A “nothing-burger” is how White House aides airily dismissed the revelation. But like so much that emanates from the Trump White House, it was a supersized Double Whopper with enough hidden additives and secret sauce to induce collective national heart failure.
It turns out e-mail trails can look just as bad for people named Trump as for people named Clinton. Donald Trump Jr.’s “I love it” e-mail chain salivating over a promise last June of “very high level and sensitive information” from an alleged Kremlin attorney incriminating Hillary Clinton — pitched as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” — is the latest brick in a mounting wall of evidence that President Trump’s campaign not only knew about but welcomed Russian dark arts in the service of his election.
Seeking the most sympathetic ear outside his immediate family, Trump Jr. went on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show and admitted he was eager to hear from the Russian lawyer, but regrettably, he got “nothing.”
Where an ordinary mortal with a moral compass that points to right and wrong might be concerned about unethical or illicit activity — conspiracy to encourage hacking or accepting stolen e-mails or contributions from a foreign national — Trump Jr. and his dad have no problem with such a meeting; only that it was a bust.
The offer of dirt on Clinton was “bait and switch,” Junior groused to Hannity. “It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.”
That’s the shame? Let that sink in.
Asked about taking a meeting with an agent offering incriminating material from an unfriendly government that’s undermined American interests around the world, the president sneeringly told Reuters, “Everybody would do that.”
Actually, Mr. President, not everybody would do that, even in less shocking circumstances. In 2000, when former representative Tom Downey was helping Al Gore prepare to debate George W. Bush, a package arrived with a videotape and documents related to the Bush campaign. Downey immediately called his lawyer, who called the FBI, and Downey recused himself from helping Gore. That’s what anyone who can distinguish right from wrong would do.
Beyond the Grand Canyon-sized ethical morass are the legal implications that special counsel Robert Mueller is surely interrogating: potential conspiracy, electoral assistance from foreigners, obstruction of justice, and false or misleading statements to government officials.
This president and White House have proved daily an eagerness to deny the truth and mislead the American people — damaging to democracy, but not a crime. Lying on one’s federal disclosure forms is another matter. Trump son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, for one, has amended his form three times to add more than 100 foreigners he met during the campaign, including the Russian lawyer.
The president says he knew nothing of the meeting. But the same day Junior confirmed it — June 7, 2016 — his father declared victory in the primary and vowed to soon detail Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” with foreign governments, including Russia.
The collective Russo-amnesia by Team Trump is getting on the nerves of even some of the most ardent Hillary-haters. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who made tarring Clinton with Benghazi his visionquest, went on Fox to say, “Someone needs to get everyone in a room and say, ‘From the time you saw ‘Dr. Zhivago’ until the moment you drank vodka with a guy named Boris, you list every single contact with Russia!’”
It’s good advice, but Team Trump isn’t listening, perhaps because there may be a there there.
The White House thinks the best way to quench the three-alarm fire licking at the heels of the presidency is to send moth-to-the-television-flame Kellyanne Conway on Fox with Sesame Street-style flashcards reading, “Conclusion? Collusion Illusion Delusion,” in a lame attempt to persuade America that it’s all in our heads.
Remind me, who are the delusional ones?
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @Indira_L.