We don't yet know for sure whether President Trump, his family, or his advisers actively cooperated with the Russian government's effort in 2016 to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost Trump's chances of winning the presidency. But boy, oh boy are they acting like they're guilty of something.
These geniuses may not have constructed an intricate conspiracy, but it's as if they desperately want everyone to believe they did.
The latest, of course, is the news that Donald Trump Jr. organized a meeting in June 2016 with a Russian attorney; Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort were also there. The meeting was organized at the behest of one Rob Goldstone, whom Trump Jr. had met at the Miss Universe competition in Moscow; Goldstone represents a pop singer who is also the son of a Russian oligarch (such are the circles in which the Trumps travel). According to The New York Times, Goldstone told Trump Jr. before the meeting that the Russian government wanted to help his father's campaign.
As befits someone whom administration officials have started calling "Fredo" (the idiot son in the Godfather movies), Trump Jr.'s story on the meeting has gone through multiple iterations. First, he claimed that it was just a meeting about "a program about the adoption of Russian children." Then he admitted that he took the meeting because he had been promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, which was unfortunately not forthcoming. The Russian lawyer he met with, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has long sought the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on Russian officials accused of human rights violations (in retaliation for the law, Vladimir Putin shut down a program under which Russian orphans were adopted by American families). "I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand," Trump Jr. said.
In other words, this is the conversation Trump Jr. wants us to believe occurred:
"Hey Donny, it's Rob Goldstone, the guy who represents a Russian pop star. I have someone I'd like you to meet, who has some dirt on Hillary. But I'm not going to tell you who it is."
"Sounds intriguing, Rob. I will summon my brother-in-law Jared, who is my dad's closest adviser, and also the campaign manager. We will all meet with this mystery person on your say-so."
Sounds plausible. The trouble is that after months of crying "No collusion!", Republicans are now faced with the president's son defending himself by saying that he, Kushner, and Manafort wanted to collude with a lawyer with Kremlin connections, but were disappointed when they couldn't.
So we can add Trump Jr.'s name to the list of people in Trump's orbit who have lied — in public, in sworn documents, or under oath — about meetings with Russians, a list that now includes Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Jeff Sessions. While Trump administration officials claimed for months that no one on the campaign met with any Russians, one now has to wonder who didn't meet with them. Kushner, you'll recall, wanted to set up a secret communication channel for top Trump officials to talk with the Russian government that would circumvent CIA and NSA monitoring, apparently even suggesting that they could use communication gear housed at the Russian embassy. Given that the sight of Kushner or some other Trump official waltzing into an embassy that is under blanket U.S. government surveillance 24 hours a day might be noticed, one has to question whether the first son-in-law's tradecraft is quite sophisticated enough to be carrying out that kind of skullduggery. Even the Russians thought it was crazy.
Meanwhile, the president can't bring himself to utter a discouraging word about Vladimir Putin, and continues to cast doubt on the question of Russia's interference in our election. Trump even emerged from his recent meeting with Putin saying they had discussed forming "an impenetrable Cyber Security unit" to protect our election system from hacking, which, as former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, "is like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary." And the administration is trying to weaken a bill moving through Congress to impose sanctions on Russia for its meddling in our election.
It's easy to forget that what we learn today or tomorrow sits on top of an enormous pile of revelations and questionable events from the recent past. There's the last-minute change in the GOP platform to soften an anti-Russia stance, the $17 million Paul Manafort got from a Kremlin-allied party in Ukraine, the vast funding Trump got for real estate projects from Russian oligarchs, the Russian targeting of Democratic House candidates, the contacts between Trump friend Roger Stone and Julian Assange as WikiLeaks was releasing the fruits of Russian hacking, or even the bizarre tale of the mid-level Russian bureaucrat who somehow managed to buy $8 million worth of Trump condos — to name just a few.
Maybe some of that is innocuous. Who knows, maybe all of it is. Maybe it's just coincidence that a parade of people around Donald Trump have questionable ties to Russia, have lied about their contacts with Russians, or both. Maybe this is all some giant misunderstanding. Frankly, I have trouble believing that this collection of knuckleheads could pull off an international conspiracy even if they tried. But can you ever remember an administration acting like it had so much to hide?