July 11, 2017
The Russia story is very much in the news cycle just now: the possibility of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign with an eye to affecting the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. A meeting arranged by Donald Trump Jr. with a Russian lawyer (and also including Trump son-in-law/adviser Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort) is what’s making the news today.
Is this the smoking gun that proves collusion? asks Newsweek today. The whole piece, by Bob Bauer (White House counsel under Obama), is worth reading, particularly because it traces the legal implications under campaign finance law of what’s been learned so far.
I’ve written before about what would need to be shown to prove collusion, asking if we don’t already have all the evidence we need, in plain sight.
Today, the blog Lawfare has a useful, clear-headed piece on collusion. Here’s a key paragraph:
The problem with dwelling too much on the covert forms of collaboration, which we have come to call “collusion,” is that doing so risks letting Trump at least a little bit off the hook for what is not meaningfully disputed: that the president publicly, knowingly, and repeatedly (if only tacitly) collaborated with a foreign power’s intelligence effort to interfere in the presidential election of the country he now leads. Focusing on covert collusion risks putting the lines of propriety, acceptable candidate behavior, and even (let’s be frank) patriotism in such a place where openly encouraging foreign dictators to hack your domestic opponent’s emails falls on the tolerable side. It risks accepting that all is okay with the Trump-Russia relationship unless some secret or illegal additional element actually involves illicit contacts between the campaign and Russian operatives. Yet it’s hard to imagine how any scandal of illegality could eclipse the scandal of legality which requires no investigation and has lain bare before our eyes for months.
Collusion in any meaningful sense has already been admitted, Lawfare is saying. It’s been there in plain sight all along (as I argued earlier).
The focus of the Lawfare piece is that the White House defense — which already admits a great deal — has begun to crumble. It isn’t simply that there was Russian interference publicly encouraged by Trump, it’s that there is beginning to be evidence that there was covert, active cooperation. Close-in members of the Trump family and campaign team are now implicated in seeking active cooperation with the Russian government to affect the election outcome.
Through a spokesman, Donald Trump (senior) released a chilling twelve word statement: “The President was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.” I guess that’s in answer to the Sen. Howard Baker question during the Watergate Hearings, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Nixon was willing to throw Haldeman and Erlichman under the bus until the tapes showed his active role in the misdeeds. The Trump statement sounds like he’s prepared to throw his own son under the bus.
ThinkProgress provides a round-up of the worst apologetics from Republicans attempting to absolve Donald, Jr. I’d add this one, too.
Whether all this matters depends very much on what Republicans in the Congress make of it. Some are more concerned than others. Ross Douthat of the NYTimes admits today he was wrong to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.
I say Watch What Happens Next.