Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton, and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fifth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Ever since Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, every American president has held one or more summit meetings with the Kremlin leader, first and foremost in order to prevent miscalculations that could result in war between the two nuclear superpowers. Generally, they received bipartisan support for doing so. In July, President Trump continued that tradition by meeting with Russian President Putin in Helsinki, for which, unlike previous presidents, he was scathingly criticized by much of the US political-media establishment. John Brennan, CIA director under President Obama, however, went much further, characterizing Trump’s press conference with Putin as “nothing short of treasonous.” Presumably in reaction, Trump revoked Brennan’s security clearance, the continuing access to classified information usually accorded to former security officials. In the political-media furor that followed, Brennan was mostly heroized as an avatar of civil liberties and free speech, and Trump traduced as their enemy.
Leaving aside the missed occasion to discuss the “revolving door” involving former US security officials using their permanent clearances to enhance their lucrative positions outside government, Cohen thinks the subsequent political-media furor obscures what is truly important and perhaps ominous:
Brennan’s allegation was unprecedented. No such high-level intelligence official had ever before accused a sitting president of treason, still more in collusion with the Kremlin. (Impeachment discussions of Presidents Nixon and Clinton, to take recent examples, did not include allegations involving Russia.) Brennan clarified his charge: “Treasonous, which is to betray one’s trust and to aid and abet the enemy.” Coming from Brennan, a man presumed to be in possession of related dark secrets, as he strongly hinted, the charge was fraught with alarming implications. Brennan made clear he hoped for Trump’s impeachment, but in another time, and in many other countries, his charge would suggest that Trump should be removed from the presidency urgently by any means, even a coup. No one, it seems, has even noted this extraordinary implication with its tacit threat to American democracy. (Perhaps because the disloyalty allegation against Trump has been customary ever since mid-2016, even before he became president, when an array of influential publications and writers—among them a former acting CIA director—began branding him Putin’s “puppet,” “agent,” “client,” and “Manchurian candidate.” The Los Angeles Times even saw fit to print an article suggesting that the military might have to remove Trump if he were to be elected, thereby having the very dubious distinction of predating Brennan.)