President Donald Trump has encouraged his former national security adviser, Lt. Gen Michael Flynn, to testify before Congress and derided President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, for declining an invite to do the same. “Not good,” President Trump tweeted.
On Monday, Trump spent much of the day tweeting about the former acting attorney general he fired, Sally Yates, whose testimony on how she handled Flynn’s odd contacts with the Russian ambassador riveted Capitol Hill, and former intel chief James Clapper. “Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today — she said nothing but old news!” he wrote in one of six tweets on the subject. Trump interrupted his 140-character tirades only to give a shoutout to golfer John Daly and the prime minister of Georgia, and even pasted one of his micro-laments into the header of his Twitter page.
Could what’s good for the gander be good for the goose? If Trump thinks these ex-officials’ testimony was so shabby, why not make the trek down Pennsylvania Ave. and set the record straight?
It may sound like something out of a Modest Proposal, but for President Trump, who has often relished doing what’s bold and counterintuitive, there are many reasons why it makes sense for him to volunteer to testify before Congress on alleged ties between Russia and his campaign.
It’s true, on Twitter and during the lone press conference of his presidency, Trump has already staked out his position: He has nothing to do with Russia. He has called stories about links between Russia and his campaign “fake news,” recently describing nagging questions about Kremlin meddling in the 2016 election as an excuse for beleaguered Democrats to justify their unexpected defeat. And on that final point, even Trump’s harshest critics will have to admit he’s on to something.
Through FBI Director James Comey may not yet be “nauseous” about heading an investigation into whether people close to the president of the United States conspired with a hostile foreign power, he appears to be taking the whole thing mighty seriously for the story to be the ruse President Trump describes. So with Yates on the Hill this week and others sure to follow, might it be time for the president to flip the script?
To volunteer his testimony and deliver on a promise—an oath, actually—to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about what he knew and when he knew it would be the biggest surprise yet of Trump’s presidency. And really, it’s a win-win, because even for those less concerned about the president’s commitment to facts and honesty, it will provide reason to be reassured. They will see how the candidate they elected for being bold and shaking things up remains committed to the same ethos as president.
After all, people are beginning to ask: Does Trump believe he can keep a reputation for doing big things by holding signing ceremonies for small-ball executive orders? Does he plan to hold a Rose Garden ceremony for every piece of legislation that passes though one house of Congress? This doesn’t sound like a president who won a massive victory and attracted the biggest inaugural crowd in history. Period.
Trump’s offer to provide testimony to Congress would be unexpected, though not unprecedented for a president. It’s easy to appreciate why a busy man like Trump might not have much time to study history or have much use for heroes, but here’s one he might learn from: Gerald Ford. He was the last president to testify before Congress and also to enter the Oval Office under a cloud of suspicion.
Ford, too, became president amid concerns that he had made a corrupt bargain—in his case, trading Richard Nixon’s resignation over Watergate for an agreement to pardon him. Just as President Trump encouraged the American people to “move on” in his first statement about Russian meddling in the election, President Ford told the American people on his first day in office that when it came to Watergate, “our long national nightmare is over.” It was, in yet another historical parallel, a statement more rooted in aspiration than actual fact.
But it was Ford’s acceptance of his obligation to the country that may become his strongest similarity to the current president. Even if it included pardoning Nixon and damaging his own political fortunes, Ford argued he had a duty to expunge the stain of Watergate. “Only I can do that, and I must,” Ford testified. Eerily similar to some of Trump’s own words just last summer. “I alone can fix it,” he said. And by testifying before Congress, under oath, that he “has nothing to do with Russia,” as he’s put it, he can prove it.
Trump often acts as his own spokesman—sometimes quite literally—when he feels the need to tell his own story. Why not do so on the biggest story of all? And when nearly two-thirds of Americans say they favor a special prosecutor to investigate ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, it might be time to provide some more meat behind his past denials.
Unfortunately, members of Trump’s team have put him at a disadvantage by discrediting the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation, making the president’s options for testimony more limited. Sending the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, on a dark-of-night errand to retrieve classified intercepts from the White House, which Nunes then returned to the White House to discuss with the president, was clearly a rookie move. It’s not a plan a consummate performer like Trump would have conceived.
And while the House Intelligence Committee may no longer be an option, this may be another case for Trump where an obstacle is really an opportunity dressed in disguise. The Senate’s investigation, unlike the hash Trump’s team has made in the House, remains credible—by testifying before the only game in town, the president would be showing the kind of fearlessness he’s brought to real estate deals with tough guys like the Azerbaijani developers behind Trump Tower Baku, with their ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The more you unpack the merits of Trump testifying about Russia ties and cyber meddling in our elections, the more it seems like this may be already part of Trump’s strategy. A realization that he should take greater ownership of the cyber portfolio might have come to him some time after he named Rudy Giuliani as his cyber adviser. It probably dawned on him that providing Giuliani such a role would be akin to putting someone who knows nothing about physics in charge of the Department of Energy. Remember when Giuliani was supposed to drive forward the report Trump promised on cybersecurity, the one that was supposed to be completed in 90 days? Maybe the president was just waiting for the right moment.
Think, too, of the TV spectacle of Trump’s testimony—it would be like nothing America has ever seen: the State of the Union meets the Super Bowl meets “The Apprentice.” Trump is nothing if not a ratings machine. By waiting for Russia to ramp up its attacks on other democracies to deliver his own secret cybersecurity plan, live on international television, he would again show his unique genius.
Is there a better way for a candidate who put the slogan “America First” at the center of his campaign to prove his commitment to those words than to put himself before Congress, not only to put questions about his connections to Russia to rest but to galvanize the country to come together to prevent future interference in our democracy? Hillary Clinton testified on Benghazi for nearly 11 hours. It would be tremendous, terrific, the ultimate Trumpian reality-show moment if he were to demonstrate his “incredible energy,” as one of his advisers once put it, and go a full twelve.
Mr. President, you probably know this already, but it’s time for America to hear your story. It’s time to testify before Congress.