By J.D. Munch
When Donald Trump, Jr. released his email exchange with Rob Goldstone setting up his now-infamous meeting with Russian operatives, we can only assume Trump and his supporters and sycophants were already working to develop a defense. After all, Trump’s campaign fund has already started paying Jr.’s legal fees. Sean Hannity may have pushed out the most asinine suggestion, as he tends to do: that Democrats may have set the whole thing up to trap Trump, Jr., so they could sit on the information until it was too late to help in the election. As silly as the deflections and denials get, though, it is critical to the resistance that we address and refute them, powerfully and consistently. With that in mind, the main talking points seem to include the following:
It Was a Nothing Burger
Sebastian Gorka, in defending the meeting to NBC, described the events now under scrutiny as a “massive nothing burger.” Different variations of this defense are emerging, but they boil down to suggestions that “most people would have taken the meeting”; that nothing about Clinton actually came out at the meeting; and that this was a random meeting that Trump had no idea was occurring.
All of this, of course, is wrong—and so exasperatingly wrong that responding feels silly. But Trump has so expertly set up the media as his enemy, as a group bent on personal attacks and animosity, that responding with ridicule plays right into his hands. His supporters have bought fully into the Mean Media narrative; mocking him now just feeds that fire more.
So first, no: most people would not have taken that meeting. Or more specifically, most people working on a presidential campaign would have understood not to work with a representative of a foreign power working to help one candidate over another. It is probably illegal, though few prosecutions have come about for the offenses committed. And given all the information we have now about Russian interference in the presidential election, this story clearly links specific, powerful Russians to a campaign that stinks of collusion.
Next, whether or not Trump, Jr. actually got foreign intelligence on Clinton is not relevant. As more information about additional attendees emerges, this remains an open question, but even if he didn’t, he gleefully took a meeting on the basis of his belief that he would get something inflammatory. No one can reasonably conclude—and Trump, Jr. never claimed—that the reason he accepted the meeting was anything but an attempt to collude with Russians to help Trump get elected. This is a brazen move, and the fact that it did not yield what he hoped does not render the plot itself irrelevant.
Trump Never Knew!
President Trump’s attorney has claimed that Trump never knew about the meeting. The story here is that Trump, Jr. was not part of the campaign, and that this was just a low-level meeting that happened to be in Trump Tower while Trump himself was doing much more important things. In this narrative, we have a candidate—now a president—who just had no idea his son was going rogue in his very building and meeting, along with Trump’s son-in-law and campaign manager. He is a busy man, and can’t be bothered with such day to day details.
Of course, this itself means one of three things: Trump is incompetent, willfully ignorant, or lying. We have evidence for all three of these possibilities—but they amount to the same thing. Whether Trump has no idea what is happening around him, chooses not to know about this kind of meeting, or is lying about what he knew, the end result is a man who is as unfit for the presidency as anyone has believed, who has no right or ability to represent the interests of the United States. We know he was in the building at the time, and that his son was at least attempting to collude with Russian operatives to aid a presidential campaign. If Trump had nothing to do with the meeting and never knew it occurred, he is delegating to the point of vapid irresponsibility. And if he did—which seems more likely, given his efforts to obstruct the investigation into Russian ties to his campaign—then he was colluding with Russia in the heat of his campaign.
Finally, Trump and Hannity have both suggested that Hillary Clinton is the real colluder, based on the DNC’s work with a Ukrainian-American investigator during the campaign. On its face, this accusation has some veracity to it. The DNC did work with someone to investigate Paul Manafort’s ties to Russia. On the other hand, that investigation looked at official government documents, worked with an American citizen, and involved a nation that is a United States ally. To compare it to the secret meeting with foreign nationals tied to the Kremlin is patently ridiculous. One shows an above-board investigation, while the other shows a hidden, unreported attempt to work with an enemy of the United States.
More importantly, this represents yet another attempt to shift the discussion of Trump’s improper dealings onto Clinton. Even if the Ukrainian-American’s investigation were comparable, it would have nothing to do with the propriety of Trump, Jr.’s meeting and attempted collusion with Russia. The flurry of false information and misdirection always comes from the Trump administration when it engages in improper activity. If someone steals a car, pointing to someone else who stole something has nothing to do with whether it was okay to steal the car. Whatever investigations Hillary Clinton conducted on Trump and his campaign, this meeting was improper, violated election rules, and quite likely violated United States law.
The Smoking Gun Is Still Smoking
Trump is attempting to confuse and obfuscate because he cannot evade the truth: his son blatantly attempted to work with a hostile nation that wanted to affect a United States presidential election. We need to continue to resist the desperate flinging of misinformation by cutting through to the essence of this. He either knew or should have known that his campaign was flouting the law, all in a power grab unattached from any sense of ethics, and to this day continues to obstruct the investigation into what Russia’s role in the campaign was. The Trump, Jr. meeting makes completely clear what we already knew: Trump worked hard to undermine the electoral process and continues to attack the institutions that help protect our nation. The resistance cannot let this go.