How long will America believe Trump's lies about Russia?
How plausible is it, really, that this is all one giant misunderstanding?
The latest bombshell incriminating report on the Trump administration's ties to Russia came on Saturday, from The New York Times, and boy, was it a stemwinder. Three "advisers to the White House" told reporters that on June 9, 2016, the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., along with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, attended a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya after she promised them damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Follow-up reports have made it clear that this trio of truculent Trumpians knew perfectly well that the purpose of the meeting was to receive dirt on the presumptive Democratic nominee.
The administration's emerging script for new developments in the Trump-Russia scandal is very clear: A member of the Trump family, whether the president himself or one of his children, will basically admit to the whole thing on the record. Because the Times story was sourced to three White House advisers, there was little sense in denying the meeting took place. Trump the Junior immediately copped to it when the first story broke on Saturday, but claimed it was "a short introductory meeting" where they talked about the complicated issue of adoptions.
A proper criminal would have left it at that. The Trumps are not proper criminals. Donald Trump Jr. had this eloquent piece of sarcasm to relate on Twitter Monday morning: "Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent... went nowhere but had to listen." The genuinely amusing thing about Donald Trump Jr. is that he thought this to be some kind of exculpatory statement, when in fact he may have admitted to committing a crime. Former President George W. Bush's ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, argued that the meeting "borders on treason." Others have noted that Trump's admission to taking the meeting with the express intent of obtaining salacious material about Clinton from a foreign national constitutes a violation of federal election law.
After the accused have finished admitting to their wrongdoing, there will be an effort to spin it. The president's apologists in the media will try to push the Overton Window of Russiagate all the way into Moscow by claiming that this latest revelation of skullduggery between Trump's associates and various Russian interlocutors is no big deal at all. Michael Walsh of the New York Post said of taking the meeting, "Who wouldn't? And: So what?" The Hudson Institute's Michael Doran, who serves as the president's chief (and perhaps only) apologist in the stuffy world of D.C. think tanks, tweeted: "It showed bad judgment & would show it if Dems did it. But it is being reported in support of a collusion thesis that is rank bulls--t."
Remember, at the time, Paul Manafort was the manager of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Manafort once worked for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian former president of Ukraine, and is the subject of a federal investigation. Kushner would, in December, ask to set up a secret backchannel using the facilities at the Russian embassy in D.C. Yet we are to believe that when Donnie Junior popped into their offices and said, "Hey Paul and Jared, I'm meeting downstairs with this Russian lawyer, no reason at all, just a lark," that they were both down to meet without asking any questions about the ostensible purpose of the meeting. Who needs a reason to hang out with someone with ties to Moscow, right? We are also to believe that the reason no one ever mentioned this meeting to the press was that it was so forgettable — so banal and unremarkable — that it was one of several encounters Kushner failed to jot down on his application for a security clearance.
We are then to believe that this was the very last secret, undisclosed meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian nationals linked to the government of Vladimir Putin, that Veselnitskaya went back to Moscow and convinced the Kremlin to just give up, that no one else ever approached members of the Trump campaign with information stolen from the DNC or John Podesta's emails, and that if they did, they certainly would never have taken the meeting, that there is no particular reason why Trump consigliere Roger Stone seemed to have advance knowledge of the WikiLeaks dumps, that it was just a joke when Trump himself invited the Russians to hack Clinton's emails, that no Russia-related reason at all exists to explain why the president has determined we will never see his tax returns, that it was just a coincidence when Jeff Sessions failed to note, under oath, his meetings with Russian nationals during his confirmation hearings, that the GOP platform was softened on Russia issues based on a solid policy rationale, that it was just kind of some tough luck that Trump happened to hire three Russian stooges (Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page) to play important roles in his campaign, that Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey was about the treatment of Hillary Clinton and not an effort to obstruct justice and impede the Russia inquiry, that Comey is lying about being asked to spike the investigation into Flynn himself, and that this newest revelation in a presidency thus far characterized by Russia-related scandal after scandal after scandal is, as the president's defenders like to call it, a "nothingburger."
If you believe all that, I admire your passion for cognitive dissonance and your ability to eat an entire hamburger and call it nothing. But isn't it funny how whenever a secret meeting is revealed, it's about the Russians? Isn't it interesting that whenever we peel back the tablecloth at the Trump family dinner table, it's Russians hiding underneath? That every time Trump meets with Putin or his associates, they exclude U.S. journalists and force us to rely on competing accounts from the Russians and the White House? That the Trump administration sent people to lobby against new Russia sanctions? That the administration is staffed with Russia apologists and lackeys? That every road seems to lead back to Red Square? How plausible is it, really, that this is all one giant misunderstanding, or a media conspiracy, or the "deep state" undermining an innocent president?
There is, of course, a much simpler explanation: The Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.