The Russia scandal has entered a new phase and there’s no going back.
For six months, the White House claimed that this scandal was nothing more than innuendo for which no concrete evidence had been produced.
Yes, there were several meetings with Russian officials, some only belatedly disclosed. But that is circumstantial evidence at best. Meetings tell you nothing unless you know what happened in them. We didn’t.
I was puzzled. Lots of cover-up, but where was the crime? Not even a third-rate burglary. For six months, smoke without fire. Yes, President Trump himself was acting very defensively, as if he were hiding something. But no one ever produced the something.
My view was: Collusion? I just don’t see it. But I’m open to empirical evidence. Show me.
The evidence is now shown. This is not hearsay, not fake news, not unsourced leaks. This is an email chain released by Donald Trump Jr. himself. A British go-between writes that there’s a Russian government effort to help Trump Sr. win the election, and as part of that effort he proposes a meeting with a “Russian government attorney” possessing damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Moreover, the Kremlin is willing to share troves of incriminating documents.
Donald Jr. emails back. “I love it.” Fatal words.
Once you’ve said “I’m in,” it makes no difference that the meeting was a bust, that the intermediary brought no such goods. What matters is what Donald Jr. thought going into the meeting, as well as Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, who were copied on the correspondence, invited to the meeting, and attended.
“It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame,” Donald Jr. told Sean Hannity. A shame? On the contrary, a stroke of luck. Had the lawyer real stuff to deliver, Donald Jr. and the others would be in far deeper legal trouble. It turned out to be incompetent collusion, amateur collusion, comically failed collusion. That does not erase the fact that three top Trump campaign officials were ready to play.
It may turn out that they did later collaborate more fruitfully. We don’t know. But even if nothing else is found, the evidence is damning.
It’s rather pathetic to hear Trump apologists protesting that it’s no big deal because we Americans are always intervening in other people’s elections, and they in ours.
This defense is pathetic for two reasons. First, have the Trumpites not been telling us for six months that no collusion ever happened? And now they say: Sure it happened. So what? Everyone does it.
What’s left of your credibility when you make such a casual about-face?
Second, no, not everyone does it. It’s one thing to be open to opposition research dug up in Indiana. But not dirt from Russia, a hostile foreign power that has repeatedly invaded its neighbors, that buzzes our planes and ships in international waters, that opposes our every move and objective around the globe.
There is no statute against helping a foreign hostile power meddle in an American election. What Donald Jr. – and Kushner and Manafort – did may not be criminal. But it is not merely stupid. It is also deeply wrong, a fundamental violation of any code of civic honor.
I leave it to the lawyers to adjudicate the legalities of unconsummated collusion. But you don’t need a lawyer to see that the Trump defense – collusion as a desperate Democratic fiction designed to explain away a lost election – is now officially dead.