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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Donald Trump has put Republicans on thin ice over Russia

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort talks to delegates

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort talks to delegates as he walks around the convention floor before the opening session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016. Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

When ice cracks — and you’re standing on it — it makes an unmistakable sound. You don’t only hear it, you feel it.

That’s the noise we heard this week when Sean Spicer threw Paul Manafort under the bus at a White House press briefing — ice splintering beneath the feet of the entire Trump Administration.

Manafort was President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and chief strategist for much 0f 2016. The White House spokesman acted as if he had barely heard of him. Manafort “played a very limited role” in Trump world Spicer dismissively said.

The distancing spoke volumes. It told White House reporters, and anyone else listening, that the administration thinks Manafort may be going down. The president’s former chief strategist has been up to his eyeballs for months in FBI inquiries over his financial dealings with Vladimir Putin’s network of thugs and their Ukrainian puppet, Viktor Yanukovych, whose political career Manafort long advised.

Yanukovych is a real charmer. After promising Ukrainians he’d align the country with the European Union, he cut a secret deal with Putin to make Ukraine a Russian satellite state again. People took to the streets before he fled to Russia. He is wanted by Ukraine for treason. (Check out “Winter on Fire” on Netflix. Highly recommended.)

But I digress.

Spicer’s dismissals of Manafort — they’ve continued all week — belie the incredible narrative this administration is expecting the American people to swallow: Russian hacking and well-timed leaks of Hillary Clinton campaign materials; startling Trump campaign personnel connections to Russia and Ukraine; Trump’s consistent pro-Putin statements; an adviser’s admitted communications with the Russian state-sponsored hacker of anti-Clinton material, as well as with the WikiLeaks founder who released it; unannounced rewriting of the Republican Party platform to hedge U.S. support for Ukrainian resistance to Russian territorial encroachment; withdrawn boasts about Trump Organization business in and with Russia; refusal to release taxes; an incoming national security adviser — who’d been on the payroll of Russian state television — illegally discussing sanction relief with a top Russian official, then suddenly fired; and an attorney general recusing himself in the investigation over possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to damage Clinton’s candidacy.

All that, and about a dozen other things, this administration expects us to believe, are mere coincidences; the manufactured ravings of rogue Obama intelligence officers and a hostile news media.

It’s simply not believable.

Who knows? Maybe Manafort skates. Maybe no evidence of wrongdoing by Trump campaign associates Roger Stone and Carter Page ever emerges. Maybe Trump’s tax returns are unsealed and show bupkis. Maybe Trump gets tough and turns off Russia’s internet service.

Any of these things is possible. But far more likely is a long, public and highly damaging investigation that may very well take this presidency down.

No matter what Sean Spicer says, the Russia story isn’t going away. There’s simply too much there. Personal political allegiances can’t obscure it forever. Not forever.

The Republican Party is standing on that patch of ice, too. It needs to make a decision, and soon. It needs to ask itself — yet again — is this guy really worth it? Is the Party of Reagan really about to become the defender of an administration plainly thick as thieves with state-sponsored Russian spies?

The irony of it all is soul crushing.

A Republican president; a Republican House; a Republican Senate, and so much to be done. What an extraordinary opportunity. What an extraordinary shame.

This isn’t going to end well.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.


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