On Saturday, it will be exactly two years since President Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman eagerly met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower, on a promise of receiving “very high level and sensitive information” about his opponent as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” during the 2016 election.
When reporters got word of that meeting, the Trump camp denied it. Then it concocted an absurd false statement claiming that the meeting was organized to discuss “adoptions.” Then, once that lie fell apart, it falsely insisted that at least Trump himself had nothing to do with it.
This past week, we received confirmation that Trump personally dictated the statement, likely in order to cover up the true purpose of that Trump Tower meeting. But we only found that out after his lawyers repeatedly, enthusiastically and falsely denied his involvement.
Lie after lie after lie. But one truth has now emerged: The campaign of the current president of the United States eagerly sought to join forces with a Kremlin-linked figure in order to gain an advantage in the 2016 presidential election. Then the president tried to cover it up by willfully deceiving the American people.
There are three scandals here. The first is attempted collusion, which became indisputable when Donald Trump Jr.’s “I love it” emails were made public. The second is potential obstruction of justice, as the president dictated a misleading, false statement about an issue of obvious significance to a federal criminal investigation. And the third is the complicity of congressional Republicans, in a cynical bid to protect their party’s standard-bearer rather than protecting American national security and the integrity of our democracy from the machinations of a foreign despot.
The drip-drip-drip emergence of this story has allowed the White House and its breathless Fox News opinion show cheerleaders to claim that any individual drip isn’t a big deal. They are wrong. What we now know about that Trump Tower meeting amounts to a very big deal indeed.
The facts are not even contested by Trump’s own lawyers. We have copies of emails from Donald Trump Jr. proving the Trump campaign’s intent to collude with people who clearly identified themselves as working for Russia to help Trump win. And we have a statement from Trump’s own attorneys that states, clearly, that he dictated the statement that obscured the true nature of that meeting.
What we don’t know for sure, yet, is whether Trump himself was aware of the meeting and approved of it. Now, there are suggestive indications. He was in Trump Tower at the time, and it’s pretty ludicrous to assume that he would be oblivious to such a blockbuster meeting involving two family members and his campaign chairman in the same building. There was a blocked call either from, or to, Donald Trump Jr.’s cellphone during a crucial period before the Trump Tower meeting was confirmed. (Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski did testify that Trump’s private residence had a blocked number, but the source of the call is still an open question). And, three hours after his son confirmed a meeting with a Kremlin-linked figure promising fresh dirt about Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia, Trump himself promised his supporters that he would soon present fresh dirt about Clinton’s dealings with Russia.
Occam’s Razor is often a useful tool: The simplest explanation is likely the correct one.
To be fair, we don’t fully know what was discussed during the meeting itself. But the indications we do have aren’t innocent. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s notes from the meeting include jottings such as “illici[t],” “offshore” and “active sponsors of RNC.”
But even if nothing related to Clinton was discussed, that’s beside the point. Attempted murder and murder are differentiated by outcome, not by intent. Attempted collusion shows the same intent as successful collusion. Any failures were not for lack of trying.
The president and his allies frequently go on Twitter or on cable news shows to say that “not a shred” of evidence related to collusion has been found. Many Americans believe that. But it is a lie. Television journalists must start aggressively challenging Trump’s surrogates when they make that false claim.
Congressional Republicans claim that the focus on the Trump Tower meeting is a ploy by Democrats who hope to re-litigate the 2016 election. That’s wrong. Trump is the president. But with that title comes the responsibility of being the commander in chief and protecting the integrity of the next election. The fact that Trump shows no regret over his campaign’s involvement in that Trump Tower meeting two years ago — or even any acknowledgement that it was a colossal failure of judgment and integrity — suggests that he takes neither responsibility seriously. That’s music to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ears.
Even more importantly, Putin’s foremost foreign policy goal has long been to weaken NATO by driving a wedge between the United States and its closest allies. Trump has delivered that elusive goal to him on a steel and aluminum platter. Western allies attacking each other at a bitter Group of Seven summit is a Putin fantasy come true.
And as he watches Trump take aim at Canada, Britain, France and Germany, I have a pretty good idea of Putin’s reaction:
“I love it.”