Like the diligent journalist I am, I went online within minutes of the news that Donald Trump Jr. had put “incriminating” emails about his meeting with Russian lawyer and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya on Twitter. I opened the Washington Post site and there, nestled beteween the paragraphs of their lead story on Trump Jr., was an ad for a box set of “The Walking Dead”. And I thought…
Well, actually, I thought that this stinks to high heaven, but it is still not the “smoking gun”. The dead will continue to walk around for a while yet.
The emails prove that Junior (not a naive youth but a 39-year-old businessman who has frequently done work in Russia) met the Russian lobbyist in the Trump Tower together with Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, then the elder Trump’s campaign manager. They had been told that Veselnitskaya was a “Russian government lawyer”.
The emails also show that Trump Jr. believed Veselnitskaya would “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” That’s what Rob Goldstone, the slippery British music publicist who acted as a go-between, told him.
Trump Jr. (and presumably Kushner and Manafort too) already knew that Vladimir Putin’s regime wanted Donald Trump to win the presidency and was willing to help. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump,” said Goldstone’s initial email, which did not elicit any expression of surprise from Junior and his friends.
Finally, the emails show that the US president’s eldest son was enthusiastic about the idea that he could get some dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians. “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer,” he emailed back to Goldstone.
But the emails do not show what actually happened at the meeting. For that we only have Trump Junior’s word, and as long as the other two men back him up he can say whatever he likes about it.
Trump Junior’s account of what was said at the meeting has changed several times in the past week, but the general impression he is trying to create is that some random weird lady got a meeting with him under false pretences. Then, when they actually met, she just rambled on about Americans adopting Russian orphans.
Maybe she did and maybe she didn’t, but Natalia Veselnitskaya is not some random weird lady. She is a respected Russian lawyer who has been leading a lobbying effort to get American sanctions against various Russian oligarchs who are close to the Kremlin dropped for some years now, and she has close connections to the Kremlin herself.
The meeting in the Trump Tower took place in June, 2016, when the servers of the Democratic National Committee had already been hacked by the Russians (according to the unanimous conclusion of all the US intelligence agencies), but before any of the information gained had been used. But later in the summer, by some strange coincidence, Junior’s hopes for a major Russian strike against Hillary Clinton were miraculously fulfilled.
That happened just before the Democrats held their national convention in late July, when there was a large dump of emails on WikiLeaks showing that the DNC had systematically loaded the dice in favour of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders.
It didn’t stop Clinton from getting the Democratic presidential nomination, and if the Russians really wanted Trump to win the presidency they should have been backing Clinton. Sanders would probably have given Trump more of a run for his money. But seen from Moscow, sabotaging Hillary Clinton probably looked like a clever move at the time.
So there it all is, and it wouldn’t be enough to impeach Donald Trump even if the Democrats controlled Congress. In fact, the Republicans have majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and Trump wouldn’t be impeached even if he was caught in bed (as they say in Washington) with a live boy or a dead girl.
It isn’t the smoking gun because we will never know what was really said in that meeting. It is very hard to believe that Donald Trump himself didn’t know about the meeting when his three closest political advisers were all there, but his denial will stand unless one of those three men chooses to say otherwise.
Yet he really is a “dead man walking”. It will be a very long walk – the slow death of a thousand little cuts – but the steady drip of minor and major revelations about his Russian links (and other embarrassing topics) will continue. And one day his tax returns will probably be leaked, which could be the final blow.
He won’t be impeached, but he’s not having fun any more, and at some point it will all get too much for him. He will simply resign (he’s in his 70s, so he can just plead ill health) – and we will get President Pence instead.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“Trump Junior’s account…herself”)