend dreaming of a criminal finding against Donald Trump is a day they could spend more wisely and productively.

Democrats could be talking of real and practical Obamacare fixes, better trade policies for American workers, and a tax system infinitely fairer than what we have, and light years better than the scandal Republican senators and lobbyists penciled out Friday night and Saturday morning.


The Russian investigation is going to be what it's going to be. Michael Flynn's guilty plea gets us closer to ... something yet to be determined. That something won't be affected in the least by all the breathless hoping of MSNBC and all the breathless pooh-poohing of Fox News.

We don't know nearly enough to allege a quid pro quo crime in the Trump administration's solicitations of the Russians.

It is not an expressed crime for President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to direct the transition operation's main national security person, Michael Flynn, to call the Russian ambassador to try to get the Russians to hold off on a United Nations Security Council resolution. That's called not a crime, but governing, or at least preparation to govern.

The resolution opposed Israeli settlements. The incoming president wanted a deferral until he got into office and made U.S. policy more Israeli-friendly.

Well, let's correct that: The aforementioned is, in fact, a direct crime under the Logan Act of 1799. That law makes it illegal for an American not in the government to interfere with national affairs by engaging with a foreign official. But no one has ever been prosecuted under that law. There is general acceptance that the law ought to be ignored and that an incoming president should be able to talk to foreign officials about issues affecting all of them formally in a matter of days or weeks.

Saying, "Mr. Ambassador, President-elect Trump doesn't want you to vote for that UN resolution because he's going to be changing American policy on that in a couple of weeks" is not terribly different--and entirely less irregular--than U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton rounding up 46 other Republican U.S. senators to sign his letter to Iran's leadership telling it not to be counting on the nuclear deal with the Obama administration because the deal would be soon undone by a new Republican administration.

Lock Cotton up. Or not.

It is, however, clearly a crime to lie to the FBI about a call to the Russian ambassador, or anything, which is what Flynn pleaded guilty to last week.

It's part of a deal in which Flynn will tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller all he knows.

Anti-Trump partisans are excited by the thought that Flynn has indictable goods on Trump or his son-in-law.

He may indeed have those goods. But it is as yet unclear that there is an evident crime in the intersection of a loony incoming American president possessed of a naïve man-crush on Vladimir Putin and Russians who knew a loony swooner when they saw one.

A crime extending to Trump or his son-in-law would have to be of one of these four varieties:

• They have profitable business dealings with Russians that qualify as matters of "value" they have received in exchange for, say, seeking to soften sanctions against Russia.

• Russians hacked emails with the expressed knowledge of Trump campaign officials and, in turn, Trump campaign officials promised some favor to the Russian government.

• Trump or Kushner themselves lied at any point to investigators about anything.

• It was attempted obstruction of justice when Trump took aside FBI director James Comey and asked him to back off an investigation into the now-felonious Flynn, and, later, fired Comey and told Russians things would be better for them now that that blankety-blank was gone.

We don't know yet about the first three possibilities. The fourth, on obstruction ... we know Comey is a meticulously honorable man who says under oath that it happened. We know Trump denies it, but is utterly without personal credibility.

But, in the end, justice was not obstructed, considering that Mueller has now prosecuted and flipped Flynn.

With Trump, the vexing question always will be whether he's more a clumsy lunatic than criminal, and where that line should be drawn.

At this point there are only three things clear.

One is that Mueller knows what he's doing and will get where he's going in due time and without the high public profile that Kenneth Starr couldn't resist.

The second is that it was voter malfeasance to vote Trump, no matter how unappealing the opposition or how strong the economy or how low rich people's taxes can go.

The third is that Democrats are wholly reactive, distracted and behaving as if they think the only way the American people might beat Trump and choose them is if he's in jail.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 12/05/2017