Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Don Jr's meeting changes everything

If you only listen to what they say, Team Trump is still calling all the Russia stuff "fake news" and pooh-poohing the idea that Don, Jr.'s meeting was anything out of the ordinary.   "Everybody does opposition research" -- that's all it is, they (desperately) proclaim.

But, as we are learning, don't listen to what they say;  watch what they do.   The amount of "lawyering up" (love that term) is breathtaking.   The president himself has now hired a fifth attorney to his legal team -- and that's in addition to the White House Counsel's office, which handles official presidential legal work and has over 30 lawyers.

Vice President Pence got himself one of those high-priced, Washington-insider type attorneys, as did Jared Kushner.   Now we learn from campaign disclosure forms that the 2020 Trump campaign paid $50,000 on June 27, 2017 as a retainer for an attorney for Trump, Jr.  Yet the New York Times expose story did not run until July 8th.

This is significant on more than one count.  (1)  The lawyer was retained before the New York Times first release, on July 8th, of its expose reporting of the meeting.   (2)  Trump, Sr. has insisted that he knew nothing about the meeting until 2 days before it became public, i.e. July 6th even though his campaign paid Jr.'s lawyer on June 27th.   Trump's reputation as a micromanager suggests he would not have let something like a $50,000 legal fee slip by without knowing what it was for.

So this little factoid about Trump, Jr.'s legal fee payment just puts in bold and in Italics the question:   "Who knew what, and when did they know it?"

Ezra Klein, writing on the meaning of this meeting ( website), recalls pundit Elizabeth Drew's comment that "Watergate was a time of low comedy and high fear."   Klein goes on to say that "The farce of the story distracts from its horror, and so we take refuge.  Twitter is never funnier than when a new Trump-Russia story breaks."   Klein continues:

"And yet . . .  This isn't a scandal as we are used to thinking about it.   This isn't an embarrassment, or a gaffe.   This is a security breach.  It calls into question whether America's foreign policy is being driven by the favors President Donald Trump owes Vladimir Putin for his political help or, perhaps worse, whether it's being driven by the fear that Putin will release far more damning material if Trump crosses him.

"This is a story that makes clear nothing the current White House says can be trusted. . . These are acts that cast doubt on the basic patriotism of the current White House . . ."

"This is a story that reminds us that the last election was often dominated, and perhaps decided, by a crime -- Russia's theft of Democratic emails . . .  And it refocuses our attention on the fact that Trump fired the director of the FBI in an attempt to end the investigation into that crime."

Klein then says that, until now, many people ascribed it all to "bumbling and idiocy and coincidence.   But that won't hold any more.  Trump, Jr.  knew exactly what was being offered -- information damaging to Hillary Clinton being offered by a foreign power.

And, if Trump, Jr. and brother-in-law Jared Kushner were too politically naive to get it, Paul Manafort was certainly not -- and Manafort saw the email and sat in the meeting.

Klein points out what many others have observed.  The email from the intermediary --which clearly referred to the information being offered as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump" -- elicited no surprise in the Trump camp.   Excitement, perhaps, on what they might be getting.   But no one seemed surprised (in the accounts we have) that Russia was trying to help get Trump elected.

The obvious conclusion is that this is not the first time this was discussed.  In Klein's words:  "The alliance is already credible enough, and already serious enough, that they take the email without further vetting or discussion."  Klein continues:

"Did Donald Trump himself know?  It would be remarkable if he didn't.  It would mean his son and his son-in-law and his campaign manager had tried to collude with the Russians -- endangering his campaign and giving a foreign government blackmail material over his presidency -- without telling him. . . .

"But if Donald Trump knew, then it means he knew what he was firing James Comey to hide.  Then it is clearly obstruction of justice.

"Even if . . . [he] did not know, consider all the damning evidence here:  We know that his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager at least tried to work with a semi-hostile foreign power to win the election.   We know the foreign power conducted a large-scale and successful cyber-espionage effort against the Democratic Party.  We know that Trump continues to treat Russia unusually gently -- palling around with Vladimir Putin even as he undercuts NATO and weakens the Western alliance.

"And so we are faced with a crisis that leaves vast swaths of American politics stained.  The election is tainted.   The White House is tainted.  Our foreign policy is tainted.  If impeachment seems impossible, it is only because we believe that Republicans in Congress would sooner protect a criminal administration than risk their legislative agenda to uphold the rule of law -- which is all to say, Congress is tainted, too.

"The actors in this drama are often comic, pathetic, and incompetent.  But the damage they have done, and are doing, is almost beyond imagining.  As often as this looks like farce, we should not forget it's a tragedy."

Thank you, Ezra Klein, for that clarity about our evolving national tragedy.


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