Алексей М / Flickr Trump will discuss tax reform with...
Алексей М / Flickr

Nothing has been more obvious this week than the fact that Donald Trump is defining the terms of the public debate around special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into his campaign and Russia’s incursion into our 2016 election.

Not only did he demand a Justice Department investigation into his investigators and get it, he coined the term “SPYGATE” and now everyone with a grip on reality is busy rebutting the fabrication that his campaign was “spied” on. It was not.

But more importantly, why the hell do Trump’s phantom grievances matter? Why are aren’t we talking about the fact that Trump surrounded himself with criminals in the campaign—three, in fact, who have pleaded guilty and another under indictment and wearing, not one, but two ankle bracelets?

Or what about the fact that his campaign had so many questionable interactions with a hostile foreign power that the FBI felt compelled to investigate? That would never have happened if Trump associates hadn’t been visiting Moscow (Carter Page), talking to Russian operatives here and abroad (Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos), and seeking dirt from Russian government agents at Trump Tower (Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort).

As complicated as the investigation into Trump’s corruption may seem, the story of Trump himself is actually very straightforward: He is a crook who is defrauding the American people every day he continues to occupy the Oval Office. And while he may eventually be taken down by the criminal inquiries into him and his associates, we have a pivotal midterm coming up and maybe even a make-or-break election in 2020.

Unfortunately, new research from Democratic pollsters out this week shows Americans aren’t getting the basic facts they need about the Mueller investigation. While 97 percent of the public has heard at least “a little” about the Russia probe, fully 59 percent don’t think it’s produced any results, according to the polling coalition Navigator Research.

Not only has the investigation yielded 22 indictments overall and five guilty pleas, here’s a look from FiveThirtyEight at how Team Mueller’s work product stacks up against that of its special counsel predecessors.

Screenshot / 538

Long story short, Mueller is kicking some special counsel butt.

So where are the Democrats—why aren’t they yelling this from the rooftops? Until recently, they have been tucked in a preternatural defensive crouch, too afraid to call Trump to the carpet because they think any whiff of “impeachment” in the air will tip the midterms toward Republicans. But in service of winning the war against Republicans this fall, they have been losing the day-by-day battles against Trump that could ultimately determine the results this November.

The disconnect between the reality of the Russia investigation and what most Americans actually know about it brought me back to something billionaire donor Tom Steyer told me several months ago while defending his “Need to Impeach” campaign.

“We believe this is the most important issue in front of America because it deals with every single issue we face. We have an unfit and dangerous president,” Steyer says, “and so we think it’s really important to tell the truth about the most important thing—and not try and be too cute about thinking about how what’s going to impact an election that’s eight and a half months away.”

If you isolate Steyer’s message from his impeachment campaign, it’s spot on. What the American people need to hear from Democrats is the most important truth about the state of the U.S. government. And here’s what that truth is: The U.S. government is being corrupted by the most corrupt U.S. president since Richard Nixon.

Not only is Trump’s corruption apparent, some of it’s incontrovertibly provable with very simple facts:

1. Trump surrounded himself with criminals on the campaign trail, three of whom have pleaded guilty and one of whom is currently wearing two ankle bracelets

2. Trump elevated an unregistered agent of a foreign government (Michael Flynn) to the highest national security post in the White House

3. Trump and his entire team repeatedly denied having any contacts with Russians before Trump became president, yet Flynn’s indictment proves he did indeed have contacts with Russians; and Don Jr. publicly confessed to meeting a lawyer at Trump Tower in 2016 who wasn’t only a Russian, but an agent of the Russian government

4. Trump has actively and aggressively lied about his team’s contacts with Russia and his son’s, in particular—if you have nothing to lie about, why lie?

There’s more where that came from, but it’s really quite enough for the purposes of campaign messaging. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said on Wednesday, “It is remarkable to me that the fact the president was surrounded by criminals in his campaign […] is not a thing Democrats say every time they’re in front of the camera. That is just a true thing about the president of the United States.”

It’s also the perfect companion to another message that tested highest among Navigator’s polling participants: Nobody, including the president of the United States, is above the law. (63 percent agreed with that statement)

Therefore, America needs to elect lawmakers who will hold Trump accountable, and Republicans aren’t getting the job done. (47 percent of the public said the GOP is “putting party over country”)

The point is, these arguments are there for the taking. Democrats do seem to be coming around, albeit slowly. On Monday, they rolled out their new “A better deal for our Democracy” campaign that included talk of a “culture of corruption.”

But it’s no time to be shy about the harm Donald Trump is doing to our democracy. He’s corrupting it—rotting it from the inside out as Republicans stand by and watch. Voters need to see Democrats quit pulling punches, level with them about that truth, and start fighting for our Democracy with the urgency this political moment demands.

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