From Russia with Love

Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. {Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons] Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

March 4, 2017

It was meant as humour, but like all good humour it has a ring of truth to it.

The headline on the column, by Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker read, “Putin starting to wonder if his puppets are smart enough to pull this off.”

“When you choose a puppet, you’re looking for a sweet spot,” one of Borowitz’s imaginary sources, supposedly close to Putin, said. “You want to choose someone who’s dumb enough to be manipulated, but not so dumb that he can’t find the light switches.”

“Increasingly, it looks like we missed that sweet spot,” the fictional source said.

This satire was written two weeks before news broke about United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador in 2016. If Borowitz’s humourous take on these events were true, then you could picture Putin wondering what the hell is going on. How’s a guy supposed to concentrate on disrupting elections in Germany, France, and the Netherlands when the puppets he installed in the United States don’t seem to be able to go a single day without a screw-up of some kind? How’s a Russian dictator going to put in place his plan to restore Russia to its once-prominent place in the world with that kind of help?

Again, Borowitz writes humour. But this is starting to feel not so funny in real life.

The question of the Trump administration’s involvement with Russia, and Russia’s attempts to undermine the 2016 American election, are starting to smell like three-day-old fish left in the sun. The Trump administration had vehemently denied that any member of its team met with any Russian official of any kind. And for a while it looked like the Russia story might get buried in a slew of other Trumpian actions, like the shortsighted, ill-advised, and soon-overturned attempt to ban refugees from seven different countries in the Middle East.

But Russia is the story that just will not go away. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post perhaps put it best when he wrote, “where there’s smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, there’s probably fire.”

Perhaps what’s most puzzling is how the Trump administration is handling the growing story. This is particularly true in the case of Sessions. During his confirmation hearings, when he was asked about any contacts with Russian authorities, he could’ve simply answered that he had spoken briefly to the Russian ambassador, along with several other ambassadors, after he had given a speech at the Republican national convention. And said that his September meeting with the ambassador was merely a chance to discuss issues that were related to his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary committee. (That last one is a little bit of a hard sell, but is plausible enough that it would have given him cover.)

Instead, Sessions lied. To Congress, to the media, and the American public. After the “failing” Washington Post (sad) broke the story of his meetings, as it had also done with Mike Flynn, the scramble was on. For a man who called for then-Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch to recuse herself from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, after she had a tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, Atty. Gen. Sessions was left with few options. And so Thursday he announced that he was recusing himself from any investigation into ties between the Trump administration in Russia. His troubles may not be over however, as that lying to Congress thing might become a sticking point. Nevertheless, the damage has been done.

Suddenly the Trump team’s repeated denials of any meetings with any Russian officials were starting to sound like an NFL general manager who says that he has “complete confidence” in his team’s coach after a 2- 14 season. You know it’s just baloney. And sure enough, Sessions barely had time to step aside before word leaked out that several other Trump administration officials had also met with Russians during 2016.

All of this must make Democrats delighted, but the truth is that it is bothering more than a few Republicans as well. So many heated denials followed by so many revelations that these denials were false creates a sense of cover-up that won’t go away. This is more than a question of “gotcha” politics. Behind all these disproved denials is a serious question of whether or not significant players on the Trump team colluded with another country in order to sabotage a political opponent. And in exchange for this help, these significant players told this other country that, once in power, it would go soft on sanctions and other measures that had been used to retaliate against its more outrageous actions.

That’s why there is a word that is only being softly whispered at the moment, but you can feel its presence. That word is impeachment. It’s difficult to believe that less than two months into Donald Trump’s first term as president that there are people on both sides of the aisle even theoretically discussing his impeachment. Yet it is there.

And as these Russian contacts grow in numbers and more questions are asked about why these discussions were held in the first place, that whisper may start to get much louder.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:



Putin Starting to Wonder If His Puppets Are Smart Enough to Pull This Off, by Andy Borowitz, New Yorker, February 14, 2017:

Chris Cillizza page at the Washington Post:

Michael T. Flynn page on Wikipedia:


Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

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