What's one to make of the latest bombshell report about a meeting between a member of President Trump's inner circle — namely, his namesake Donald Trump Jr. — and a Kremlin-connected Russian who promised damaging material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign?
Is this the big one, the Watergate moment #TheResistance has been waiting for? Or is it "a big nothingburger," as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told Fox News Sunday? Could it perhaps be something else, something that will leave both the "Impeach Now" and "Make America Great Again" crowds deeply dissatisfied, with the rest of us exhausted with cynicism and exasperated by how much of our nation's fate lies in the hands of incompetent political amateurs?
A headline at The New York Times on Sunday blared "Trump's son met with Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information on Clinton." Anyone convinced that Donald Trump is a traitor who illegally colluded with his Russian puppet master Vladimir Putin has all the SEO-friendly words they'll ever need.
The Times bases its reporting on "three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it," as well as "confidential government documents described to" the Times. That's some solid sourcing, even if hardcore Trumpists will reflexively cry "fake news" at any reporting that originates from the globalist elites of the mainstream media, and no outlet is more mainstream than the Times.
So this is the big one, right? Well, actually …
All that's concluded in the Times' report is that shortly after Trump clinched the Republican nomination last year, Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer (not an official agent of the Kremlin, a spokesman of which claims it knew nothing of the meeting), after being promised damaging information regarding Clinton.
Trump Jr. told the Times the meeting was brief and that Veselnitskaya claimed to have information connecting the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to Russian financiers, but according to Trump Jr., her "statements were vague, ambiguous, and made no sense" and he quickly determined "she had no meaningful information." At that point, Trump Jr. says Veselnitskaya pivoted the discussion toward a U.S. law placing sanctions on Russian human rights abusers and Putin's subsequent ban on American adoptions of Russian children. The Times' sources say it is "unclear" whether or not Veselnitskaya ever produced any damaging information regarding Clinton.
The son of the Republican candidate for president meeting with a foreign lawyer under the pretext of digging up dirt on an opponent is indeed newsworthy, and the fact remains that Team Trump's collective stories over its relationship with Russian entities does appear to change every week, reasonably feeding the suspicions of its fiercest critics. But if this meeting is supposed to be Watergate, then allow me to paraphrase Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee lecturing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the first act of All the President's Men: "You haven't got it."
A sad possibility that all of us captive spectators of the slapdash soap opera that is the Trump administration should consider is that Team Trump, far from being cunning uber-villains of Machiavellian genius straight out of a James Bond film, are in fact clumsy buffoons, prone to taking meetings under shady pretenses and failing miserably at keeping their stories straight afterward. Contrary to his campaign promises, President Trump doesn't rely on "the best people," he relies on his people — most of whom have no experience in government or even in businesses that weren't handed to them by their daddies.
As Andrew Prokop surmises at Vox, the seemingly coordinated leak from the White House directly to the Times could be designed to make White House senior adviser (and Trump's son-in-law) Jared Kushner — who was also at the meeting with Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya — look good by comparison. The Times' sources inside the White House have painted a portrait of Trump Jr. as the primary driver of the meeting, with Kushner (already embroiled in controversy over his contacts with Russian figures) seemingly unaware of a pre-arranged agenda to discuss the possibility of procuring information on Clinton and the DNC.
Even more disheartening for folks who need to believe Hillary Clinton's stunning and totally preventable failure to beat a wildly unpopular, scandal-plagued, reality TV host with a vulgar Twitter account is that the supposed puppet master, Vladimir Putin, is no Bond villain-level genius either!
In a recent New Yorker piece on the way Russia has been covered by the U.S. media over the past year, Joshua Yaffa interviewed "more than a half-dozen" independent Russian journalists (read: no friends of Putin) and found that all were "in some way bemused, frustrated, or disappointed" in U.S. coverage of Putin and Russia. One of these journalists, Mikhail Zygar, stated plainly that particularly with regards to the notion that Putin masterminded Trump's electoral victory, the U.S. media makes "Putin seem to look much smarter than he is, as if he operates from some master plan," adding "there is no plan — it's chaos."
In no way do I mean to suggest that Trump associates' meetings with Russian figures aren't newsworthy or within the purview of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation — they absolutely are. Still, we would be wise to remember that every time a new revelation of unseemly associations becomes big news, the information should be thoroughly and patiently scrutinized and not airhorned as evidence that the whole house of cards of the "Trump-Russia conspiracy" is about to collapse to the ground and impeachment is just around the corner.
Perhaps more disconcerting for those who want to believe Trump's shocking election was the result of a carefully orchestrated coup is the notion that Trump's "best people" have no idea what they're doing. Incompetence, like Putin's "chaos," is the actual order of the day.