A return to era of Watergate?
It is said that Watergate wasn't about the crime but about the cover-up. Well, at least in the Watergate scandal, there was a proper crime — specifically, the break-in and wiretapping. The media haven't even settled on what to call their quest for a potentially nefarious Russia-Trump link.
The whole pursuit is vaguely referred to as looking at President Trump's “links,” “ties,” “associations” or “contacts” with Russia. Since this is Washington, let's give it an acronym: L-TACs. The manic pursuit of L-TACs has produced a basket of denials, lies, half-baked plots, evasions, one-off non sequiturs, side tracks, conspiracies and suspicions among the Trump administration, Democrats and the media. The frenzy has created a scandal without perpetrators or a crime. There is a sense that Washington is on the brink, but no one can say on the brink of what.
Some Democrats have settled on the idea that the Trump campaign may have collaborated with Russia on the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the John Podesta emails. There is no evidence of this, but remember a few things.
First, the FBI was aware of the DNC hacking when it occurred. And what earth-shattering insights were revealed as a result of the hacks? That the DNC was in the tank for Hillary Clinton and had been lying to Bernie Sanders. Everybody in Washington already knew that.
Next, Clinton campaign chairman Podesta's emails did not reveal anything beyond Beltway gossip that was only of interest to political junkies. Nothing was revealed that drove any votes. If Russian hackers wanted to harass Podesta, what is the crime that the Trump campaign might have committed?
The cacophony of accusations, deflections and distractions has led us to the latest revelation that is causing a “holy cow” plot-thickening moment in Washington: President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, sought to unmask the identities of Trump aides whose conversations had been collected through routine electronic intercepts of foreign officials' communications. To reveal the identities of U.S. citizens whose names and conversations were gathered through incidental collection is unusual. And there are more suspicious reasons for Rice to have sought to unmask Trump campaign aides than there are valid reasons.
So, what was going on? Why did Rice do it? And with whom did she share the information?
There could have been crimes committed and a real scandal could develop, so you can bet the full story will be slow to emerge. Rice has issued the standard denials, and her defenders on Capitol Hill and in the media will do all they can to distract and demand that there is nothing to see here. Democrats and their media allies will continue to make baseless allegations, hoping that the Russia investigations will somehow become this president's Watergate.
The result so far? Competing outrage. Just as Democrats are pursuing L-TACs in search of a crime, Rice has now landed as one who will have to answer for her actions under oath.
Washington is as scandal-primed as I've ever seen it — there is a lot of smoke right now, but no clear fire. So the noise and finger-pointing will continue. And I have no idea who is winning.
Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant, and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns.