What will happen to Donald Trump Jr. now?
The president's son released emails showing he knowingly met with "the crown prosecutor of Russia" in an effort to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Is he in big, big trouble?
No one would accuse Donald Trump Jr. of being a master strategist. But if he thought that by tweeting an email thread he would be able to put an end to the bubbling furor over his meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton last summer, he has once again proven just how comically out of his depth he truly is.
At issue is Trump Jr.'s inviting response to an email from Rob Goldstone (a former tabloid journalist now working as a publicist for a Russian pop star) which promised documents that "would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." Goldstone further specified that the documents in question contained "obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump the younger jumped at the chance to set up the meeting, because after all, Goldstone was acting as intermediary for trusted friends of the Trump family and corporation, namely Emin Agalarov — the pop star son of Russian real estate tycoon Aras Agalarov. How close are the Trumps and Agalarovs? Their partnership led to Trump hosting the 2013 edition of his Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and that same year, Trump appeared in one of Emin's music videos.
It was this motley crew that was supposedly going to provide the vitally incriminating documents that would sink Hillary Clinton, but as the email thread continued into the nitty gritty of nailing down a time and place, Goldstone pivoted. It would not be one of the Agalarovs delivering the information. Trump Jr. would instead be meeting with someone Goldstone called a "Russian government attorney" and "the crown prosecutor of Russia" (there is no such position). That attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is not an agent of the Russian government, though as a lawyer who has represented state-owned business it would be fair to describe her as someone well-connected to the Russian government.
According to The New York Times, which has broken news regarding this meeting in each of the past three days, there is still no evidence that Veselnitskaya provided any dirt on Clinton to Team Trump, though Trump Jr.'s emails demonstrate a willingness to accept such information from a "Russian government attorney," right down to his response, "I love it."
The question is, does this constitute a crime?
Clinton-connected white collar attorney Jeffrey Jacobovitz tells The Washington Post that Trump Jr.'s emails are "as close as you can get to a smoking gun" and that he "may have crossed the line on conspiracy to commit election fraud or conspiracy to obtain information from a foreign adversary." Former special counsel for the Defense Department Ryan Goodman tells Vox, "There is now a clear case" against Trump Jr. for violating a "criminally enforced federal statute," namely a law stating:
A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.
But what if nothing of value was provided as a result of this meeting? It might still be a crime. As Rick Hasen notes at Election Law Blog, even the solicitation of something of value — such as incriminating documents pertaining to political opponents — is criminal.
Naturally, there are legal experts less convinced, such as former Department of Justice national security lawyer Amy Jeffress, who worked under the Obama administration. She told NBC News, "Collusion is wrong, but I'm not sure it's a crime." At LawNewz, Colin Kalmbacher writes that Trump the younger's "harebrained meet-and-greet with Veselnitskaya might have been ill-advised, but it probably was not in violation of the rules against receiving or soliciting contributions from foreign nationals," especially considering the Russian lawyer did not officially represent the Russian government.
Lifelong avowed Democrat and legendary civil liberties attorney Alan Dershowitz argued in an op-ed in The Hill that with regards to Trump loyalists calling for charges against James Comey for allegedly leaking classified material, as well as Trump opponents saying the president's son's actions amount to treason, "Both sides are wrong in trying to expand existing criminal laws to cover the questionable conduct of their political opponents."
Dershowitz also warned political actors against stretching "the meaning of statutory and constitutional language to suit their partisan needs, without regard to the civil liberties implications of giving prosecutors the untrammeled power to retroactively fit the often elastic words of criminal statutes to actions that were not deemed criminal at the time they occurred."
Regardless of whether Trump Jr.'s self-beclowning is prosecuted, the billion dollar question remains: Does this misbegotten meeting between members of Trump's inner circle and a Russian lawyer mean impeachment for the first billionaire president?
In short, not a chance, not unless Republicans turn on Trump in droves.
President Trump might have historically low overall approval ratings, but among likely Republican voters he maintains a solid 85 percent job approval rating in the most recent weekly presidential Gallup poll. There is no chance of GOP lawmakers drafting an impeachment case against the 45th president of the United States with numbers like that among their constituents. The only way that changes is if the president starts hurting the Republican brand, and judging by the Democrats' o-fer in the four special congressional elections since Trump's shocking victory in November, it's going to take some dirt that sticks to bring down President Trump.
That said, considering the sub-par talents of Trump's "best people," inept clumsiness and ignorance could very well end up providing the dirt to bury the Trump administration.