Too Dumb To Collude? Is Trump Jr.’s Conduct Criminal or Just Criminally Clueless?
He sees nothing wrong with his meeting with the Russian lawyer.
“Why would I?”
This rhetorical question was Donald Trump Jr.’s answer when Sean Hannity asked him if he met with any Russians other than Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Well, Don, you just met with one. To get Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton. That’s why.
And yet, as clueless as this is, Don Junior seems genuinely non-plussed about all the fuss over his meeting with the Russian lawyer.
Could it be that he truly lacks the capacity to fathom the significance of his actions? Maybe so.
Let’s review the facts.
In June of 2016, shortly after his father had secured enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee of the Republican party, Trump Jr. received an email from an acquaintance he knew to be closely connected to a Russian family that was, in turn, closely connected to Vladimir Putin.
The email promised that the Russian lawyer would provide “very high level and sensitive information” about Hillary Clinton that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” If this weren’t clear enough, the email explained that “the Crown prosecutor of Russia” had offered to provide the Trump campaign with “official documents and information” that would incriminate Hillary in her dealings with Russia. This information promised to be “very useful to your father.”
Trump Jr. replied, “if it’s what you say I love it,” and promptly agreed to meet the Russian lawyer. He also invited Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then campaign manager Paul Manafort to attend.
Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort then attended the meeting, only to be disappointed that the Russian lawyer “had no meaningful information.” It turned out that her real agenda was to lobby against the Magnitsky Act, a law passed by Congress that placed economic sanctions on Russian individuals close to Putin. The Act had so angered Putin that he terminated a program that allowed Americans to adopt Russian orphans.
None of these facts are disputed. All have been admitted and confirmed by the publication of the emails themselves.
When the New York Times reported on the meeting, Trump Jr.’s initial statement was that the meeting “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” He didn’t say a word about the attempt to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, the entire premise of accepting the meeting in the first place.
The next day, Trump Jr. issued a second statement, admitting that the Russian lawyer had indeed discussed supposedly incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. But Trump said that the lawyer’s statements about Clinton were “vague, ambiguous, and made no sense,” and that she had provided “no details or supporting information.” When the lawyer changed the subject to the Magnitsky Act and the adoption of Russian children, Trump informed her that his father was still a private citizen, and promptly terminated the meeting.
In other words, Don Jr. did not terminate the meeting because it was wrong to secretly solicit “official documents” and “very high level and sensitive information” that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Quite the opposite. He terminated the meeting because the Russian lawyer was unable to deliver the promised information from the Russian government, not because it was wrong, and possibly illegal, to solicit that information.
Is it really possible that Trump Jr. sees absolutely nothing wrong with this? Or, in the words of his lawyer, that he believes this is “much ado about nothing?”
I think it is. In his Hannity interview, Don Jr. seemed genuinely perplexed at the fuss surrounding the disclosure of the meeting.
Doesn’t every presidential campaign do opposition research? Yes, but not from Russian agents attempting to interfere with a presidential election.
Since we obtained no useful information in the meeting, how could anything be wrong with it? Well, one would suppose that any half-bright person would understand that it is at least immoral and wrong to attempt to secretly obtain “very high level and sensitive information” from a hostile government that is trying to interfere with an American election.
Either Trump Jr. genuinely understands none of this, or he is one hell of an actor.
At this point, the “too dumb to collude” defense seems to be working. Trump supporters are buying it lock, stock and barrel, and even critics are openly wondering whether Don Jr.’s actions were illegal, or just criminally clueless.
All of this may come to a head when the next shoe drops. Right now, the missing link is whether, at the time of the meeting, Trump Jr., Kushner or Manafort knew that Russia had hacked and stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee. The stolen emails were leaked to the press within weeks of the meeting.
Knowledge of that crime, paired with an attempt to weaponize the stolen material, would be a game changer.
It would blow the “too dumb to collude” defense out of the water.
Wait for it.