Professor Jacobson at Legal Insurrection:
Trump opponents popping the champagne corks is probably the best thing Trump Jr. has going for him
The NY Times has an article today about email exchanges between Donald Trump Jr. and a person setting up a meeting with a Russian lawyer promising damaging documents and information about Hillary Clinton’s connections to Russia.
In a preemptive move, Trump Jr. published the email exchange on Twitter (here and here) just before the Times published its story.
The emails are highly embarrassing and politically damaging, but as usual, the media and other Trump opponents are overstating the case. The media overstating the case and popping the champagne corks are probably the best things Trump Jr. and the Trump administration have going for them.
The emails show no actual evidence of “collusion” or illegality. There is nothing indicating the information to be offered was stolen or otherwise improperly obtained, or that other than being willing to listen, the Trump campaign was involved in how the information was obtained. To the contrary, the promised information was “official records and information.”
This also took place prior to the hack of the DNC being publicly known, so there was no reason to suspect that this was hacked information. Notice how the narrative has changed from the Trump campaign colluding with the Russians to “hack the election” to the Trump campaign being willing to have a meeting with someone who may have damaging oppo research.
And of course, there was no there there. There’s no indication any information actually existed.
Trump Jr. displayed incredible amateurishness in how this was handled. There isn’t any doubt that the Clinton campaign, if offered “official records and information” showing improper Trump dealings with the Russians would have taken the meeting. But her campaign would have been savvy enough to do it through surrogates and allies, and to provide key players with deniability and distance. We know this because in January 2017 Politico reported that the Ukrainian government helped Hillary with opposition research on Trump, but she did it though “allies.”
Trump Jr., by contrast, took the bait, and brought others from the inner circle into it. In so doing, he provided seeming confirmation for a preexisting narrative. Even if the actual emails don’t show it.
In the immortal words of Al Gore Jr., “No laws were broken.” Don Jr. doesn’t work for the United States Government. He didn’t divulge any secrets. He didn’t make any deals with the Russians to hack the election.
A few points are worth noting. First, the emails support Trump Jr.’s statement that he attended the meeting because he had been told that the Russian with whom he would meet had negative information about Hillary Clinton. The email from Rob Goldstone, who drove the whole process, says that “the Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] 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….”
This would obviously have been of great interest to the Trump campaign, and Trump, Jr. would have been foolish not to schedule the meeting. In one of the emails he says, “if it’s what you say I love it,” an entirely appropriate response that also showed an appropriate degree of skepticism. Trump may have assumed that the incriminating information would relate to the uranium transactions that are described in Clinton Cash, but there is no elaboration in the emails.
Second, someone in this chain is obviously lying, and it isn’t Donald Trump, Jr. Maybe the Russian Crown prosecutor lied, or maybe Emin or Aras lied, or maybe Goldstone lied, and maybe Natalia Veselnitskaya was in on it. Why any of these people would falsely claim to have dirt on Hillary is unclear. One wouldn’t expect that the lie originated with Goldstone, since as soon as the meeting took place, it would be exposed, and Goldstone could only look like a fool.
Beyond that, all we can say is that Trump, Jr. correctly described what he was told and why he agreed to the meeting. Nothing about that process reflects poorly on him at all.
Third, one of Goldstone’s emails refers to Veselnitskays as a “Russian government attorney,” which she wasn’t. Goldstone, and probably also Emin and Aras (whoever they are) presumably were trying to pump up the importance of their “scoop” by saying the Russian lawyer worked for that country’s government.
Fourth, the Democratic Party press will likely try to make something out of Rob Goldstone’s statement that this “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump–helped along by Aras and Emin.” This statement might carry weight if, in fact, the lawyer had been an emissary from the Russian government, and if she actually had conveyed negative information about Hillary Clinton. But she wasn’t, and she didn’t. Goldstone was being had (or else he was participating in an elaborate scheme to fool Donald Trump, Jr.), and the Russians weren’t helping Trump at all.
It should be noted that Trump didn’t run a traditional campaign. He didn’t hire an army of professionals. It was pretty much Trump, his oldest kids, his son-in-law, and a few advisors, none of whom had extensive campaign experience.
But when you dig down to the bottom of this bullshit pile there is nothing there.
OTOH, some people were really traumatized this revelation of nothingness: