Opinion: Is Trump guilty, or does he just look guilty?

When absorbing news about the Mueller investigation, I can’t help thinking of Saddam Hussein. No, I’m not equating our president with the late Iraqi dictator. I’m thinking more about our assumptions regarding Saddam’s guilt. In the run-up to the Iraq War, the whole world was asking whether Saddam had a secret program for weapons of mass destruction. The head of our CIA said it was a “slam dunk.” Our allies’ intelligence agencies agreed. There were good reasons to think it was true.

Saddam had used chemical weapons against the Kurds. He had threatened to “burn half of Israel.” He had used nerve gas against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. Following the first Gulf War in 1991, the coalition was surprised to find Iraq’s nuclear program quite advanced. Throughout the decade of the 1990s, Saddam thwarted and harassed international weapons inspectors. In 1998, signing the Iraq Liberation Act, President Bill Clinton declared, “It is obvious that there is an attempt here … to protect whatever remains of his capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction … (and) the missiles to deliver them.”

It was mostly a bluff. During interrogations in 2004, Saddam told the FBI that he had encouraged the world to believe he had WMDs so as to deter Iran. This isn’t to say that Saddam’s strategy was smart — he invited a U.S. invasion that could have been avoided if he had come clean — but it was a strategy. He was acting guilty for a reason other than being guilty.

Which brings us to President Donald Trump. He sure acts guilty. Let us count some of the ways. He chose Paul Manafort, well-known for shady Russia ties, as campaign manager. He picked Carter Page, a wannabee Russian agent, as a campaign foreign-policy adviser. Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort met with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer. The president reportedly dictated a false statement about the meeting when it became public. With the Trump campaign’s approval, Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016. WikiLeaks was in touch with Trump Jr. After Michael Flynn, who failed to disclose his lobbying for Russia and Turkey, was fired for lying to the vice president, Trump asked James Comey to go easy on him.

Jared Kushner attempted to set up a back channel to communicate with Russia through the Russian embassy. Trump told the Russian ambassador in an Oval Office meeting that he had fired Comey, thus relieving “great pressure” regarding Russia. Trump resisted sanctions on Russia and, after they passed by veto-proof margins, failed to implement them. Trump suggested, after meeting the Russian leader, that the U.S. and Russia should set up a joint cyber security effort .

He reportedly ordered that Mueller be fired at one point. He colluded with Rep. Devin Nunes, talk radio, Fox News and other sycophants to discredit the FBI.

Does this add up to collusion with Russia to hack the DNC or otherwise affect the presidential election? Not by itself, no. It seems perfectly plausible to me that Trump was cultivating his Russia ties during the presidential race because he believed he would lose. He would then monetize this goodwill with business deals. But since holding office, some of his policies have been objectively anti-Russian, not the actions of a Manchurian candidate.

He acts guilty in so many ways. He lacked the judgment to keep his distance from dodgy characters such as Manafort, Page, and Roger Stone. But recalling Saddam, I’m open to the idea — not convinced, but open — that he isn’t as guilty as he seems.

Writes for Creators Syndicate.

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