Investigators looking into President Trump and his top associates’ dealing with foreign governments have an embarrassment of riches. For Americans, Trump is simply an embarrassment — and a figure increasingly seen as indifferent to foreign interference in our election.
Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.
The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.
Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.
We have no evidence at this point that Zamel was acting with his government’s approval or knowledge.
Once again we see Donald Trump Jr. allegedly seeking assistance from foreign governments to affect the U.S. presidential election. It is not only illegal to solicit such assistance, but it is, let’s be blunt, a betrayal of America. In our democracy Americans elect their leaders. Trump Jr. either knew what he was doing was wrong and chose to proceed anyway, or he had no clue it wasn’t appropriate to let Russians and Gulf States help elect his father — and gain leverage to be cashed in later. (Donald Trump Jr. did not need to know it was a crime, only that these were foreign governments and foreign individuals offering help to influence an election.)
The anecdote does suggest that the Russia secret meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 was not an isolated event.
“I would also like to find out if there was this other pattern — if the Times story is accurate and there is this pattern that other countries were offering, and, clearly, the Trump campaign was receptive to these kinds of offers,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Sunday. On a separate “Face the Nation” appearance, he noted that “what is remarkable to me is that the president somehow seems not to understand that, when a foreign nation tries to interfere in our elections, that’s wrong. That’s illegal. The validity of the two Arab nations potentially intervening, time will tell how much truth there is there.”
Depending on the facts, Donald Trump Jr. may have serious legal problems; the question for President Trump remains whether he was kept entirely in the dark. However, if you want “collusion” with foreign governments, you’ve got plenty to work with based on public reporting.
Trump, maybe getting a wee bit sensitive to the fact that getting help from foreign governments to win is politically and possibly legally disastrous, jumped on Twitter on Sunday with a series of especially unhinged rants calling the New York Times article “boring,” attacking Hillary Clinton, denying “Collussion,” hollering “Witch Hunt,” and so on. Oh, and he objects to the cost. (Maybe cut down on the constant trips to his properties, if we’re going to get cost-conscious all of a sudden?)
In sum, “collusion” isn’t a legal term, and increasingly it’s a misleading one. Asking a foreign government to help sway an election is wrong and illegal. Trump’s best defense is that his son is dull-witted but also smart enough not to bring his father’s attention to grossly inappropriate meetings.