Tuesday night at 8 on PBS, the great documentary series “Frontline” will offer a refresher course on the Russian interference story so far. It’s titled “Trump’s Showdown.”
The showdown to which it refers is the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into various possible improprieties during the 2016 campaign and extending into the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency.
The two-hour film doesn’t break much news. But as one who has followed the story so far quite closely, I found it helpful as an authoritative reminder of how we got to where we are. It starts with then-CIA director John Brennan expressing concern, two weeks before Trump’s inauguration, that Trump didn’t understand the demands of the job and lacked a great deal of the necessary background.
It proceeds to the growing awareness in intelligence circles that the election had been compromised by Russian interference. Enter FBI Director James Comey to tell Trump about the existence of the famous “dossier.” Trump takes that briefing as a threat, even a “shakedown” by the FBI.The film proceeds to a deeper background on Trump’s pre-presidential life and character, under the mentorship of the famous tough-guy lawyer Roy Cohn, who trained him to be on the attack always, to never admit to anything, no matter the evidence.
Told largely through brief clips from interviews with a jillion journalists who covered the story and many of the players involved, it reminds us how and why Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation, for which Trump will never forgive him; Trump’s unsuccessful efforts to recruit Comey to let the Mike Flynn investigation go; and the various recusals of officials which create the need for an appointment of Robert Mueller to handle the overall investigation.
Capping a mini-biography of Mueller, Journalist Michael Isikoff says: “Robert Mueller cares about one thing, and that is indicting bad guys and putting them in prison.”
Trump soon adopts his catch-phrase for the investigation in all its aspects: “witch hunt.”
As you can gather, for those who have been paying attention, “Trump’s Showdown” doesn’t break much news but is a recap and a thorough, helpful one. It comes almost up to the current moment, including the publication of Bob Woodward’s recent book and the run-up to the midterms and the possible Democratic takeover of one or both houses of Congress. The last note I made while watching it is a quote from Trump, at once self-pitying and defiant: “How do you impeach somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong?”