It’s been noted around the Internet more than once that last Saturday’s New York Times front page is a keeper, suitable for framing. More than the photo of two handsome Secret Service agents protecting the Secretary of State in Abu Dhabi, it is the modest but top two-column headline which is a history-maker, reading “F.B.I. Investigated If Trump Worked for the Russians,” with the sub-head, “Firing of Comey Heightened Suspicions.”
The article by Adam Goldman, Michael Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos is a Times scoop, beginning, “In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.”
Years ago, idly browsing a thrift shop in Falls Church, I happened upon a framed collection of carefully clipped original banner headlines from various 1960s newspapers. I paid $2 for it, and they’re all now displayed in my newspaper office, reading, “JFK is Slain,” “Oswald is Shot to Death in Dallas Jail,” “Israel Routs Arabs, Frees Gulf,” “Robert F. Kennedy Dies” and “They’re Off to the Moon.”
When the late dean of the White House press corps Helen Thomas visited my office, she looked at the collection and exclaimed, “This is history!” So was last Saturday’s New York Times headline, marking the first time an American president has been associated with a charge of working on behalf of a hostile foreign power.
To me, this is a long time coming. For those of us not constrained by “an abundance of caution,” or whatever you might want to call it, the charge in that headline had been self-evident since the summer of 2016, months before the Russian-tainted election shocked the world with Trump defeating Hillary Clinton on the basis of returns in a handful of electoral precincts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
It’s not that suspicions about Trump’s role as a Russian mole were non-existent before then. Clinton, who lost the election despite receiving three million more votes than Trump, accused him of undue Russian influence well before election day.
It could not be more self-evident, in fact. As last weekend’s Times article noted, the first very obvious indicator was Trump’s move “in plain sight” to fire F.B.I. director James Comey and then saying on at least two very public occasions that he did so because of Comey’s role in investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
If you were an honest, hard-working, patriotic F.B.I. agent, wouldn’t that development cause you to want to look further into what was behind that? Then there was the incident on national TV when Trump, during a campaign debate, made a direct appeal to the Russians (“Russia, if you are listening…”) to hack and expose Clinton emails, another high profile example. There was much more in the infamous Steele Dossier (no aspect of which has yet been disproven) and myriad other indicators.
Not the least was the association dating to the 1970s of Trump with the Russian mafia in New York, as documented by Robert Friedman in his book, “Russian Mafiya,” published in 1999. Friedman reported that the biggest Russian mafia thug of all, Vyacheslav Ivankov, put out a $100,000 hit on him for his expose, as the F.B.I. warned him. Within two years, Friedman was dead.
A new book, Craig Unger’s “House of Trump, House of Putin, The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia,” published by Dutton last year, cites Friedman’s work, including Ivankov’s hit order, and the intimate ties of Ivankov and associate Felix Sader to Trump over scores of years. One chapter of that book delineates no less than 59 ties that Trump has with Russian connections.
There’s one newspaper front page that I will value even more than last Saturday’s. It’s the one that’s going to have a photograph of Trump flanked by a team of F.B.I. agents being walked out of the White House in handcuffs.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].