Why Donald Trump Jr.’s emails change everything
I’ve often wondered what it felt like to live through Watergate. “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” “Events have been rushing toward one seemingly inevitable conclusion.” The disorientation, the confusion, the feeling that you don’t know the truth, but with each and every day that goes by, knowing the truth is worse than you had possibly imagined. I think I know what it feels like now. We are filling in a picture, slowly, that unfortunately makes a lot of sense. Think back to May, when President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Why did he do that? Why did he put his whole administration at risk? Well, he had an answer. It wasn’t his White House’s initial answer, but he had an answer. “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won. But now it’s clear that story wasn’t made-up. And what’s worse, and what might explain Trump’s decision to fire Comey, to obstruct justice, to risk his presidency, is that that investigation threatened the people he loves most in the world. Here is what we learned this week. On June 3, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. got an email. It was from a British publicist named Rob Goldstone. He was writing on behalf of a Russian businessman, Aras Agalarov, and his son, Emin. Both of these folks had worked with Donald Trump Sr. on the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, and they’ve worked with him on other… endeavors. “Emin wake up, c’mon!” “What’s wrong with you?” In the email, which Donald Trump Jr. released on Twitter, in order to get in front of the New York Times releasing it, Goldstone says a few interesting things. First, he writes that Aras, the older Agalarov, met with someone he calls Russia’s “crown prosecutor” — that’s a term that, in other countries, describes a lawyer who argues on behalf of the state. Now, crown prosecutor doesn’t exist in Russia. But just to be clear, the source is later described as a “Russian government attorney,” And what this person has is a pretty big deal. they have “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton” and they want to meet with Trump Jr. and the campaign to hand them over. The most interesting part of the email, the one that leaves no shadow of doubt about what what happening here, is the last sentence: this whole thing, the meeting with this lawyer about the incriminating documents, is, quote, “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Right there, Donald Jr. is told that the meeting is part of the Russian government’s effort to sway the American election to his dad. And how does he respond? Does he go to the FBI, does he ignore the email? No, minutes later he replies: “if it’s what you say I love it,” and he forwards the whole email thread to then campaign chair Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. They all go to this meeting with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower. So what does this tell us? What have we learned here? First, we learn that that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort knew the Russian government wanted to elect Trump. Next, it tells us all three of these men, they weren’t just open to working with the Russian government against Clinton’s campaign. They were actively trying to do it. They were taking meetings at a busy time in the campaign. All three of them. They were taking meetings to try to work with the Russian government. That has not been their story until now. “Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you, or your campaign and Putin and his regime?” “No there are not. That’s absurd and y’know, there’s no basis to it.” “So no collusion whatsoever between anybody involved with Trump and anyone involved with Russia in the 2016 campaign?” “No.” “Just to button up one question, did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who are trying to meddle in the election? “Oh of course not.” Now Donald Trump says the Russian lawyer ended up having “no meaningful information” for them. So his defense is basically, he tried to collude with the Russian government to influence an American election, but ugh, the Russian lawyer just didn’t have the goods. So first, that might not matter in a court of law. “The law says soliciting, accepting or receiving.” “He solicited.” “He accepted.” “He maybe never received it.” “He violated the law.”” But also remember, Russia did end up hacking Democratic emails and releasing them in ways and at times that helped the Trump campaign. We know about this meeting now, which doesn’t seem to have been about those emails. But we don’t know if there were other meetings, if there was cooperation on other questions. All we really know now is that the Trump campaign was open to, and actively work towards, colluding with Russia to influence the election. We also know that when they were told Russia was trying to help them, they didn’t react with surprise, or shock, or fear. They said, ‘yeah! Let’s take that meeting.’ It’s always worth asking how people involved in clear wrongdoing might have seemed like the hero of the story to themselves. Trump and his family, they bought into the most fevered conspiracies about Clinton. “She’s arguably the most corrupt politician we’ve ever seen in this country, there’s no question about it.” “If Hillary Clinton were elected, she’d be the first president who couldn’t pass a basic background check.” “She’s a world-class liar.” And they likely believed there was information crucial to American interests lurking in her documents. If they had obtained the emails or anything else and proven Clinton dangerously unfit to lead, or revealed that foreign powers had more information or more leverage over American policy-making than we knew, they would have done the country a great service, or at least it’s easy to believe how they would see it that way. But what they were actually doing was working with a foreign government to influence an American election. And that’s crossing a very serious line. Behind all this, I wonder sometimes: How hard is Vladimir Putin laughing at us right now? One theory of Russia’s involvement in the election is they never expected to elect Trump — they just wanted to sow doubt in America’s institutions and in its leaders. Look how easily, look how wildly they succeeded.