Just once, I’d like to get through a single news cycle without the words “Russia,” “collusion,” and “Trump campaign” being obsessively parsed on cable news. The Sunday evening New York Times story detailing a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer during the beginning of the 2016 general election season assures us that today won’t be that day.
If you missed the Times report, you don’t need to read all of it. All you have to know is that Donald Jr. was idiotic enough to meet a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya – who has a history of working on behalf of clients and firms tied to the Russian government – at the height of the campaign season on the promise that some damaging information about Hillary Clinton would be handed over after that meeting concluded.
Donald Jr., perhaps considering that interacting with a Kremlin stooge about U.S. presidential politics wasn’t a smart thing to do alone, brought Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort to Trump Tower with him. When Trump’s eldest son realized that Veselnitskaya was talking nonsense and didn’t possess any explosive material on the Clintons, the conversation ended. The only thing the Trump campaign got was 20 to 30 minutes of useless babble.
While Trump Jr. may have gone into the meeting hoping that his Russian contact had slimy information on Clinton, he’s lucky that none was produced. Had sensitive documents about Clinton been transferred to the Trump campaign and the campaign chosen to use that information or leak it to the press, the Russia story that dominates the headlines today would have taken on a new life. Instead of suspected collusion that has yet to be proven, the talk in Washington would be about actual collusion.
Seen in another way, Donald Jr. could have placed his father’s entire presidency and political future in peril, all because he was so enticed by the possibility of bringing a bombshell about Hillary to his dad that he apparently never thought to slow down and question whether conniving with a foreigner to impact the result of an American presidential election was an appropriate thing to do.
Indeed, either Donald Jr. suffers from so much tunnel vision that he didn’t think about the consequences of his actions or he believed that the Russian’s information was so juicy that it would be worth the risk of collaborating with an individual who literally represents the Russian deep state for a living. Neither possibility is a particularly good indictment on Jr.’s judgment or common sense.
To be fair, I don’t have any first-hand experience with running or even being a member of a national campaign during the heat of an election season. All I can do is speculate as to what I would do in a similar situation. Being as inexperienced as Donald Jr. was in the arts of politicking, I could envision a scenario where I would mull the offer for a few days before politely declining the meeting.
But what I can say with a high amount of confidence is that that I would have shut the door on any interaction or communication once I found out that the individual was a Russian attorney who’s made a living defending Kremlin clients – the same Kremlin that has a sophisticated cyber capability and was already suspected as having attacked U.S. infrastructure and political systems. Bumping my candidate’s poll numbers by a couple points wouldn’t be worth the risk to my personal reputation.
Apparently Donald Jr. has a greater willingness than I do to take risks. In this case, the risk seems to have outweighed the reward.