From Proverbs 19:13 comes this slice of wisdom: “A foolish child is a father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.” Change “quarrelsome wife” to “mismanaged White House” and you have a millennia-old prophesy of the Trump administration, with the first part suddenly applicable as the limelight shifts from Donald Trump to Donald Trump Jr. The president’s son stands accused in the New York Times of meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the presidential race after she promised to turn over potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton. If true, it could validate the heretofore baseless accusation that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
We’re still a long way from that conclusion, though, and everyone screaming “TREASON!” on Twitter needs to take an Ambien. Let’s back up to Sunday night when the Times released its story. It alleged that the meeting took place on June 6, 2016, and was attended by Don Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Following the Times report, the aforementioned dripping White House promptly sprung another leak and the Times followed up with fresh assertions from five administration sources that Trump Jr. had been informed ahead of time that Veselnitskaya planned to provide information about Clinton.
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Trump Jr. subsequently released a statement claiming the sit-down had been set up by an acquaintance associated with the Miss America pageant. He also said he hadn’t known Veselnitskaya’s identity prior to meeting with her, only that she had the goods on Hillary. They met, exchanged formalities, and she brought up Clinton. “Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense,” Don Jr. recalled. “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered.” After rambling for a bit, she allegedly switched topics to the adoption of Russian children in America and the Magnitsky Act. “It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Don concluded.
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Almost all of that is entirely believable—almost. The one wrinkle is Don Jr.’s claim that he huddled with Veselnitskaya without first learning who she was. Consider: Their meeting took place in early June 2016, not long after Trump had all but clinched the Republican nomination for president. This was a busy time for the campaign: preparations for final state wins needed to be made, the pivot from the primary to the general had surely begun, new hires were needed, Republican endorsements were being lined up.
Yet Donald Trump’s son, one of the nominee’s closest confidantes, not only allotted time to meet with an anonymous individual on the thin reed that she might have anti-Clinton dirt, but also dragged along Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner? The future president’s dream team was mobilized for a rando?
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It seems far more conceivable that Trump Jr. and friends only met with Veselnitskaya because they knew who she was, that she had extensive Kremlin connections, and therefore that her enticement of a campaign game-changer was credible. Is that attempted collusion? An op-ed at the New York Post counters that it doesn’t matter either way because “no campaign in its right mind would turn down an offer of information on their opponent.” Fair enough, but given Veselnitskaya’s history, a handoff from her could have very well been a handoff from the Russian government, and the Russian government is not known to obtain its intelligence through honest means. Trump Jr. thus risked accepting information obtained through foreign hacking—or worse. That goes well beyond the skulduggery of your average campaign oppo research department.
The one undisputed detail of this story is that Donald Trump had no knowledge of what his son was up to, meaning the president can credibly distance himself from the scandal. And we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here. As the Post points out, nothing of value was obtained from the meeting. As Dan DePetris observes at Rare this morning, the evidence we have at worst affirms that Don Jr. exercised terrible judgement. But it’s a foul-up that will have the media tolling that word “collusion” for another week, and no doubt Robert Mueller will be taking a close look, too.