Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin who claimed to have information that could harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The intermediary tells Trump Jr. that the information comes from high-up in the Russian government — the crown prosecutor of Russia, in fact, who is an appointee of Vladimir Putin (but then again, aren’t they all.)
At first Trump Jr. says it’s all a bunch of fake news. Once The New York Times contacts him about emails corroborating their story, he takes the initiative and releases a four-page chain and feigns transparency. Despite Don Jr.’s posing, nothing in the email is exculpatory. In many ways the full context is worse than Times’ story. While I’m sure many campaigns — including the Clintons’ — have dabbled in this kind of sordid effort, it’s still unethical.
It doesn’t matter if Rob Goldstone, the, um, colorful go-between, was lying about the source of the information. Because the fact is that three trusted members of Donald Trump’s campaign — his son, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort — were willing to take a meeting with a foreign agent to see oppo research they assumed was passed on from another government. Which, aside from all other things, is inconceivably stupid.
From the Goldstone email:
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.
It also doesn’t matter whether Natalia Veselnitskaya relayed any useful information to Trump’s campaign regarding Clinton (we already knew she was doing business with Russia for personal gain) because we can plainly see that Don Jr. wanted it to be true. “If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump writes. It doesn’t matter if the meeting was a dud. He was ready to use “sensitive information” that “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” I’m not sure why this would be illegal, but it’s certainly shady.
Nor does it matter whether the biased mainstream media has gotten dozens of stories wrong about Trump and Russia (they have) or whether they are out to get Trump (they are) because the facts on this story have panned out. If it were no big deal, Trump Jr. would not have lied about it.
Democrats, of course, immediately began offering the most severe condemnation, which will only make a legitimate concern another partisan clownshow. Sen. Tim Kaine, for example, says the Russia investigation is “now beyond obstruction of justice…this is moving into perjury, false statements, and even into potentially treason.” Treason by the way can carry a death sentence.
Adam Schiff, who’s helped make a partisan mockery out of this entire situation, claims that the meeting is now being used against the Trump team as kompromat, or Russian-style political blackmail. I’m not sure why it’s so difficult to comprehend that some politicians voluntarily take a conciliatory tone when it comes to Russia.
This doesn’t even sound like “collusion,” although clearly it’s worth investigating further. Meeting with someone, even a foreign someone, is not a crime. Nor is hearing something from a foreign person. Yet lots of people are getting excited about two lines in the statute that governs foreign contributions to American campaigns:
A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.
But as law professor Orin Kerr has noted, simply relaying information to campaign is probably not illegal. Foreigners can work on campaigns. The phrase “contribution or donation,” Kerr points out, is referring to an “economic transaction: Funding the campaign.” Not everything dishonest is treason or impeachable.
Other than that, I’m not exactly sure what people want from Republicans at this point. The House is not going to impeach the president because his son spoke to a Russian lawyer. The Senate is not going to remove him. Nor should they, at this point. The Senate voted 98-to-2 (and those two votes were from senators who can hardly be categorized as pro-Trump) last month to effectively check Trump on Russia sanctions. (We’ll see if the House follows suit.) This is an unprecedented rebuke of the foreign policy power of a ruling party’s president. Do Democrats want Republicans to call for a second independent counsel? Do they want Republicans to start up a third investigation in Congress? Or do they really just want Republicans to be paralyzed?
The GOP should condemn Don Jr.’s actions because they’re sleazy and dumb. But there is a long way to go before any responsible person starts making incendiary claims about treason.