The saga of the Trump Russian connection story has evolved wildly since this time last year. And every step of the way, there has been a new story, a new set of excuses, from team Trump. First. the President gleefully calling for Russian intervention. Then he stated emphatically that he didn't know anything about Russia. After that, he maintained that although some surrogates secretly met with Russian agents, it had nothing to do with the election, before finally acknowledging that Russia did indeed interfere in the process, but the President had nothing to do with it.
Throughout the process, the main apology from defenders of the President has concerned the issue of collusion. Trump's campaign did nothing wrong, we're told. The Russian government might have put their thumb on the scales, but Trump had nothing to do with it. Michael Flynn was fired for lying to the Vice President, not for being a Russian agent in the campaign. Jeff Sessions recused himself merely out of an abundance of caution. And, of course, James Comey was fired because he was too harsh on Hillary Clinton, not because he was on the path to uncovering any wrongdoing by the President and his campaign.
All the way along, we have been told to overcome our incredulity. Since there's no public evidence of collusion, Trump and company get the benefit of the doubt. Innocent until proven guilty.
That all ends today.
The latest revelations about Donald Trump Jr., contained in multiple reports from the New York Times, have reset the stage. In brief, Trump Jr. met with a Russian agent, attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. The President's son has changed his public account of the story multiple times, but the newly-released emails between Trump Jr. and a Russia-connected publicist remove any doubt about the sinister intent of the meeting. In quite a curious turn of events, the emails were released by Trump Jr. himself.
There are now two questions at the center of the Trump-Russia story: what did the President know and when did he know it?
(I would be remiss not to imagine the overwhelming irony Hillary Clinton must feel at this moment, seeing Trump being brought down by, of all things, emails.)
What these email records do is eliminate any plausible deniability on the part of Trump Jr. The first thing that jumps out when reading the emails is that the Russian lawyer is introduced as "the Crown prosecutor of Russia," exposing any claims of ignorance that Veselnitskaya represents the Kremlin as a bald-faced lie. Another point of interest is that the Russian-American child adoption spat that was supposedly the subject of these meetings is nowhere to be found.
But the real thrust of the emails, and the reason they could be so damaging to the President, is contained in the very first message, sent from publicist Rob Goldstone to Trump Jr. It reads in its entirety:
Emin [a Russian pop star] just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his [Emin’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin.
What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.
(The emphasis is mine.)
The sentence I have in bolded is the whole ball game. In that one line, the Trump campaign, through Trump Jr., is explicitly informed of a Russian government effort to interfere in the election, and the campaign is invited to participate in that effort. The President’s son, campaign manager Paul Manafort, and senior advisor Jared Kushner all accepted that invitation.
Intellectual honesty no longer permits anyone to claim that there was no collusion. The meeting described by this email is collusion, period.
So the question is no longer “was there collusion?” Aside from the question of how much collusion took place, there are now two questions at the center of the Trump-Russia story: what did the President know and when did he know it?
These emails implicate the President’s son as clear as day. And make no mistake, the meeting that took place was a crime. It violated campaign finance laws, specifically 11 CFR 110,20(b), which prohibits campaign contributions (either cash or in-kind, like the information promised in the email) from foreign nationals.
But thankfully, Donald Trump Jr. does not hold elected office, so he can't be impeached. The real prize here is his father. At this point, so much is clear: if the President knew about and permitted this meeting and whatever other collusion took place, he is guilty of conspiring with a hostile power in order to steal information, lie to the American public, and cheat in a presidential election. Simply stated, if this information was passed along to the mysterious Rhonda mentioned in the email and then to Trump himself, the President should be impeached.
Republicans, the ball is in your court. Don't let the country down.
Photo credit Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons