Just hours ago, Donald Trump Jr. released one of the more astounding e-mail chains of the entire Russia controversy. The end result is that Americans may now be introduced to the term “attempted collusion.” Or, perhaps more accurately (based on present information), “failed collusion.”
In other words, there now exists evidence that senior members of the Trump campaign tried unsuccessfully to facilitate Russian government efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton.
First, some background. On July 8, the New York Times reported that Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner had a previously undisclosed meeting with a Russian lawyer with alleged “connections with the Kremlin.” In an initial response to the story, Trump Jr. said the meeting was “primarily about an adoption program.”
By the next day, the story shifted. The Times reported new details suggesting Trump Jr. took the meeting after being promised “damaging information” about Hillary Clinton.
In his own statement, Trump Jr. confirmed that he had entered the meeting seeking opposition research and claimed that the conversation had only moved to the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions law that led Vladimir Putin to retaliate by blocking American adoptions of Russian children, after it “became clear” that the lawyer “had no meaningful information” on Clinton.
On July 10, the next shoe dropped. This time, the Times alleged Donald Jr. had received an e-mail beforehand making clear that the lawyer was acting as “part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy.” The Times cited three anonymous sources who had “knowledge of the email.” Needless to say, because of recent bitter experience, I was skeptical. More anonymous sources? Let’s wait and see.
Well, we didn’t have to wait long. This morning, in two tweets, Donald Jr. released the entire e-mail chain. I urge you to read it all. The first tweet contained his statement and the end of the chain. The second tweet contained the key first e-mail. Here’s that e-mail, in full:
Rob Goldstone is a former tabloid journalist and publicist who has business ties in Russia. He tells Donald Jr.:
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father [Russian businessman] Aras [Agalarov] this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with 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. [Emphasis added.]
Donald Jr.’s response? “Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” (emphasis added). Later in the chain, the Russian lawyer is described as a “Russian government attorney.”
In his latest statement, Trump Jr. claims that the lawyer wasn’t a government official, there was no opposition research, and the meeting was mainly about “adoption policy and the Magnitsky act.” The lawyer herself backs this claim, and denies that she has any connection with the Kremlin. Available evidence now indicates that the meeting turned out to be, to use a formal legal term, a “nothingburger” from which the participants quickly disengaged.
So, what are we left with? From the available evidence, it looks like Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner (the latter two were forwarded the e-mail chain and attended the meeting) attempted to cooperate in what they were told was an official Russian government effort to “support” Donald Trump. The meeting became meaningless to them only after it was clear that the Russian lawyer couldn’t deliver the goods. In other words, this isn’t the smoking gun that proves actual “collusion” with Russia, but rather evidence that Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner tried to collude with Russia.
Let’s define our terms. The word “collusion” doesn’t have precise legal meaning. It’s largely a political term that refers to claims and allegations that the Trump team worked in some way with Russians as part of the alleged Russian effort to elect Trump. In other words, to claim that Trump officials colluded with Russians is not the same thing as claiming that they violated the law. As with many political operations, including dealings with foreign governments, their actions can be unsavory without being illegal.
No American — Democrat or Republican — should defend the expressed intent of this meeting.
Indeed, that seems to be the case here. Yes, the left side of the Internet is lighting up with claims that receiving information is the same thing as receiving an unlawful foreign campaign contribution, but the argument (based on current facts) is frivolous. The law is designed to capture contributions of definable value, like money or other assets. What is the definable value of “information”? Defining speech as a reportable or even illegal “thing of value” would raise serious constitutional concerns.
But to say that it (so far) appears that Donald Jr. didn’t break the law isn’t to defend his actions. To repeat, it now looks as if the senior campaign team of a major-party presidential candidate intended to meet with an official representative of a hostile foreign power to facilitate that foreign power’s attempt to influence an American election. Russian collusion claims are no longer the exclusive province of tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists. No American — Democrat or Republican — should defend the expressed intent of this meeting.
Going further, at long last we can now put to bed the notion that the Russia investigation is little more than frivolous partisan harassment, and it casts in an entirely different light the president’s fury and frustration at its continued progress. As recently as last week, it appeared that the “collusion narrative” had lost steam, and that the so-called “Russia scandal” had morphed into an attack on Donald Trump’s handling of the investigation, rather than the investigation itself. If you had told me last week that there existed an e-mail chain where a Trump contact explicitly tried to set up a meeting between a purported Russian official and the Trump senior team to facilitate official Russian efforts to beat Clinton, I’d have thought you’d been spending too much time in the deranged corners of Twitter.
As of now, we should have zero confidence that we know all or even most material facts. We should have zero confidence that Trump’s frustration is entirely due to his feeling like an innocent man caught in the crosshairs of crazed conspiracy theorists. It now appears that his son, son-in-law, and campaign chair met with a lawyer who they were told was part of an official Russian government effort to impact the presidential election. The Russian investigation isn’t a witch hunt anymore, if it ever was. It’s a national necessity.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.