Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin smiled merrily when he saw the reporters approaching him. It was Tuesday, the day of Donald Trump Jr.’s kamikaze tweetstorm, and a deeply enjoyable day to be a Democrat in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol.
“If I were in a similar situation and that request was made,” the Maryland Democrat said, “I would have called law enforcement.” And then a flood of additional reporters swept over him, and he gamely accommodated this media mosh pit, taking on the next question, and the next, and the next.
Nationwide, the rattled American psyche tried to soothe its Twitter jitters, and meanwhile the halls of Capitol Hill were split into two neat camps: Democrats who had oodles of time to talk about the tweets in question, and GOP lawmakers who had not even heard of the tweets in question, and who is Donald Trump Jr., and what is a Twitter anyway?
“I really haven’t seen it,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) demurred, as he fled a storming flock of journalists, all of whom had time to see the tweets, discuss the tweets, get in cabs and descend upon the Hill to bring up the tweets with senators.
“I haven’t seen it yet, no comment,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) as he waited for the elevator to liberate him from the media pack.
Republican senators race-walked with haunted eyes while Democrats struggled to keep the pie-eating grins off their faces on this day when the president’s son, in a frankly impressive display of self-immolation, cast aside months of protestations that he’d never had contact with Russians by posting an email chain with the literal subject line, “Russia — Clinton — private and confidential.”
In the emails, Trump Jr. made plans for a meeting with what his contact described in printed words as a “Russian government attorney” to discuss information his contact promised “would incriminate Hillary.” Trump Jr.’s response: “How about 3 at our offices?”
In quick succession, two senators hopped off the trams that run beneath the Capitol.
“I haven’t even looked at it,” said the first, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) as reporters staggered after him up the stairs.
Let’s try the other:
“It’s ‘Schahtz.’ ” The Democratic senior senator from Hawaii, seemingly gratified just to be recognized, patiently corrected our pronunciation.
What do you think about the tweets, Sen. Brian Schahtz?
“It becomes, now, impossible to have a charitable explanation of what’s going on — that’s over,” he said. “And anybody who tries to spin this as anything other than exactly what it looks like is going to lose all of their credibility.”
Soooo, what does it look like?
His mouth broke into a grin that spread across his face in crinkles so audible they became crackles. He grinned for four seconds without speaking. He tried to stop grinning long enough to answer:
“It looks like laws were violated.”
Another tram arrived:
“It seems to be all coming out now,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md). “When you get an email essentially saying the Russian government tried to help elect your dad, it should be shocking to everybody in the country. AND THEN HE TOOK THE MEETING?!”
What is happening. What is happening?
Theory: Donald Trump Jr. is a bonehead.
Theory: Donald Trump Jr. is just playing dumb.
Theory: Donald Trump thinks he is playing dumb but is actually a bonehead.
Also, is this a big deal? It seems like it is, but after a while it’s hard to tell. Everyone kept saying the Russia investigation was all smoke and no fire, but maybe at a certain point you realize you’re already living in the tar-pit flames of hell?
We are reminded of Winston Churchill: This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, a sign that reality has become untethered from itself and we have fallen into a parallel dimension where there is no beginning or end.
“I just heard about it,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.). “I just couldn’t believe it. It gets more and more bizarre every day.”
Up the stairs from Manchin, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) gravely told reporters that the context of the meeting was “pretty clear,” while behind her, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was shuffling past with his hands clamped on the shoulders of two small children walking in front of him. “I’m just trying to have lunch with my daughters,” he explained.
Elsewhere, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had no daughters to lunch with, and so he kept his hand clamped firmly to his cellphone as he strode past, talking into it loudly in a way that pretty much discouraged anyone from interrupting: “Yeah, I think that’s a good idea,” he said to the person on the other end of the line. (We are working on the assumption there was a person on the other end of the line.)
Late in the morning, Paul’s fellow Kentuckian, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, held a news conference at which he repeated, “They’ll get to the bottom of whatever happened,” with Pavlovian dedication to all questions related to possible Trump campaign interactions with Russia.
“The investigation in the Senate is being handled by the intelligence committee and I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of whatever happened,” he said.
Had his trust of the president changed at all? a reporter asked.
“They’ll get to the bottom of whatever may have happened.”
There is no bottom. We know that now. There are Democrats making hay, and there are Republicans ducking their heads. But there is never, ever any bottom.