News & Politics

Don Jr.'s Emails Show Poor Judgment — Not Evidence of Treason

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It finally happened. Evidence of potential collusion between the Russian government and the Trump team finally emerged in the media and it wasn’t leaked by Obama holdovers in the deep state or disloyal White House staffers. It was posted on Twitter by the son of the president himself, Donald Trump, Jr.

The bombshell comes in the form of an email chain between Rob Goldstone, a colorful music publicist, and Trump Jr. detailing how they set up a meeting with a Russian lawyer who allegedly promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

https://twitter.com/JackPosobiec/status/884802604911534080

In the emails, Goldstone expressly informs Trump Jr. that Natalia Veselnitskaya has connections to the Russian government:

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

It gets worse:

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information, but it is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

Goldstone explained that he contacted Trump Jr. first because of the sensitivity of the information, noting: “I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.” Goldstone also reminds Trump Jr. of the arrival of “the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow.”

Veselnitskaya, for her part, denied in an interview with NBC News that she had any connection to the Kremlin and insisted she met with Trump Jr. to discuss sanctions between Russia and the U.S., not to hand over damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that,” Veselnitskaya said. She claimed that team Trump “badly” wanted dirt on Clinton: “It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. None of this looks good.

Trump Jr. only produced the emails to beat the New York Times to the punch. Meanwhile, his stories kept changing.

But while the emails are politically damning and show terrible judgment on the part of Trump Jr., they are hardly the “smoking gun” some legal experts are suggesting. The emails indicate that Trump Jr. was “collusion-curious” as one wag put it, but there is still no proof that team Trump illegally colluded with the Russian government.

As Ed Morrissey noted at Hot Air, “there still isn’t any evidence that any quid pro quo took place, and the NYT alludes to that in the new article too.”

The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. But in recent days, accounts by some of the central organizers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records.

Don Jr continues to insist that nothing came of it, and that it’s normal practice to look for negative information on one’s political opponents. That’s certainly true, but it’s not normal to conspire with agents of foreign governments to get that dirt — although both sides did exactly that in the 2016 campaign.

The difference between the two, as I write in my column for The Week, is that Democrats understood how to better buffer those efforts.

Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University, concurred in his op-ed at The Hill: “Don Jr.’s Russia meeting wasn’t collusion — just amateur hour.”

Turley writes that while the initial communications showed possible coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign, it “raises more questions than answers.”

If the Russians were making such a play to influence the election in favor of Trump, this is a curious way of going about it. The most obvious question is why the Russians would call such a meeting but not actually produce any evidence or even substantive allegations.

One obvious explanation is that Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort fell for a classic bait-and-switch. Veselnitskaya was representing people seeking to lift the adoption ban, and it was certainly amateur hour in Trump Tower. If this is the best the Russians can do as their big play, we have little to worry about.

As Laura Ingraham pointed out on Twitter, publicists representing clients exaggerate for a living.

Turley argues that based on what we know so far, none of this “constitutes a clear crime or even a vague inkblot image of a crime.”

It is common for foreign governments to withhold or take actions to influence elections in other countries. Information is often shared through various channels during elections from lobbyists, non-government organizations, and government officials. This includes former Clinton aide Alexandra Chalupa, who allegedly worked with Ukrainian government officials and journalists to come up with dirt on Trump and Manafort.

Consider the implications of such an unprecedented extension of the criminal code. The sharing of information — even possible criminal conduct by a leading political figure — would be treated the same as accepting cash. It would constitute a major threat to free speech, the free press and the right of association. It would also expose a broad spectrum of political speech to possible criminal prosecution.

Executive branch officials could then investigate campaigns on any meetings where information or tips might have originated from a foreign source. Such an expansion would likely hit challengers the hardest, since sitting presidents not only control the Justice Department but the government has a myriad of back channels in communicating with foreign officials.

While those contacts could be dismissed as “official communications,” a challenger could be viewed as consorting with foreigners. Under this interpretation, a foreign non-government organization or foreign academic feeding damaging information on Trump’s foreign investments or business activities could be viewed as a federal crime.

Turley appeared on Fox News last night to explain why nothing he’s seen thus far constitutes treason, so people need to “take a breath.”

President Donald Trump defended his son in a written statement read by Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders Tuesday:

“My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency,” the president said.