As part of his bizarre tweetstorm on Sunday morning, Donald Trump declared that there had been absolutely, positively, no collusion between Russia and his presidential campaign. How did he know? One of his former campaign advisers said so.
In light of the overwhelming evidence that his own son, Donald Jr., was more than willing to accept “opposition research” from the Kremlin, there were only two plausible explanations for such a bizarre stance. Either Trump is in denial about what his son did, or he has no problem with three of his most senior advisers–Donald Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chief Paul Manafort–being at least willing to accept dirt on his opponent from a foreign power. Never mind that said dirt was almost certainly obtained via espionage and/or hacking.
On Monday morning, Trump gave a very loud indication that the latter is the case.
Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2017
This comes less than 24 hours after one of his own lawyers, Jay Sekulow, publicly declared that such little things as basic decency and ethics don’t matter in the heat of a campaign. And it also comes on the heels of Trump himself declaring that most people in Donald Jr.’s position would have agreed to the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
If it was merely “politics,” Donald, then why did your own lawyers wait three weeks to tell you about the meeting after they found out about it? And why are political consultants from both sides of the aisle saying that seeking help from a hostile foreign government is almost unheard of? Why are many of those same consultants saying that if they were in Donald Jr.’s position, they would have immediately called the FBI? And as Shepard Smith asked on Friday, why have we been fed “lie after lie after lie” about what happened at this meeting?
In a sane world, an op-ed in The New York Times penned by two of the nation’s most prominent experts on political ethics, Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, should have ended any discussion about whether this was even remotely acceptable. Eisen is a Democrat; he was Barack Obama’s chief ethics counsel during the early part of Obama’s first term. Painter is a Republican; he served as George W. Bush’s chief ethics counsel early in Bush’s second term. Both have decades of campaign experience, and said that they would have insisted on “immediate notification of the FBI” had such an offer come to light.
They, and a number of other lawyers who have weighed in on this matter, believe that this meeting was not only improper, but potentially criminal. Campaign finance law bars acceptance of “anything of value” from a foreign government or foreign national. Additionally, Eisen and Painter suggest that Donald Jr. could be liable to charges of conspiracy, since they could potentially be held responsible for “all of the Russian dirty tricks” we saw in the campaign. And as we already know, Kushner could potentially be in hot water for not disclosing the meeting in his application for a security clearance.
Moreover, there are questions about whether the information Veselnitskaya peddled to Donald Jr., Kushner, and Manafort matches information included in a document dump from Guccifer 2.0, the hacking collective that was one of several intermediaries between Russian military intelligence and WikiLeaks. One of the people at that meeting, former Soviet counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin, claims that Veselnitskaya worked from documents supposedly showing the Democrats were taking “bad money”–information that may match what Guccifer uploaded shortly after the meeting. So by Trump’s logic, if you are offered information that may have been stolen from your opponents by a hacker working in concert with a hostile power’s military intelligence agency, it’s “politics.”
With 24 words and 128 characters, Trump has given us one of the starkest insights into his moral compass–and it isn’t pretty. He has announced in capital letters that he is willing to condone unethical and potentially criminal behavior in order to help him win. If there was any doubt that he is the most manifestly unfit occupant of the White House in recent memory–if not ever–it has now been erased several times over.
(featured image courtesy Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)