Two months ago tomorrow, the New York Times published a report that changed the trajectory of the Trump-Russia scandal in a rather dramatic way. As regular readers no doubt recall, we learned that in in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had a private meeting with, among others, a Kremlin-linked Russian attorney and a former Soviet counterintelligence officer.
This contradicted claims Trump Jr. made in March, when he said he hadn’t met with Russians. Making matters worse, in response to the Times’ reporting, he issued a written statement – a statement approved by his father – claiming the meeting was about adoption policy. That wasn’t exactly true, either.
Soon after, Trump Jr. changed his story again, admitting that the campaign meeting was about obtaining information from Russia about Hillary Clinton, which in turn offered evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin government. Indeed, emails about the meeting made it quite clear that Moscow wanted to help Trump, and Trump Jr. welcomed the assistance.
The New York Times reported earlier today on the latest iteration of the argument from the president’s eldest son.
Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators on Thursday that he set up a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer because he was intrigued that she might have damaging information about Hillary Clinton, saying it was important to learn about Mrs. Clinton’s “fitness” to be president.
But nothing came of the Trump Tower meeting, he said, and he was adamant that he never colluded with the Russian government’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election.
“To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out,” he said. “Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration.”
As the Times’ report added, “The acknowledgment by the president’s eldest son that he intended to seek legal counsel after the meeting suggests that he knew, or at least suspected, that accepting potentially damaging information about a rival campaign from a foreign country raised thorny legal issues.”
As for his argument on the merits, for now, let’s put aside the absurdity of Trump Jr. arguing that he felt the need to help evaluate Clinton’s “fitness” for the presidency – as if this were somehow a credible rationale for cooperating with a foreign adversary.
I’m even more intrigued by his assertion that he never colluded with Russia. Apparently, Trump Jr. hopes to draw a bright line between collusion and attempted collusion.
We know he was lying when he said he never met with Russians, just as we know he was lying when he said the meeting was about adoptions. Trump Jr’s latest pitch, however, is that he arranged a private meeting with Russians in the hopes of obtaining secret dirt on an American presidential candidate – which we’re all supposed to consider kosher since he was unimpressed with the quality of the dirt.
In his mind, welcoming the campaign assistance of a foreign adversary, in secret, doesn’t really count as problematic. I’ll be eager to see if investigators agree.