Last summer, two weeks after Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for president, his son met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Those present included Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. But what does all this really mean? Is anyone in legal peril? What will the fall-out be for President Trump, his son, and his Administration?
Tuesday, Trump Jr published an email exchange which included these words: “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” Trump Jr responded, “If it’s what you say, I love it.”
Let’s break it all down.
How serious is all this?
Very. This could be evidence of collusion. FBI special prosecutor Bob Mueller is certain to look deeper into all this. Trump Jr insists nothing significant was learned from the meeting, and the Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, confirms that she was not a representative of Russia. But the fact that Trump Jr took the meeting on the assumption that he would get dirt on Clinton is damning.
What about the timing?
The timing of the meeting is critical – June 9, 2016. It took place after two Russian spy agencies had hacked the Democratic National Committee, but before this was made public. Shortly thereafter, the Clinton email controversy hit the fire. In fact, later on the very day of the Trump Jr meeting, his father questioned Clinton, “Where are your 33,000 emails that you deleted?”
What does this mean legally?
Presidents cannot be prosecuted in court, but they can by Congress. Given the Republican hold on Congress, it would take a lot for Congress to move forward against the President. And it is not at all clear that President Trump knew anything about this meeting, much less approved of it. Trump Jr is in more legal trouble, as campaign law restrictions preclude accepting assistance from foreigners. But would this be considered “assistance” in a court of law? And if Trump Jr apologizes and says he is new to the game, and just didn’t realize the restrictions he was violating, he may get a pass. Worst case for Trump Jr, his father, as President, can pardon any federal crime. Trump Jr isn’t going to jail.
What do we not know?
Trump Jr has given different accounts of the meeting. At first, he said its subject was the adoption of Russian children. Then, when confronted with more evidence, he admitted that he had been promised compromising information on Clinton. Now, he has released the email evidence. What exactly the Kremlin wanted from the meeting is unclear. The overall goal, we now know from the emails, was to help Trump. By this point, it was sitting on a heap of Democratic party emails that had been hacked or not released. We don’t know precisely what Veselnitskaya said. Nor do we know how Trump Jr and Manafort responded.
What happens next?
Expect unending investigations – some legitimate, many not. Expect involvement from the FBI and Congressional committees. Expect Democrats to be a one-verse choir. (They already are.) Expect the media to talk more about Russia than America.
Expect just about anything – other than a Congress mature enough to put the needs of the American people ahead of a meeting that had zero effect on the 2016 election.
Could Democrats go hard after Trump Jr and work with Republicans to meet the needs of real Americans at the same time? Sure they could. But they won’t.