In nine days, the United States is set to swear in Donald Trump as its 45th president. But so close to the inauguration, new allegations are circulating about active collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Several top intelligence officials and news outlets are investigating the reports. Although officials believe the information comes from sufficiently credible sources, the allegations are unsubstantiated and not independently verified.
The reports claim that Russian officials have damning evidence against Trump and tried to obtain influence over him using that information. Among other unverified claims, the reports assert that the Trump campaign met with Russian agents to talk about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails.
News outlets are taking varying approaches to reporting the information. The New York Times reports that one thing the public doesn’t know is whether any of these claims are true and who authored the information.
CNN says it’s not reporting on the details of the memos because it hasn’t “independently corroborated the specified allegations.”
Buzzfeed published the 35-page compilation of documents “so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the U.S. government.”
Both President Barack Obama and Trump were briefed on the claims. Trump, in a press conference Wednesday, said the information is “false” and is “fake news” and castigated both CNN and Buzzfeed for their coverage of the issue. Russia claims the allegations are “pulp fiction.”
Those investigating the allegations may not have any conclusive answers by Jan. 20.
If the allegations are verified and reported to be true, the Trump campaign’s alleged involvement with Russia could have grave consequences. If the allegations are fabrications, it would mark a huge attempt by top-level intelligence sources – foreign or domestic – to topple an incoming administration. In either scenario, the stakes are high.
But what would happen if the allegations are substantiated before inauguration day? What if other information came to light? Is there a way to stop, or postpone Trump stepping into office? What is the best course to take in dealing with this information?
Julian Zelizer, Princeton University professor of history and public affairs, spoke with the Standard to explore these questions.
Zelizer says one option has been floated: Obama could declare martial law while these allegations are sorted out.
“But that is legally suspect and it’s not at all certain that that’s possible,” Zelizer says. “But that’s not going to happen. There’s not many mechanisms to stop this ceremony at this point or to stop him from taking office.”
Zelizer says the time to stop Trump’s inauguration would have been during the Electoral College vote. But now that the vote is over, and the decision has been made, there is nothing that can stop Trump from becoming president. But Trump could be impeachment after the fact if any wrongdoing comes to light, Zelizer says.
“The big weapon that Congress always has is investigation, and those investigations are ongoing right now,” Zelizer says. “All the new information about Russia is coming out of those investigations, combined with what journalists publish.”
Zelizer says the investigations are where Congress should focus its power right now – it’s the safest course.
“We want Congress to find out what actually happened,” he says. “We want to understand what’s true, what’s not true before moving forward with any big decisions or big actions.”
That this information was released to the public is unprecedented, Zelizer says, although something comparable did happen in 1968.
“Lyndon Johnson had discovered that there were people connected to Richard Nixon’s campaign who were trying to subvert and stifle negotiations over Vietnam,” Zelizer says.
The allegations were based on information that the Vietnamese would get a better deal if Nixon became president, but the information was suppressed.
Regarding the allegations against the Trump campaign, Zelizer says there is one big question that people are asking: “Were there any connections between the campaign and what Russia was doing?”
Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.