Somehow I doubt Donald Trump spent a lot of time helping his kids with their homework when they were growing up. But he sure went full blown helicopter parent in ghostwriting Donny Jr.’s specious explanation of why he eagerly met with Russian agents offering allegedly compromising info on Hillary Clinton. (And by “specious explanation” I mean “bald-faced lie.”)
Since the first allegations of collusion with the Kremlin arose, the Trump camp has howled in sanctimonious outrage at the very thought. How dare anyone suggest such a thing! Yet every time we turn around there are new meetings and new phone calls and other contacts between Trump’s minions and Mother Russia that the Trumpkins mysteriously “forgot” until some intrepid journalist found proof and cornered them. Flynn, Page, Sessions, Kushner, Junior: all of them have been forced to confess to meetings with the Russians—multiple meetings, in some cases—that somehow slipped their minds.
The Trump Tower meeting was the most damning evidence yet of real skullduggery, and the first in which the Trump campaign’s eagerness to work with the Russian government to defeat Clinton has come out. It’s hard to imagine it will be the last. Time and time again on the subject of Russia, our so-called president and his administration have hidden the truth, dissembled, spread disinformation and distractions, and just flat out lied, doing everything they possibly can to stop any honest inquiry into their activities. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, if there is nothing to hide, why do they keep lying?????? What are they covering up????
Bob Mueller will damn sure ask that.
RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH SIX BULLETS IN THE CYLINDER
This particular meeting, on June 9th of last year, infamously took place on the 25th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan, one floor below where Donald Sr. has his offices (where by some accounts he was at the very moment the fateful tete a tete was happening). But the Trumps would have us believe he neither knew about the meeting beforehand nor was informed of it afterward. Needless to say, that contention beggars belief. They would also have us believe that the meeting was a random one-off that had no relevant preamble, went nowhere, and entailed no followup. Also a Pinocchio-worthy claim.
Little Donny’s explanation of the circumstances of the meeting shifted moment by moment as more and more of the truth emerged, forcing him to do an unconvincing impression of Savion Glover. First he didn’t know the meeting was with anyone connected to the Russian government; then he didn’t know it was about providing dirt on Hillary; then there was only one Russian present until there were two and then three and eventually eight. (The number of Russians in attendance now seems enough to populate a Tolstoy novel.) All Junior’s denials were quickly proved to be utter bullshit. The subject line in the incriminating email was “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential”; Junior’s reply to the offer of info damaging to Hillary was “if it’s what you say I love it, especially later in the summer.”
Various former US intelligence officials described the meeting as classic KGB-style tradecraft to test a potential target for recruitment and/or exploitation. The Trump campaign’s reaction—not only did the candidate’s eldest son attend, but so did his highly influential son-in-law and the goddam campaign manager—must have had the SVR doing cartwheels. Speaking of which, the principal person he was meeting, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, turned out to be a prime mover in trying to overturn the sanctions against Russia that resulted from the Magnitsky Act, which meant that she was actively working in conjunction with the Kremlin (surprise surprise). Not only that, but it soon emerged that one of the other approximately 4,000 Russians around the table at Trump Tower was a former Soviet counterintelligence officer.
No word on whether they tried the taco bowl from the Trump Grill.
So despite repeated attempts to dodge and lie, Don Jr. was forced to admit that he was enthusiastic about obtaining help from the Russian government in defeating Hillary Clinton. If that ain’t collusion, please explain to me what is.
Maybe the capper to this whole sordid affair was Junior’s moronically self-destructive assertion that he cut the meeting short when it turned out the Russians didn’t have dirt to offer on Hillary after all. Uh, did he think that explanation would help his case? The Trump family seems pathological in its compulsion to blithely blurt out its true intentions, even when those intentions are blatantly self-incriminating. Ask Lester Holt.
First of all, the Russians did have some kind of information to offer. By some accounts, Veselnitskaya actually left a dossier behind with Little Donny. Secondly, Don Jr.’s apparent belief that “adoptions” was a benign topic betrays his stunning ignorance. “Adoptions” in this context is Russian for “sanctions,” referring to Putin’s ban on American citizens adopting Russian children in retaliation for the passage of the Magnitsky Act, which in turn was retaliation for the Kremlin-ordered murder of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian attorney who worked for the American hedge fund manager William Browder, and who was brutally beaten to death in prison by officers of the FSB. (For the full story, see Browder’s book Red Notice.) The Magnitsky Act prevents numerous Russian officials involved in that crime (and related others) from doing business anywhere in the US and EU, which severely limits their ability to run their kleptocratic gangster enterprises. Whenever Russian emissaries bring up “adoptions,” what they mean is they’re trying to get the Magnitsky sanctions lifted so Putin and his cronies can continue to enrich themselves to an obscene degree on the backs of the Russian people and anyone else in their path.
FATHER KNOWS BEST
With typical pomposity, Trump himself dismissed the gravity of what his first-born offspring had done (“I think many people would have held that meeting”), once again demonstrating his blithe and appalling ignorance of the most basic principles of American democracy. I invite you to ponder what the Republicans would have said if Chelsea Clinton had taken such a meeting with the Russians to obtain kompromat on Donald Trump.
Then Sarah Huckleberry Hound of the Baskervilles goes on TV and says all Trump did was what any father would do. To which the best response was from Steve Kandell of Esquire.com, who wrote: ““I miss my dad and the way he used to sit me down and help me with my treason.”
Now comes the revelation that Trump personally intervened to dictate his son’s lie in an attempt to cover it all up.
When news of that meeting was uncovered by the New York Times, it implicated not only Donald Jr. but also his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, who was in attendance as well. Unlike Junior, Kushner’s advisory role to the White House is—outrageously—official, exposing him to much more legal jeopardy. Kushner’s lawyers knew the only sane approach for their client was to be transparent (while spinning the situation as benignly as credulity allowed, of course). That was the plan. It was Trump himself who personally intervened and said “No, we’re gonna lie.” And he personally dictated that lie, right there on Air Force One as they flew back from his already-horrifying performance at the G-20 summit. If that is not the President of the United States personally inserting himself into a coverup, what is it?
Once again, we see a continuing pattern of obfuscation that directly contradicts the White House’s earlier claims, both about the specific incident in question, and about its broader relationship with Russia at large. With a lifetime of entitlement and a history of getting away with everything under the sun by lying, buying, bullying, and suing, Trump clearly thinks he can spin and lie his way out of this, too. But it could be that, at long last, Trump’s privileged life of criminal impunity will be coming to an end…..in part specifically because of his reckless sense of invincibility. As Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case, told the WaPo, Trump: simply does not realize the legal and criminality reality of the situation he is in:
The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president. They are still treating this like a family-run business and they have a PR problem….What they don’t seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them.
Of course, Zeidenberg is speaking in a tactical sense—the “stupidity of involving the president”—to say nothing of the morality. Moreover, it was Trump’s own stupidity, his insistence on lying, even against the best legal advice. No one forced him to lie; it’s simply his go-to strategy for everything. As Jim Comey bluntly told the Senate, it’s the nature of the person.
HE’S EVERYWHERE, HE’S EVERYWHERE
The big question, of course is: What did the President know and when did he know it? (As they used to say on Chickenman: “Where have we heard that before?”)
Plain and simple: the fact that Trump personally overruled his son-in-law’s lawyers and dictated a deliberate lie to the American public implicates him in the coverup. How much deeper his involvement goes remains to be revealed, but there’s little reason to think that it is limited to just this one incident. More likely, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg,….the one into which the SS Trump just sailed.
The email arranging the meeting arrived in Junior’s inbox on June 3rd. Four days later his father clinched the Republican nomination, and in his victory speech cryptically promised to reveal explosive news about Hillary—much like what the Russians (via their shady English go-between Rob Goldstone) had implied in his email that they had to offer. Hmmm.
“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” Trump told the crowd. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.” Trump never made any such revelation in that Monday speech, but two days later Russian hackers released files stolen from the DNC, a prelude to even bigger hacks to come via WikiLeaks.
Moreover, Trump’s flamboyant advisor, the inveterate Nixon idolizer and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, later bragged of his direct communications both with those hackers and with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. (He later denied the same, but the proof is in black and white. On the Internet, everything lives forever.) He also correctly hinted about the second big DNC dump, including John Podesta’s personal emails, before they happened.
Republicans and others on the right continue to dismiss growing evidence of possible collusion with Russia as “a fairytale” and “wishful thinking” by liberals. I hate to inform you guys, but the only wishful thinking here is on your part. Hell, the right wanted to lynch Hillary Clinton for possible crimes not even a fraction as serious as these, while deeming Trump’s behavior unworthy even of investigating. That is tribalism run amok, to the point that it has eaten both the Republicans’ brains and their integrity.
The issue of “collusion” (a political term, we are told, not a legal one—same as “insanity”) is a subject for another day. But in brief, Team Trump need not have met with Kremlin emissaries in a dark alley and made a blood pact to sabotage Hillary for them to be guilty of an alliance with a foreign power. Trump’s personal financial entanglement with the octopus of Russian organized crime and the Kremlin (really, one in the same), his fiscal indebtedness to Moscow, and his willingness—unwitting or otherwise—to abet the cause of Russian propaganda and disinformation in the campaign was sufficient. Even if it Trump’s motive now is merely (merely!) that he doesn’t want anyone to discover the extent of those business entanglements, that is damning enough. And that is the most generous of all these scenarios.
Even if one believes that there was no collusion, there is the issue of obstruction of justice, which has been hamhanded and suspicious in the extreme. Per above, if there is nothing nefarious to hide, why are Trump and his people covering up like a panicked murderer in an Edgar Allen Poe story?
The litany of Trump’s efforts to undermine and halt the Russiagate probe is mind-numbing. He fired Jim Comey, bragged—astonishingly—on national television that he did it specifically to squash the Russia investigation, did the same to the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador (in the same meeting where he handed over to them top secret intel); tried to strongarm the Director of National Intelligence and Director of the NSA to publicly exonerate him of any conspiring with Moscow; relentlessly attacked his own Attorney General—probably the oldest and staunchest supporter not named Trump that he has within the administration—over refusing to break the law and hinder that inquiry; shamelessly attacked the unimpeachable credibility of the special counsel Robert Mueller, or at least tried to, and openly speculated about firing him (which would surely trigger a Saturday Night Massacre-like shitstorm); and last but far from least, brazenly floated the idea of pre-emptively pardoning everyone in his circle, to include himself.
Let’s stop and think about that a moment. We are only six months into this administration and we are talking seriously about the possibility of impeachment, and of the president pardoning himself. Wow.
More generally, Trump has attacked the American judicial system, Congress, the press, and even his own party, not to mention his political opponents (who, in Trump’s mind, are guilty of not setting fire to their entire party en route to helping him pass the GOP’s legislative agenda).
The only people he never attacks are the Russians.
THE WYNETTE DOCTRINE
As many have noted, one of the few positive consequences of the Trump presidency—unintended to be sure—is a reinvigoration of the Fourth Estate. Like many things in the bizarro monde du Trump, his cries about “the failing New York Times” (like his more general screeching about “fake news”) are completely ass-backwards. Never in our lifetime has the press been more in the role of truth-teller, holding the powerful to account and serving as an unofficial player in the systems of checks and balances (a role the Founding Fathers well understood and intended for the free press). In investigating the truth about Trump, the Times and the Post are in a thrilling neck and neck race to outdo each other, re-living the glory days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. Each time one comes out with a scoop it seems to spur the other to do likewise, and the republic is all the better for it.
When I heard the Post report that Trump had dictated his son’s reply, I actually thought, “Jesus, this might be it. This might be the beginning of the end.” At the very least I expected it to be a major story that would be covered everywhere and go on and on for days. The Post story did get a fair amount of play, in its pages above all. It seems to have been recognized as an important piece of the puzzle by most of the keenest observers of this shit show. But I thought it would be much bigger bombshell still, one that would on everyone’s lips for days to follow, and I was disappointed that it was not. No matter. I am quite certain that Bob Mueller’s intrepid team of investigators and prosecutors took note. But have we become so inured to Trump’s lies that even one of this colossal magnitude didn’t cut through the cultural clutter enough to get our collective attention? When we learn, just over three weeks after the initial brouhaha over Junior’s meeting, that not only was his statement total bullshit but that the President himself authored that bullshit, we shrug and move on, just another inevitable revelation that Trump was lying to us. I know that lying to the press and even the public is not necessarily a crime, but it is certainly part of a chronic pattern intended to impede both criminal and counter-intelligence investigations at the highest possible level. Which one would think would raise hackles.
But this story is just the latest in a seemingly endless string of outrages emanating from this White House—outrages that ought to horrify Republicans and other conservatives more than anyone else, given that they are being carried out in their name. Yet Tammy Wynette-like, the American right by and large continue to stand by their man.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what the fuck? What will it take for these alleged patriots to live up to the name?