by William H. Freivogel
The New York Times’ story about Donald Trump Jr.’s enthusiastic reaction to the prospect of getting dirt from Russia on Hillary Clinton is the biggest bombshell among the many big newspaper disclosures published during the first six months of the Trump presidency.
Since the Russian scandal began, Trump has insisted that it was “fake news” and that there had been no collusion between the campaign and the Russians.
Now comes proof his son enthusiastically agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer last summer to get “ultra sensitive” information on Hillary Clinton after he was told explicitly the information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
If the letter had been sent to Trump Jr. as part of an FBI sting, it couldn’t have been written more clearly: Russia was trying to elect the presumptive Republican nominee and was ready to give Trump and his father damaging information about the Democrat.
Nor could Trump Jr.’s response have been clearer. “If it’s what you say I love it,” he responded in an email to a trusted intermediary.
Those three words – I love it – will go down in history. The president’s son was ready to accept information from a hostile government as part of that government’s secret intelligence operation to help elect Trump. Not only did Trump Jr. meet with the Russian, but he also brought along his important brother-in-law Jared Kushner and then campaign chair Paul Manafort.
In their wildest dreams, Clinton campaign officials never imagined such clear proof that the highest levels of the Trump campaign sought to collude with the Russians to beat Clinton.
It’s not treason, as Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine suggested. That requires a plot to aid an enemy. But there are plenty of potential legal violations for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate, including campaign violations for accepting a thing of value from a foreign national. Mueller already is investigating other aspects of the Russia story and Trump’s firing of FBI director James B. Comey, which raises obstruction of justice questions.
Many Republicans suggested Tuesday that the disclosure of the Trump Tower meeting was a “nothing-burger.” The repetition of the obviously scripted phrase became comical as the day wore on.
Fox’s Martha Martha MacCallum, playing defense for Trump, tried to get conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer to say the meeting was not important because Trump Jr. says he didn’t receive damaging information. Krauthammer wouldn’t play ball:
“It’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion might be incompetent. If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up but the cops show up, I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here.’”
The White House says the president didn’t know about the meeting. The president himself tweeted Wednesday that his son is innocent and the victim of “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”
But if it turns out that the president knew his son, son-in-law and campaign manager were meeting the Russian in an office near his in Trump Tower that day in June, the “nothing-burger” email could become a “smoking gun,” like the tape from 45 Junes ago that forced Richard M. Nixon from office.