Other elements of the story remain uncertain or doubtful to this day.
Was there collusion between Trump and Russia? We all witnessed the cooperation; that happened in public. Explicit and articulate coordination, however, has never been proved—and may not have been necessary to the success of the project. As the old axiom of political skulduggery goes, “Never say what the other fellow already knows.”
It has never been a mystery that Roger Stone knew things that Trump did not want him to share. “Nice to know that some people have guts,” Trump tweeted in December 2018 after Roger Stone declared he would never testify against Trump. In the months since, Trump has tweeted in support of Stone 15 times, seven of those 15 in the week during which the Department of Justice reversed itself on the Stone sentencing.
It all happened in full view.
At each stage of the Trump-Russia story, there have been Trump supporters who served the cause by trying to throw chaff in the air. They invented facially preposterous theories to distract from the attested facts.
No, it wasn’t the GRU that hacked the Democratic Party as every credible forensic computer expert agreed. It had to have been an inside job by a DNC staffer—who was later murdered, perhaps by the Clintons.
Meeting people you think are Russian agents in Trump Tower to learn whether they have incriminating information about your opponent is no big deal. All campaigns do it.
Roger Stone is just an eccentric, harmless old man gripped by delusions; pay no attention to his nonstop boasting of clandestine contact with Julian Assange.
Michael Flynn was the victim of an FBI frame-up.
These excuses do not fool anyone who is not already fooled, or not part of the team doing the fooling. But they serve the purpose of leading the public mind off the main highway and into an obscure tangle of footpaths and dead ends. Meanwhile, the once startling truth turns stale and dull. When William Barr, the attorney general, intervened in February to protect Stone, the world was astonished and shocked. Stone was the central figure in an all-consuming political scandal. He might know things that would convulse the Trump presidency, even more than the proven record already has. Stone's continued silence, on the other hand, could protect that presidency. And now the presidency was inserting itself into Stone’s case, over the objection of every single one of the lawyers who had prosecuted the case, to ensure that potentially presidency-saving protection.
Read: Democrats don’t know how to handle Bill Barr
Just as the Russia story happened in plain sight, this was obstruction of justice in plain sight—and it counted on its very plainness as its alibi. We all expect scandals to be clandestine. If actions are flagrant, how can they be scandalous? Yet, again and again, Trump has announced scandalous misconduct on TV, as when the president told NBC’s Lester Holt that of course he fired James Comey to shut down the Russia investigation, or boasted to a Tulsa rally crowd that he slowed coronavirus testing to reduce the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. The normal mind tends to think: People don’t casually confess to serious wrongdoing. Trump just casually confessed. So the thing he confessed must not be seriously wrong, or it must not have actually happened.