For months on end, we’ve been hearing about Russian attempts to boost Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. Now, we’ve learned that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., in yet another previously undisclosed encounter, knowingly met with a lawyer linked to the Russian government in the spelled-right-out hope of getting some dirt on Hillary Clinton.
In an email last June, a Trump family associate wrote Trump Jr. that Russian officials had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support Mr Trump.”
“If it’s what you say I love it,’’ the candidate’s son answered. He and his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose work for Republicans goes back to the 1970s, all showed up. If this is not collusion, then we don’t know what that word means.
Trump Jr.’s defense seems to be that alas, the appointment yielded nothing remotely helpful and that everybody in politics takes sketchy meetings: “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent,’’ Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. “[W]ent nowhere but had to listen.”
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He may believe that, but no, political operatives do not routinely meet with foreign agents bearing oppo research. Because conspiring with such a person to influence an election is against the law.
Remember when someone sent Al Gore’s presidential campaign a handy packet of debate strategy and video from inside George W. Bush’s campaign? Sure, it would have been helpful, but instead of writing back, “I love it,” the recipient of that care package, former New York congressman Tom Downey, immediately turned it over to the FBI and resigned from the campaign.
In fact, there was speculation at the time that Bush adviser Karl Rove might himself have sent it, to force out Downey, the Gore confidant who’d been standing in for Bush in debate practice, because it was so obvious that he’d have to resign after receiving it. (After a probe then-F.B.I. director Louis Freeh oversaw personally — and yes, that’s what a big deal this is — the Bush aide who did send it was sentenced to a year in prison.)
But here’s why even those Trump supporters still fighting the last war — “But what about Hillary…?” — should care about Russia’s multiple incursions: This is neither a partisan matter nor a strictly political one.
Whether you are R, D, I or none of the above, the Russians, whose cyber capabilities are second only to our own, are coming for your power grid, your voter rolls, and your democracy. Which we know because they already have done all of those things. It was the Russians who hacked into the company that runs the Wolf Creek power plant near Burlington, Kan., who viewed voter registration rolls in Illinois, and who, yes, tried to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
Whether they succeeded in that last is unknowable, but also beside the point. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who has adversaries and journalists killed, happens to have tried to help a Republican in ‘16. But only because he and his government are deeply anti-democratic.