Donald Trump Jr. and The Russian Connection

July 14, 2017– The Bastille Day

Donald Trump Jr. and The Russian Connection

by Jelani Cobb

The tangled explanations offered for why Donald Trump, Jr., agreed to a meeting last June with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya have observers reciting once again the political truism that it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup—except when it’s actually the crime. It’s not clear whether any laws were broken with regard to that meeting, which was also attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, and at which Trump, Jr., hoped to receive politically damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a person who he had been told had ties to the Kremlin. But plenty of other questions remain to be answered.

Image result for Donald Trump Jr and President Trump

When Trump, Jr., released his e-mails about that meeting—after he was told that the Times was going to publish their contents—President Trump said that his son is a “high-quality person,” and thanked him for his “transparency.” Given the President’s usual hyperbolic lexicon, “high-quality” sounds like faint praise, but “transparency” is precisely the issue. Setting aside the fact that the Trump team seemed fine with accepting sensitive information from a Russian source, it’s worth considering why Donald Trump, Jr., was chosen to be the recipient of it.

His blithe defense—that nothing about the meeting matters because it turned out that there was no intel to share—is only more damning. Veselnitskaya does not seem to have any formal connection to the Russian government, but, if she had, as Trump, Jr., apparently believed, then the overture should have been seen as a feint, a head-fake to gauge the level of sophistication of the Trump team, and possibly to compromise the son of a potential future President in order to extract concessions at a later date—the kinds of machinations that would’ve been instantly recognized during the Cold War.

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The implications of this level of ineptitude on Trump’s team have been alarming ever since Trumpism became a viable political force, but it also points to a lack of understanding of what Russia may be seeking to achieve with the Trump Presidency. In the fall of 2015, after Trump defended Putin against accusations of murdering journalists, and praised his leadership, it was easy to draw superficial comparisons between them: two image-conscious men hostile to independent institutions and fixated on restoring their respective nations to what they perceived as their former greatness. Since then, the differences between them have become more apparent. Russian resurrection is Putin’s raison d’être, an objective that explains his various military interventions.

It is an agenda that resonates deeply in a nation that remains both bitterly aware that it lost the Cold War and sensitive to the subsequent decline of its significance in world affairs. A few years ago, on a fellowship in Russia, I was discussing the work of Hunter S. Thompson with a student on a Moscow trolley, when an older man watching us began shouting angrily. The student translated his complaint: “There was a time when Americans knew better than to come to Russia and dare to speak English loudly in public.”

Trump, too, speaks the language of national grievance. He persuaded his followers that they had been suckered globally, and, in the most alarmingly messianic of his statements at the Republican National Convention, warned that he alone could save the nation. He has dissed long-standing allies, sabre-rattled our enemies, and made a show of wrangling job concessions out of American manufacturers—but none of that reflects a coherent world view beyond the will to power that has driven him since he appeared on the New York real-estate scene more than forty years ago.

The grimiest business practices might approve cementing a lucrative international deal with a corrupt foreign regime, but nations, at least in theory, operate on a broader set of principles. Were Trump’s nationalism anything more than self-serving theatrics, his associates would have rejected any suggestion of foreign assistance in the election on the principle that, hated or not, Hillary Clinton represented someone to whom they were bound by ties of citizenship.

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The Games these Guys Play as the world watches

Putin seems to have recognized these contradictions and weaknesses from the outset. His interest in Trump’s candidacy appears driven not simply by transactional concerns, such as the removal of sanctions in exchange for reauthorizing the adoption of Russian orphans, or the prospect of a hands-off foreign policy that will ignore Russian human-rights violations. Trump may see himself as an American Putin, but Putin likely sees Trump as an American Boris Yeltsin—floundering in the complexities that surround him. Before Trump was pressured into raising the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election with Putin at last week’s G-20 summit in Hamburg, he had continued to downplay it. This was despite the fact that his own Justice Department is prosecuting Reality Leigh Winner, a twenty-five-year-old intelligence contractor, for leaking a National Security Agency report on attempts by Russian military intelligence to hack local election officials and voter-registration software.

All this points to problems that extend far beyond the June meeting to the nature of this Administration and its inability to understand the world that it is supposed to be leading. My colleague John Cassidy has pointed out that Trump, Jr., increasingly looks like a fall guy for a White House whose senior officials are increasingly compromised. When Richard Nixon saw that the resignations of his aides John Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman had done nothing to diminish the inquiry into Watergate, he told Henry Kissinger, “I cut off two arms and then they went after the body.” Even if Trump, Jr., does take the fall, Trump, like Nixon, may soon realize that it will be insufficient to stop the Russia investigation.

Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”

8 thoughts on “Donald Trump Jr. and The Russian Connection

  1. Donald Trump Jr aka Fredo Corleone is screwed,left,right,center and behind.Jared Kushner is also screwed and Paul Manafort too.What was not disclosed in this meeting was that the lady lawyer,brought along a translator and a Russian born former intelligence officer to the meeting.

    Before the meeting this lady lawyer attended court,representing some Putin cronies,who stole tons of money from the Russian treasury.These crooks then laundered US250 million to NYC to buy real estate.This particular case was under US Attorney Preet Bharara.Someone inside Justice tipped off Donald Trump that Preet was investigating Trump Organization for money laundering.Donald Trump then fired him.

    With the prosecutor,US Attorney Preet fired,there was no other prosecutor appointed for this particular case.Quietly,AG Jeff Session settled this case for US6 million.Congressional Democrats are now demanding the papers for this case and records of Jeff Sessions contacts with the Russians.Why settled for US6 million when they can have the whole cake?This is a coverup of this money laundering case for Donald Trump.

    Eventually,it might only be Melania and the younger Trump children,Tiffany and Baron,who will be the only ones left to smell fresh air.Even Ivanka have many connections with the Russians.

    • The White House has lost credibility; Trump will likely replace all who have been tainted with the mess. Congress is a dysfunctional set up. There is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. LaMoy, your comments are welcome. –Din Merican.

  2. Donald Jr. is in deep shit. So are Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. But the son of the president isn’t the president. And neither is the president’s son-in-law or the Trump campaign loyalist implicated in what may well prove to be the biggest scandal in American political history. Even if we assume that Don Jr., Kushner, and Manafort end up indicted for violating federal election laws (if Trump doesn’t pardon them, of course), where does that leave Donald Trump himself? What comes next? And how does it end?

    The party that refused to move against Donald Trump through the primaries, the convention, the general election, and a thousand acts of offense and stupidity since Nov. 8, 2016 is unlikely to take the political risk of turning on him now. From what I heard from most of my GOP colleagues, Congressional Republicans are very reluctant to become the first party in American history to vote in favor of impeaching and removing a president who comes from within its own ranks. You’d have to be out of your mind to predict that the Russian scandal would bring impeachment very soon.

    But … by now we’ve all gone a little out of our minds – and things are really just getting started. If The New York Times and Washington Post had the information that has led to its string of incriminating blockbuster scoops over the past several days, you can bet that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will end up in possession of far, far more by the time his investigation is complete (many months from now). That’s why it’s increasingly hard to imagine the Trump administration not ending up completely engulfed and brought down by scandal. But what would that mean in concrete political terms? Here are some possibilities:

    1. The damage is contained to top advisers and close family members:

    It says a lot about how far the story has moved within the past week that it now appears that the best-case scenario for the Trump presidency may be for the president’s oldest son, son-in-law, and one-time campaign manager to take the fall, plead guilty, or contest likely indictments without implicating the president himself. Could it happen? I suppose.

    2. The president gets accused of indictable crimes but remains protected from prosecution by his office:

    If it turns out that there is credible evidence that Donald Trump himself knew his campaign was colluding with the Russian government, that could well be sufficient to warrant indictment on any number of charges, from violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to obstruction of justice to treason. Yet the prevailing view among constitutional scholars is that a sitting president is immune from criminal prosecution. That would put matters in the hands of Congress: If they impeach and remove him, he could be indicted; if they don’t, he could be protected from criminal charges until he leaves office.

    The important question is whether House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would allow Donald Trump to turn the White House into a safe house. The answer will depend on several variables, including: Trump’s approval numbers, especially among Republican voters; the related issue of his support in the right-wing media; and whether the scandal crests before or after the 2018 midterm elections, with the months immediately following the vote, when the 2020 presidential election is still a full two years away, being Trump’s moment of maximal vulnerability. Note that neither the good of the country nor the moral reputation of the GOP is likely to play much of a role in the decision. And yes, this means that if Ryan and McConnell thought the party could continue to thrive at the ballot box while behaving like a treasonous criminal syndicate, they might well go along with it.

    3. The game is on for impeachment, removal, and indictment:

    If Fox News and Rush Limbaugh turned hard against Trump, the chances of the House passing articles of impeachment would surge, and so would the likelihood of eventual conviction by the Senate. But that’s nothing compared with the chances of that happening if the Democrats take one or both houses of Congress in the midterm election 16 months from now. And that’s why the most likely scenario of all may well be Trump and the GOP facing a tidal wave that could prove fatal to the Trump administration.

    As for me, it’s increasingly hard to see how the 2018 midterm election doesn’t become a referendum on impeachment.

    • LaMoy,

      Government is at a standstill in DC. It is already 6 months since he took office and Trump has not come up with anything substantive. He and his team are now in a bunker fighting against the media and civil society over Trump care and other campaign pledges.He, however, appears to be making some progress on the foreign policy front (at G20 and visit to Macron’s France for Bastille Day celebrations). –Din Merican

    • LOL. If you were him, Bang Din, with all the troubles around and all the lies exposed, would you be able to pay attention to run a government? Apparently, even Fox News is now starting to flee Trump, as Shep Smith and Chris Wallace told Fox News viewers that Trump is lying to them about the Russia scandal, lie after lie after lie. See the video:

      If Trump ever fully loses Fox News, with the exception of Hannity, it will truly be over for him. Even with a high approval rating among members of his own party, there is a breaking point where even Republicans will distance themselves from Trump. Never has a president relied on partisan media as much as Donald Trump. If conservative media abandons ship, the Trump presidency will be toast.

      Trump is not making any progress in foreign relations. Macron is playing the Trump card. The Gaullist tradition has tended not to appear reflexively anti-American but, rather, to allow French Presidents to deal with American Presidents on terms of equality – or, at least, cosmetic equality – as de Gaulle did with Kennedy, and Mitterrand did with Reagan, despite the discrepancy in their relative power. There’s never been a more opportune moment for that than now, with America so clearly in decline in the eyes of the rest of the world, and Trump more isolated every day. Macron seems to believe that he’s detected in Trump the vulnerability of a persona that turns on a desperate desire to be liked. Anyone who flatters Trump and treats him respectfully gets his good opinion and coöperation in return. (Canada’s Justin Trudeau is playing this card, too.) Since Trump seems to view life as a series of small brutal ballets of dominance – exemplified in comic form by his ongoing struggle with Macron for the superior handshake – Macron seems to imagine that Trump can be easily manipulated to France’s benefit.

      I believe this will play well domestically in France for the moment but will almost certainly turn out to be an illusion. Trump’s tendency to be irritated by a perceived slight is greater even than his capacity to be ingratiated. That, after all, is what distinguishes Trump’s narcissism from the normal political egotism of, say, Bill Clinton, who cannot believe that people dislike him even when they do. If Macron imagines that Trump will maintain fond memories of dinners shared and parades watched, he is deluding himself. Narcissists can be manipulated for a moment, but they can’t be managed. Even as they watch a parade, they manage to make themselves miserable – their memory for slights felt is far greater than their memory for sights seen.

  3. Outsmarted by the Saudis and the Russians.

    After Trump visited Saudi Arabia, the latter went after
    Qatar (and its Aljazeera broadcasting network).

    Will Russia now go aggressively after the Baltic nations and the Ukraine?

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