The Media Says Trump’s Son Committed a Crime. But Did He?
For the last week, pundits have used words like “fire,” “smoking gun,” and even “treason” to describe Donald Trump Jr.’s admission that he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June of 2016.
The meeting, also attended by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, was apparently set up under the pretense that Veselnitskaya would be sharing information damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign. According to the publicly-released email chain, the president’s team was also told that the Russian government was backing Trump’s candidacy and that the meeting would reveal the Clinton team’s connections to Russian officials. The president’s son says that Veselnitskaya provided no such information and that, if she had, he would have immediately reported his findings to the FBI.
But there’s no spin doctor on the planet who can make this look good.
Still, there’s a difference between something looking bad politically and being a crime. So, based on what we now know, is Don Jr. in danger of criminal charges? Does this meeting rise to the level of collusion or conspiracy?
Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be carefully investigating these questions in the days and weeks ahead. He will first need to determine if there are any laws on the books that the Trump team specifically violated by attending this meeting. There are certainly laws that prevent a campaign from receiving material assistance from a foreign government, but what qualifies as material assistance? There is no indication as of now that the Russians funded the Trump campaign in any way. And all parties involved deny that Veselnitskaya gave the team any helpful information. Is it possible that Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort could be charged simply for attending this meeting? It seems extremely doubtful.
That said, this latest news robs the Trump campaign of the benefit of the doubt and it puts them on high defense for the first time since the allegations of a Russian conspiracy began to develop. Reports from all over the journalism world say that the White House is in chaos as they try to cope with these bombshells. And since the New York Times obviously withheld information from their initial stories to see if Don Jr. would fall into a trap with his responses, it’s possible they still have news that they’ve yet to drop on the public.
Politically, this is the biggest disaster to hit the president since Inauguration Day, and it’s going to make his business – the business of pursuing his agenda – even more difficult to accomplish.
On the other hand, if this meeting represents the full extent of the “Russian collusion” story that Democrats have been hanging their hopes on, then let’s face it: It could have been much, much worse. If Trump can weather this storm and come out on the other side with his presidency intact, perhaps the relief of having it all out there on the table will allow him to finally be the leader that we know he can be.