23 years after the premiere of The Usual Suspects, Keyser Söze is still a household name. Pulling off one of the greatest cinematic twists, semi-mythical villain Keyser Söze has continued to pop up in reference throughout the decades following his 1995 introduction. If you’ve never watched the film, spoiler alert: in its final minutes, the audience realizes that Verbal Kint, a low level con-artist played by Kevin Spacey (yeah, RIP Kevin Spacey’s career) and the supposed sole survivor of a master scheme orchestrated by the legendary Keyser Söze, is actually the criminal mastermind himself. But by the time the federal customs agent who Kint has been telling his story to, realizes the truth – it’s too late. Kint a.k.a Keyser Söze disappears into the light of day as the web of lies he has crafted breaks apart.
As a fan of the crime/suspense/thriller genre in television and film, I am drawn in by brilliantly written characters, suspenseful plots, and unexpected twists. The most exciting shows and movies are the ones that keep you guessing up until the very end, when the “big reveal” comes in. There is an “aha!” moment, as the detective/main protagonist realizes what has been true all along.
That is the difference between cinema and the scandal that has been rocking our current political landscape – we already know what has been true all along. Unlike the stories that are penned to script, these characters aren’t brilliant, the plot isn’t suspenseful, and the twists aren’t unexpected. In fact, if this were a movie it would probably win big at the Razzie Awards for “Worst Everything.” We keep waiting for the “gotcha!” moment, but this is not coming from the minds of exceptional screenwriters or filmmakers; it is coming from the inability of anyone linked to the Trump administration to conceal the fact that they got in bed with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
If anything, the “gotcha!” part is that Donald J. Trump is President.
It’s one thing if those on the Trump team who conspired and colluded with members of the Kremlin squad were crafty, Keyser Söze-like criminals, but they are far from it. John Oliver coined a title for the Russia-Trump scandal, calling it “Stupid Watergate”; honestly, it’s hard to think of anything more appropriate. Here’s a quick recap highlighting some of the best of “Stupid Watergate”:
Former national security advisor Mike Flynn, who led crowds at Trump rallies in chanting “Lock her up!” (referring to Hillary Clinton), and once said, “If I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.” This past December, Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia, 9 months after he was forced to resign from his post. I’ll just leave that there.
Donald Trump, who has a penchant for tweeting things like “…Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” Trump fired James Comey for refusing to swear political loyalty to him, fired former AG Sally Yates, reportedly tried to fire Robert Mueller last June, only stopping in doing so after his lawyer threatened to quit because he knew how bad it would look, and recently trolled/smeared FBI director Andrew McCabe into taking an early retirement. Let’s also not forget when he revealed highly classified information in the Oval Office to a Russian foreign minister and ambassador, because the man is an idiot.
Don Trump Jr., who has basically left an entire paper trail of his communications with Russian contacts, i.e. emails with subject lines like “Russia-Clinton-private-confidential.” He also DM’d with WikiLeaks on Twitter regarding Clinton dirt, and emailed Jared Kushner about it.
Jared Kushner, who like many others, frequently has a case of *“Russia dementia” when forgetting to disclose very important information about his Russian ties or business holdings (until they are later produced by investigators).
*Russia dementia: An illness that affects any member of the Trump Team who has met or corresponded with Russian officials, but can’t seem to remember doing so when questioned about it. Jeff Sessions has a significantly bad case of it.
Communications director Hope Hicks, who the Times recently reported had previously told Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team, that the emails detailing a meeting between Don Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer to disseminate dirt on Hillary Clinton will “never get out.”
Former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who bragged to the Trump foreign policy team that he had the contacts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin (a conversation that Jeff Sessions conveniently said he “couldn’t recall” – see Russia dementia, above), and drunkenly told an Australian diplomat one night in May of 2016 that Russia had dirt on Clinton.
Best Papadopoulos moment: when he erroneously believed he was in contact with Putin’s niece, and wrote an email to the Trump team informing them of it. Like Flynn, Papadopoulos pled guilty of lying to the FBI about his Russian connections.
And then there’s Carter Page, boy-wonder, who decided that the best move in the midst of being investigated by the FBI was to make multiple, ill-advised appearances on national television. In one particularly bizarre interview with Chris Hayes, he stumbled so poorly over questions about his Russian connections and his relationship with Papadopoulos, prompting Hayes to congratulate him on “not being indicted.” Thanks to the recent Nunes Memo, Page is once again center stage – it turns out he has been a subject of interest for the FBI since 2013.
Much like Mariah Carey has famously claimed throughout the years that she “does not know Jennifer Lopez,” Trump and other members of his team will repeatedly claim that he does not know *insert whichever team member is under investigation.* This past October, after Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying, Trump tweeted, “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.” But as the receipts show, in March of last year he referred to Papadopoulos as “an excellent guy” in an interview with the Washington Post, and later posted a picture on Instagram of his national security team – with Papadopoulos sitting 4 seats down from him. Meanwhile, Devin Nunes is STILL claiming that Trump never met Papadopoulos. WE HAVE THE RECEIPTS, DEVIN.
Speaking of Devin Nunes – just when you think you’ve ripped the last of your hair out by the sheer stupidity of everyone involved in “Stupid Watergate,” in comes Nunes with his memo. The memo was backed up by Paul Ryan and House Republicans, and was referred to as “ jaw-dropping,” “sickening” and “worse than Watergate.” In what has perhaps taken the prize as the most asinine piece of “evidence” to prove Trump’s claims that the FBI, the DOJ, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama worked together to conspire against him and keep him from becoming President, the memo was the exact opposite of a bombshell.
If you haven’t read the memo, or if you are confused as to what in the hell it is all about, it essentially claims that the Trump-Russia investigation was cooked up by the Clinton campaign and passed along to corrupt law enforcement agents in order to stop Trump from becoming President. It also claims that the investigation began with the surveillance of Carter Page, and the only reason that the FBI was able to obtain a FISA warrant to survey Carter Page was because of the Steele dossier, a document that alleges conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, and which was in part funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC. The memo claims that Christopher Steele, the British intelligence agent who had compiled the incriminating dossier against Trump, wanted to personally ensure that Trump did not become President. Therefore, according to Sean Hannity, Trump, Nunes, and other Republicans who have jumped on board this latest piece of the conspiracy theory, the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russian ties began with a fictional dossier whose sole purpose was to act as a Democratic hit job against Trump.
But the reason the memo is so utterly stupid and why it has left any sane person scratching their head in confusion regarding the dramatic build-up that preceded it, is that it literally contradicts itself. Aside from the fact that we know Carter Page (who really never seems to stop talking) popped up on the FBI’s radar back in 2013, due to suspicion that he was being recruited as a spy, the final page of the Nunes memo mentions that “The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent *Peter Strozak.”
*Fun fact: Peter Strozak, the FBI agent who, according to Nunes and Trump, was working against Trump, was the same agent who co-wrote the letter Comey sent to Congress announcing that they were reopening the investigation into Hillary’s email server. Bear in mind, this was 11 days before the election, and was perhaps the final nail in Hillary’s presidential coffin.
But let’s return to the memo. So after laying out 3 pages claiming that the falsified and biased Steele dossier is the reason the DOJ and FBI started surveying Page and therefore served as the catalyst for the Trump-Russia investigation, the memo casually says that Papadopoulos’ conversation with the Australian diplomat WHILE DRUNK was the trigger…? I dare this to write itself as an episode of VEEP.
Not only does the memo NOT vindicate Trump’s claims, the man behind its release is utterly moronic. If you feel like you’ve heard Devin Nunes’ name one too many times in the past year, you’re absolutely correct. Lest we’ve forgotten his reprehensible behavior last March, quick reminder that Nunes was forced to recuse himself from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Trump-Russia ties after the embarrassing press conference in which he released “intelligence reports” and tried to make it look as if they verified Trump’s claims of having been wiretapped by President Obama. These “reports,” of course, came from none other than the Trump White House itself.
Yes, I am resisting the urge to ram my head into a wall over the fact that Nunes has been allowed back in the spotlight to once again make ridiculous, duplicitous claims; at the expense of our most trusted institutions of law enforcement. In backing Trump’s lies that he was conspired against, Nunes and other right-wing lackeys have ripped open the door to a legitimate constitutional crisis. Though absolutely vacuous, the fodder surrounding the memo, rather than the memo itself, has given conservative media and Trump’s political supporters even more yarn in the false narrative they have been spinning; in turn, throwing our law enforcement agencies into the shredder, right next to the scraps that were once GOP decency.
What those under Trump’s umbrella are attempting is something that every thriller/crime writer knows well: the ultimate “twist” that throws everything we previously knew out the window in light of the dramatic “reveal.” But remember, this is “Stupid Watergate,” and there is no plot twist. There are no Keyser Söze villains. Every piece of the Trump-Russia “puzzle” leads us to the same obvious conclusion time and time again.
But at the end of the day, despite the brainlessness of many of these individuals, they are in charge. There is no getting around that fact. Trump and his team do as they please, knowing that they have the full backing of the Republican Party and the ear and mouth of conservative media. Fully enabled by Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, Trump has been given permission to hold himself above the law. His election broke the GOP’s backbone in two, rendering it unable to stand up for justice.
Devin Nunes continues to have a platform for his evidence-lacking conspiracy theories. Fox News pundits continue to spew forth anything that contradicts reason and logic. House and Senate Republicans continue to weasel their way out of holding Trump or themselves accountable for anything. You know the quote, “Do it, then ask for forgiveness later”? Team Trump operates under the motto, “Do it, then claim you didn’t do it, then claim that you did do it but it wasn’t actually illegal, then claim that you didn’t do it and it’s all part of a conspiracy cooked up by Hillary Clinton.”
It’s easy to chalk the entire administration up as “idiots,” and laugh off the absurdity of something like the Nunes memo. But Trump, with the help of Republicans and conservative media, is directing the public away from the obvious and clear truth, and Democrats, along with the mainstream press, aren’t doing a great job of steering it back. Sacrificing country in favor of party, Republicans are running our most trusted institutions into the ground by disparaging their reputations in order to push the Trump narrative forward. And so far, it seems to keep on working. Trump, Republicans, and conservative media are concerned with one thing: having the public believe what they want them to believe. They do not care about their constitutional obligations to uphold justice because they do not care about the truth.
At the end of The Usual Suspects, Verbal Kint remarks, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” In regards to Trump, the greatest trick he ever pulled was convincing millions of people that he, a reality-star, billionaire con-man, was the populist leader they had been waiting for. It’s past time for the Democrats to rip back the curtain, revealing the truth behind the illusion.