I wrote about the New York Times stories here and here reporting on Donald Trump, Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer in “The new meaning of collusion.” I focused on the latter story in a post early on Tuesday morning, before Trump Jr. released the email chain that the story described at second hand. Whatever the faults of the story, in retrospect I wrongly made light of it.
As everyone now knows, the British music publicist Rob Goldstone offered to set up the meeting with a Russian government attorney “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” Goldstone held out the offer as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump[.]” For deep knowledge of the motives the Russian government, the British music publicist would obviously be a go-to guy — maybe in an Austin Powers movie.
Goldstone’s come-on reads like a set-up. Responding to the invitation with anything other than a call to the FBI was exceedingly foolish.
In his statement to the Times about the meeting, Trump Jr. “described the meeting as primarily about an adoption program.” While literally true, it is also extremely misleading. The statement, moreover, was reportedly crafted in the White House. One could reverse engineer a good book on best practices in scandal management from this scenario.
Did President Trump know about the meeting? Yesterday President Trump seems to have conceded that “in fact maybe it was mentioned at some point.” I’m taking that as an acknowledgment, or as the preface to an acknowledgment.
The email and the meeting belie the fundamental position that the Trump team has taken in the “collusion” controversy — i.e., that no such contact occurred. In the event, however, the inducement for the meeting proved a pretext. The meeting indicates that the Trump team might have taken advantage of information provided if such information had been provided. The spirit was willing.
Even so, there is no evidence that the Russian lawyer had damaging information to deliver. There is no evidence that the Russian lawyer delivered damaging information. There is no evidence that Trump Jr. asked the Russian lawyer to come back with damaging information. There is no evidence that Trump Jr. would have promised the Russian lawyer anything if she had agreed to return with damaging information. There is no evidence that Trump Jr. came away from the meeting with anything but disappointed expectations.
Paul argues further that nothing in the story makes out “collusion.” Paul also argues that the Trump team properly accepted the invitation and should have taken advantage of bona fide information it might have obtained at the meeting. I don’t know.
We have nothing remotely approaching “collusion,” whatever that means. We have Keystone Kops. At this point, let’s call the whole thing kollusion.
PAUL ADDS: I don’t think that receiving information from someone constitutes collusion with that person. As I see it, for collusion to occur, the person who receives the information must do (or offer to do) something in return, beyond just using the information for his own purposes.
The real question, though, isn’t the definitional one. The real question is whether there was anything wrong with Trump, Jr. trying to obtain useful information about a political opponent from a Russian source with probable ties to the government.
A lot of people I respect assert (usually with little or no analysis) that this was wrong. I don’t agree.
I think people working for a political campaign have the right to obtain useful information wherever they can find it, as long as they don’t break the law. Putin is an adversary, but we are not at war with Russia. Every U.S. administration since Putin took power has cooperated with him to some degree.
As for using the information, I think that if the Russian source had provided solid evidence of real collusion between Hillary Clinton and the Russian government, Trump, Jr. would have been obligated to use that information. He would, in effect, be reporting a crime or at least a serious misdeed.
So, if Trump, Jr. thought the meeting might yield information showing such collusion — which he did, probably foolishly — it’s hard for me to see what’s wrong with attending the meeting.