Monday, July 10, 2017

Trump's Apparent Willingness to Collude with a Hostile Government


A post yesterday looked at a newly disclosed meeting with a likely Russian intermediary by Donald Trump, Jr. - who has always struck me as perhaps the most dimwitted of Der Trumpenf├╝hrer's children - Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.  While the verdict is out on whether or not the trio received damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian go between, the episode demonstrates one thing clearly: Trump and his campaign were more than willing to collude with Russian agents.  When added to the now discovered list of secret meetings - meetings that Trump operatives initially lied about - the picture that emerges is anything but comforting.  It would be a sweet irony if this meeting sets in motion events whereby Trump, Jr., aid in the fall of his toxic father.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at the ongoing collusion investigation.  Here are excerpts:
Since his presidential campaign was first alleged by critics to have colluded with the Russian government to undermine Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has been consistent—and unusually so—in steadfastly denying it. Now it seems clear that if his denials are true, it is because Trump’s advisers were unwilling to collude. And that confirmation comes, surprisingly, from Trump’s own son and namesake, Donald Trump Jr.
On Saturday, The New York Times reported that Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower in early June 2016. Trump Jr. initially told the paper that the meeting had covered only a dispute over adoption related to the Magnitsky Act, an American law meant to punish the current Russian regime for human-rights abuses. But three unnamed White House aides briefed on the meeting later told the Times indicated that Trump Jr. had taken the meeting after being promised damaging information about Clinton.
Trump Jr. then changed his story. . . . . Trump Jr. brought his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to the meeting.
In other words, Trump Jr. admitted (while acknowledging a prior lie) that he was open to receiving damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian; he was just frustrated that she didn’t seem to have it. If there was no collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump inner circle, it was not because top Trump aides were against it.
Trump Jr.’s admission here is remarkable. Donald Trump’s tendency to speak unwisely remains one of his greatest weaknesses—his threat to release apparently fictive tapes resulted in a special-counsel investigation that has rocked his still-young presidency—and his children are a chip off the old block. (Eric Trump has admitted, contra claims of separation, that he continues to talk business with his father.)
It is possible that, as Trump Jr. says, he did not know the identity or background of the  lawyer with whom he was meeting. The Trump family has a history of failing (or simply declining) to do due diligence in its business projects. Trump Jr. got into hot water during the campaign when he appeared on a white supremacist’s radio show; he claimed he did not know the man’s views. The president has also posted material from social-media users who espouse abhorrent views, apparently without vetting them, as recently as last week. Manafort, who has extensive connections to Kremlin-tied politicians and businessmen, might have been more likely to be aware of who Veselnitskaya was.
Trump Jr. claims that Veselnitskaya provided no actual incriminating information about Clinton, but it’s impossible at this point to know whether this is true, especially given Trump Jr.’s unreliable accounts.
In any case, Wikileaks began dumping a cache of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee on July 22, a month and a half after the June 9 meeting.  The top U.S. intelligence agencies have all concluded that Kremlin-connected hackers were responsible. On July 24, Trump Jr. appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and said that the suggestion that Russia was trying to hurt Clinton was “disgusting” and “so phony.” On July 27, Donald Trump publicly pleaded with Russia to hack and release Clinton’s personal emails.
The revelation about the meeting with Veselnitskaya is the first concrete evidence of attempts at collusion during the presidential campaign. But it also, crucially, an instance of the scandal reaching into Trump’s family—his closest ring of advisers.
The family tie becomes important if Trump Jr.’s second account of his meeting is taken at face value, which is admittedly challenging. He wants the public to believe that he, Kushner, and Manafort met with a Russian who claimed to have damaging information about Trump’s opponent, but did not tell the candidate himself; that this happened even though Trump Jr. and Kushner are close to Trump Sr., and that Trump was at Trump Tower, the site of the meeting, that day, where he lunched with Manafort. In other words, it is difficult to believe that Donald Trump did not learn about the meeting soon after it happened.
The president seems likely to face a difficult choice in the near future. Trump will have to either cut loose family members, including his own son and his son-in-law, a White House senior adviser; or else he will have to take his chances by sticking with them. It is one thing for Trump to distance himself from Manafort (even if it’s laughable to claim, as Sean Spicer did, that the campaign manager “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time”). For Trump, who values both his status as president and his family, that is a nearly impossible dilemma. Kushner’s financial dealings are already one subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The fact that three White House advisers spoke about the Veselnitskaya investigation to the Times suggests some of the president’s associates have few compunctions about throwing his son under the bus.
Trump’s modus operandi throughout his life has been to break rules and then beg forgiveness. . . . The president, a political newcomer, seems to be under the impression that he can do the same in his new line of work. But as I have written before, there’s no option to declare bankruptcy in politics. Nor will Robert Mueller agree to an out-of-court settlement if he decides the president (or his family members) have committed crimes.
The problem for Trump is that this first suggestion of real collusion comes after a mountain of other circumstantial evidence, including the investigations into Kushner and Manafort; Flynn’s duplicity about his meetings; and Sessions’s failure to disclose meetings. It also comes after Trump tried to pressure then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into Flynn, and then fired Comey, citing the Russia investigation.
This welter of circumstantial evidence, along with the possible weaknesses in the case, are why an independent investigation by Mueller is so important to understanding what happened. Instead of welcoming the inquiry as a chance to clear his name, though, Trump has criticized Mueller and mused about removing him. That, too, raises questions.

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