July 11, 2017
Terry H. Schwadron
Any hopes of avoiding the New York Times disclosures that Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a Russian lawyer tied to the Kremlin are doomed, since we continue to hear more, including about emails about Russian efforts to aid his father’s candidacy for President.
Junior along with then Trump-campaign manager Paul Manaford and first son-in-law Jared Kushner, met during the election campaign with a Russian lawyer with ties to Vladimir Putin — an incident prompting a storm of competing explanations that will not simply go away; indeed, they are alluring fodder for congressional investigators and the FBI.
That the explanations keep changing, chameleon-like, to try to fit the best circumstances is reflecting a more serious situation in which very little of “official” White House announcements can be taken at face value.
How often are we reminded that the cover-up is always more damaging than the crime. In this case, the after-explanations are just nutty and more self-induced misreadings of the American public.
By now, you know the basics here. Just after the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump Jr. agreed to take a meeting in Trump Tower with an unknown Russian who promised some kind of usable opposition information about Hillary Clinton, though little of use came of the actual meeting because the information in question was too wispy even for this group. Then they talked about overturning a regulation objectionable to the Russian government in an apparent appeal to reverse a Russian order to ban American adoptions of Russian infants. As it stands, disclosures about the incident represent the most direct suggestion to date of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the first indication that someone from President Trump’s inner circle met with Russians during the campaign.
Yet, even if that explanation had come out all in one piece, it is, well, weird, and maybe an indication of “collusion,” by the definition of what that means.
Except that it didn’t come out all at once. Instead, the details of that tale keep unwinding, and it has become the latest in a long series of misleading statements at best, or lies at worst, about whether people close to Donald Trump had contact with Russians during the election season, something the President has categorically denied a million times now.
All of which makes it red meat for journalists and investigators to pursue.
The Washington Post published a column citing seven specific times when Donald Trump Jr.’s explanations contradict the Trump claims on this subject. “The information isn’t just troubling because it suggests the Trump campaign sought out the help of Russians to win the presidency. It also contradicts a number of claims made by the White House, the campaign and Trump Jr. himself — claims made as recently as this weekend. For an administration and campaign that have repeatedly denied contact with Russians and had their denials blow up in their faces, it’s yet another dubious chapter,” reported the Post.
The latest explanation is that the Trump inner circle did not know with whom they would be meeting — Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who works with business folks close to Putin and a leading opponent of U.S. sanctions against Russia. Greg Sargent, of the Plum Line Blog, said, “The problem with the claim that they didn’t know whom they were meeting with is not simply that it strains credulity in the extreme, though it certainly does. Rather, it’s that this assertion will now be subjected to very intense investigative scrutiny, as Bob Bauer, a top campaign lawyer with Perkins Coie” explained to him. The Plum Line said that the question of what Trump Jr. really knew about her is “an investigable issue,” quoting Bauer, who was White House counsel under Barack Obama. “It’s very difficult to believe that the son of a presidential candidate and the senior members of his campaign would go into a meeting with someone whose identity is unknown to them. Investigators will certainly not take that at face value.”
Bauer had written a more complete analysis here.
In other words, playing information about such meetings straight may prove momentarily distracting. But squirming around, changing explanations, is sure to draw the scent of investigators.
Indeed, as some explain it, Junior’s statements put him potentially in legal cross hairs for violating federal criminal statutes prohibiting solicitation or acceptance of anything of value from a foreign national, as well as a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Kellyanne Conway, the White House voice on such matters, took on television interviews that merely seemed to make matters worse. Her attempts to make these meetings sound routine and innocent make me believe that she thinks that I, a citizen, must be a moron. It’s not the way to win my political heart.
What makes it all worse is that this is routine for the White House now. So, explanations about what was said face-to-face with Putin have one explanation from Donald Trump and another from Russians and from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The President’s tweet attacking leaks of classified information by former FBI Director James Comey was based on “misleading” information. Opinions about health care bills vary widely in the White House from “beautiful” to “mean” depending on the audience. President Trump’s visit to the G-20 has left world leaders saying that they are baffled about what to believe in our president’s remarks and actions.
Mr. Trump, just so you know, I’m far less worried about your son, son-in-law and former campaign manager meeting with a Russian official during the election than I am about how you and yours never can seem to tell the simple truth about these matters.