Russian scandal and Brexit shambles demonstrate danger of speaking too soon

PUBLISHED: 13:00 12 December 2017

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI regarding his improper contacts with Russia. Picture: Mark Reinstein via Zuma Wire

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI regarding his improper contacts with Russia. Picture: Mark Reinstein via Zuma Wire

Zuma Press/PA Images

MITCH BENN discusses how speaking in haste can often signal the truth

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying ‘there’s many a true word spoken in jest’. This is indeed the case (the whole satire industry depends upon it) but there are, if anything, even more true words spoken in haste.

That is to say, spoken in the heat of verbal combat or just without due consideration of the consequences, assuming that ‘due consideration of the consequences’ is a thing that the speaker in question ever actually does.

We’ve had a couple of choice examples of this phenomenon in the last week or so; a widely publicised (and highly consequential) one over in the States and another over in this country which went largely unnoticed except by a few of us on Twitter.

The highly publicised slip of the tongue (or, given that it was a tweet, most likely thumb) was of course the message posted on Donald Trump’s personal Twitter feed on Saturday, December 2, possibly by the President himself (of which more in a moment) in reaction to the developments in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential elections and what, if any, help and encouragement the president’s campaign gave them in this endeavour.

I’m sure you’ve been following this unfolding narrative, if only for a bit of light relief; while the shenanigans in Washington are in their own way as dispiriting as the ongoing fustercluck which is Brexit, they are at least a bit more colourful and exciting.

Matters came to the highest head so far on Friday when a plea of guilty to the offence of misleading the FBI was entered by General Mike Flynn, who had been hired by Trump (against the express advice of the outgoing President Obama) as National Security Advisor – and subsequently fired two weeks later when the extent of his involvement with various foreign powers, including Russia, either “came to light” or “couldn’t be kept secret any more”, depending on whom you believe.

It has not gone unnoticed that Flynn has thus far been charged only with this one offence, when, by all accounts, the investigators are said to have him bang to rights on everything from having been an (undeclared) agent of the Turkish government at the time of his appointment to, apparently, being involved in a bizarre plot to kidnap and exfiltrate a turbulent Turkish cleric who was hiding out in the USA, having incurred the wrath of President Erdogan. This would seem to suggest very heavily that Flynn has cut a deal with Mueller’s investigators and is, in film noir parlance, singing like a birdie.

One can only speculate as to how Trump received this news (or indeed, how much of it his entourage allowed him to see), but the next day he took to the Twittersphere to boast that of course he’d known all along that Flynn had lied to the FBI about his links with Russia, and that this was indeed why he’d fired him.

The trouble with this boast is that, if true, Trump knew that Flynn was guilty of a felony when he (apparently) prevailed upon then FBI director James Comey to drop his investigations into Flynn’s conduct and then fired Comey (allegedly) for refusing to do so. This, folks, is what’s known as obstruction of justice.

There then followed a baroque sequence of events in which Trump’s lawyer (not a job you’d wish on your worst enemy) John Dowd, cognisant of the fact that his client had accidentally confessed to an impeachable offence, insisted that the tweet had in fact been written and posted by him. On the President’s personal Twitter account, in the first person.

When the media, unaccountably, found this statement less than convincing, Dowd moved on to insisting that since the President himself sits at the head of all US law enforcement efforts, he is technically incapable of obstructing justice. This defence made little sense when Nixon tried it and makes no more now.

Ever since Trump took office, it’s been a race to see whether the systems set in place in the American constitution to contain a rogue President could work upon this administration before this administration could subvert or dismantle them. Just at the moment the systems appear to be winning.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, a tweeter going by the name of Craig Havelock chose to share with the collective a letter he’d received from his MP, the Conservative member for Newark who glories in the seasonally Dickensian name of Robert Jenrick.

Havelock had evidently enquired as to the possibility of in some way cancelling Brexit; Jenrick replies in his letter that such a move would be “inconceivable” (most of you have just heard that in Wallace Shawn’s voice, haven’t you) since, he says:

“... my view is that a U-turn now would appear to be a national embarrassment, and would create huge social fractures.”

Embarrassment.

There you have it, folks... We’re pressing ahead with this insanity, in spite of all the evidence and in the face of reason because to do otherwise would embarrass our “leaders”. And cause “huge social fractures”, like we don’t have those already.

Brexit is already an embarrassment. We’re a laughing stock among nations now, as a bewildered world watches us pursue this demented programme of elective self-mutilation.

The only difference would be that if we saw the light and changed course, we’d go from being a self-destructive joke of a nation to a self-destructive joke of a nation which had come to its senses. We can back out now and take the embarrassment, or stay the course and take the embarrassment and the economic and social ruin which Brexit will bring.

Neither is enticing but I’ll open box A, I think.

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