Another day, another piece of evidence that the president of the United States conspired with a foreign power:
The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.
… He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”
Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.
On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Mr. Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.
If you still believe that Trump himself had no knowledge of or involvement with any of this – with a meeting organized by his son, attended by his son-in-law and his campaign manager, that took place in his building – good luck to you.
It’s hard to overstate how damning this is. Trump Jr. didn’t show the slightest bit of surprise that Russia supported his father and wanted to help his campaign. He was eager to accept their offer of assistance. When warned that the material they wanted to provide was highly sensitive and had to be kept confidential, he didn’t display even a flicker of hesitation or reluctance. All this contradicts multiple public denials by the Trump team.
When he learned that the New York Times was going to break this story, Trump Jr. responded by tweeting pictures of the e-mails himself. He was trying to preempt them, but only succeeded in confirming that every detail of it is true – and arguably confessed to a federal crime in so doing. It’s all the more damaging because he repeatedly changed his story, or in other words lied, about his meeting with the Russians:
First, he said he’d never met with Russians when he was “representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
Then, when this meeting came to light, he told the New York Times that, oh, actually, he did meet with Russians, to discuss “a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government.”
Then when the New York Times found that the meeting was about getting information on Clinton, Trump Jr. admitted that this was true, but failed to mention that he had been promised information as part of a Russian government effort.
In spite of it all, I haven’t changed my opinion that none of this matters. If anyone in Trump’s inner circle is indicted, he’ll pardon them (if you don’t think he’d dare, just wait and see). No one will ever face punishment.
The only way this will amount to anything is if enough congressional Republicans are willing to vote to impeach him, and that will never happen. They may privately hate his guts, but they’d happily line up behind Vlad the Impaler if it gave them the chance to gut Medicaid and put more conservatives on the Supreme Court. And Republican voters, as I saw it put, are happy to let Trump burn their own houses down just as long as some liberals somewhere will choke on the smoke.
If anything, there’s been a slow boiling-the-frog effect. The steady drip of Trump/Russia info has most likely enabled them to convince themselves that each new revelation is only a little worse than the last, and paradoxically made them less likely to support impeachment.
You could also say that the ongoing scandal will “distract” the Trump administration from accomplishing its other goals, and maybe it will. On the other hand, it’s abundantly clear that Trump has zero interest in policy and will sign anything that the Republicans pass and put in front of him.
Whatever scandals or chaos may engulf the White House, a conservative Congress can quietly plan to how best to loot and wreck the nation, and be confident that they’ll get a presidential rubber stamp. And if by some wild fluke of chance Trump is impeached, he’ll be replaced by someone almost as bad. This story will no doubt be of immense interest to future historians analyzing how America lost its way, but it’s no help to any of us in the present.