Donald Trump Jr. Email Messages Are the Smoking Gun … But of What?

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President Donald Trump’s son published email messages Tuesday showing that he met with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign last year expecting to hear damaging information about Hillary Clinton that came from the Russian government.

This is the smoking gun that CNN and MSNBC have been waiting for, showing that the Trump campaign was interested in hearing dirt on Hillary from the Russians, and therefore in some way colluded with the Russians.

And therefore …

So what?

Are you saying that people running a political campaign were interested in hearing damaging information about the opponent?

No kidding.

The reporters reporting on this event seem unable to put themselves in the shoes of Donald Trump Jr. — but really, it ought to be easy.

Reporters deal with sources dishing dirt all the time. Some of them are unsavory people. Yet reporters talk with such people on the telephone and meet with them when needed. They routinely promise such people anonymity, even when the information they get from them is garbage. In other words, they collude with bad actors.


Because it’s the information that matters.

Some of the time, a reporter gets good information from a bad source. Good information leads to a good story. That’s what a reporter looks for.

Donald Trump Jr. wasn’t acting as a reporter when he met with the Russian lawyer. He was acting as a campaign operative, interested in hearing information his father might be able to use to damage his political opponent and help defeat her. Like a reporter, though, he didn’t care about the virtue of his potential source. He cared about the information.

As it happens, he didn’t get any, according to people at the meeting. The discussion turned out to be about adoption policy, not Hillary. Let’s assume that’s true, as there’s no reason to doubt it. If no useful information was actually transmitted, is there even something to discuss further about this matter?

Yes, say Trump critics. Trump campaign officials shouldn’t even have met with someone who could be connected to the Russian government. It is likely seriously criminal behavior, some say.

“We’re now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what’s being investigated. This is moving into perjury, false statements, and even potentially treason,” said Tim Kaine, Democratic U.S. senator from Virginia, and Hillary’s running mate, who is probably still smarting from the beat-down he got from Vice President Mike Pence in their pre-election debate last fall.

Perjury is making false statements under oath. Treason is about betraying the country. What is Kaine talking about?

As for dealing with foreign government officials during a U.S. presidential campaign, why were Democrats willing to take information last year from Ukraine government officials about Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort? That information actually went somewhere – Manafort resigned from the campaign. It might even have amounted to collusion – Politico reported in January that Ukraine officials announced an investigation of Manafort, only to back off once the specter of an investigation was no longer useful.

Should Democrats be investigated?

No. It’s not illegal to listen to people offering information about a political opponent, no matter who the people are. And it shouldn’t be.

The legal case against Trump affiliates still looks nonexistent. But there are other problems, of course.

Politically, this is a mess. Silly decisions, changing stories, drip-drip-drip disclosures damage the Trump administration and the people involved.

For Donald Trump Jr., was meeting with a Russian lawyer he didn’t know with scanty details of what the meeting was about while including his father’s campaign manager and his father’s son-in-law a good idea?

Obviously not.

It’s time for the Trump administration to make public all the Russia-related information at one time, and try to get this investigation over with as soon as possible.

But in the meantime, not only is there no evidence of illegal activity, there doesn’t appear to be a theory of illegal activity.

As law professor and commentator Jonathan Turley put it:  “While they might be chumps, that doesn’t make them criminals.”