Suggesting that last week was turbulent for the White House is an understatement. The Trump administration faced reports of Trump aides maintaining contact with Russian intelligence throughout the election. Meanwhile, the President himself slammed leakers on Twitter for “illegal” activity coming from Washington regarding Michael Flynn, recently departed National Security Advisor, that revealed his engagement in discussions with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. potentially concerning sanctions against the country. He additionally failed to communicate to Vice President Pence the contents of his communication. Meanwhile, President Trump knew of these conversations for weeks and failed to inform Mr. Pence of Flynn’s communications.
In the wake of Flynn’s resignation, the list of Republicans seeking a more rigorous probe into potential Russian influence in the presidential election is growing. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va), the top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a joint statement in which they declared that the ongoing probe must evaluate alleged communications between the Trump campaign and Russia. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that such an investigation is “highly likely.” As of now, no conclusive evidence exists that could paint Trump’s campaign as coordinating election-manipulation tactics with Russia. Some Democrats would prefer that an independent special prosecutor lead the investigation as opposed to a Congressional investigation that may be subject to partisan influence. However, Democrats “cautiously applauded” the fact that Republicans are beginning to acknowledge the severity of this issue.
In other news, Andrew Pudzer has withdrawn his name from consideration for Secretary of Labor. This comes in light of growing trepidation among Senate Republicans about the fast-food tycoon’s vulnerabilities. Although Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Senate, it became unclear that Pudzer would receive the 50 votes needed to be confirmed. The most damaging shot to Pudzer’s reputation was the revelation that he had not paid taxes on the work done by an illegal immigrant he employed for years. Rather than see Pudzer not obtain enough votes to be confirmed, Senate Republicans communicated to the White House their fear of a failed confirmation and thus mutually agreed that withdrawal was the proper course of action. The alternative would have been a huge blow to both President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had publicly endorsed Mr. Pudzer.
Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis has issued an ultimatum to NATO allies, imploring them to fulfill the defense spending goals that they had agreed to. If they fail to do so, the U.S. may alter its relationship with NATO. Many NATO countries fail to pay 2% of their gross domestic product, as they had pledged to do. Only five of the 28 member countries contribute at least the pledged 2% of GDP (UK, Estonia, Poland, Greece and the U.S.). A major rallying cry of Trump’s campaign was his insistence on making NATO allies contribute their “fair share” financially, a source of long-standing frustration in Washington. Mattis’ ultimatum may cause other participating nations to rethink their allocation of resources.
It is highly discouraging to read more about potential Russian ties to Trump’s campaign and the election. I can only hope that the communications Trump aides had were in no way malicious. As of now, we can only speculate. Thus arises the importance of a Congressional investigation (at the very least) into these relations. It is encouraging that Republican Senators are coming together to join Democrats in their goal to achieve a thorough and transparent investigation. The security of free elections is of the utmost importance and should not take a back seat to partisan power plays. Furthermore, the apparent lack of communication within the White House is troubling. American citizens deserve and demand transparency from the Oval Office. If the President isn’t properly communicating with his Vice President, what can citizens expect? As far as the NATO ultimatum is concerned, I agree that the U.S. government needs to somehow incentivize its allies to meet the requirements that they themselves pledged to meet. Why should the U.S. carry the financial burden for the defense of other nations when the 28 member states have joined to form a mutually-beneficial alliance? Mattis’ approach may put fire under the feet of NATO allies to finally meet these requirements. The consequences he has in mind are not clear, but the U.S. has to motivate its allies in some way.