In a week in which all political eyes should have been focused on health care reform, the Trumps dropped another bombshell. First son Donald Trump Jr.’s release of emails between himself and a go-between for a Russian operative seeking access to the campaign, ostensibly to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, in July 2016 definitely puts the lie to repeated denials by President Donald Trump and his operatives that Russia was interfering in our election. The Russia story is not “fake news.” Russia attempted to influence the outcome of a U.S. presidential election by hacking state voting systems, by releasing damaging emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server and her close associate John Podesta and by a sophisticated targeting of social media with disinformation on Clinton. Russia may well have done more — or tried to, at least — and Trump Jr.’s emails show that he was eager to receive anything damaging to Clinton, even from a foreign adversary.
Trump and company have tried to defend the meeting between a Russian lawyer with close Kremlin ties and Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort as politics-as-usual. “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent... went nowhere but had to listen,” Trump Jr. tweeted. Really? The emails show not only that he was willing to listen; he was eager: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
And what the offer said was telling. The go-between was a British man, Rob Goldstein, who represents Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, whose father, Aras Agalarov, had partnered with Donald Trump on the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow in 2013. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his (Emin’s) 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.”
Trump Jr. should have picked up the phone and called the campaign’s election attorney immediately to ask if this was kosher. Instead he asked his brother-in-law and now presidential assistant, Jared Kushner, and Manafort to attend the meeting he had agreed to set up.
What is wrong with these people that no one thought to say, “Whoa! Should we do this?” Manafort has been a Washington operative for decades. He knows the ropes. He knew that accepting anything of value from a foreign national, much less foreign government, violates campaign financing law. He also knew that if word ever got out that the Trump campaign was accepting help from the Russians, his candidate’s chances of winning would have been nil. Maybe Trump Jr. and Kushner didn’t understand the rules, but Manafort surely did. One would think Kushner might also have been a little wary, given his father’s history; Charles Kushner was sentenced to two years in prison for violating campaign finance laws, among other crimes, in 2005. But both men eagerly attended the meeting, which Trump Jr. claims did not produce the incriminating evidence on Clinton they were expecting.
As many before me have said, this is not normal behavior. In 2000, a congressional supporter of presidential candidate and then-Vice President Al Gore received through the mail a purloined copy of a video tape and notes from a George W. Bush debate practice. After watching for a minute or two, the supporter turned it off and called the FBI. That’s what you do if you get ill-gotten material on an opponent. You don’t set up a meeting to accept the goods — and you certainly don’t do it if you know the stuff is coming from a foreign government, much less one under U.S. sanctions.
I suspect this is not the end of this thread in the unraveling story of Trump’s complicity in Russian meddling. For now, most Republicans are keeping at arm’s length from the story, even Vice President Mike Pence, who helpfully released a statement reminding everyone he was not a part of the campaign at the time this happened.
The Trump scandals will not end well for the president, his family or the Republican Party. Whatever good President Trump might have accomplished is likely to be derailed by the continuing investigation. Health care and tax legislation were going to be difficult enough before this latest self-inflicted wound from Team Trump. Now they are impossible.
— Linda Chavez is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.