By James A. Kidney
Five observations on the Donald Trump Jr. emails and meeting with the Russians:
- Don’t let Trump Derangement lead to bad law.
Some journalists and political commentators — is there still a difference? — are pushing for some very bad law when they argue/analyze/conclude that Donald Trump Jr.’s agreement to receive negative information about Hillary Clinton from the Russians is unlawful.
The main theory being proffered (there are many) is that the law prohibits contributions to U.S. political campaigns from foreign governments and that information, which sometimes has a price, is equivalent to a financial or services donation. Equating delivery of accurate, non-classified information with illegal financial contributions, or contributions of meals, transportation and the like, is a very dangerous pathway.
Information, unlike air travel, catering, and advertising, for example, is very fluid and its source not always identifiable. Penalizing people for receipt of useful information which is not classified, a trade secret or purely personal (complete social security numbers, for example) is not the beginning of a slippery slope, but it is the end of one. Comparing the delivery of information to paid-for opposition research does not somehow make the one actually comparable to the other. If I pay for something, I am engaged in a commercial transaction. Such transactions may be regulated as a commercial arrangement. But if I receive information for nothing, except maybe a vague and nearly unprovable understanding that I will be deferential to the donor in the future, there is only a flow of information, which the Constitution and free speech jurisprudence generally favors.
If the law were applied to journalists as some wish it were applied to politicians, there would be hell to pay. Why should a politician, who claims to be operating for his or her constituents as much as journalists claim to be acting “for the people,” be subjected to a different standard when it comes to information?
Would these same journalists and legal analysts seek to punish Hillary Clinton if she accepted information directly from the Merkel government in Germany that Donald Trump had reached a deal with Vladimir Putin in advance of the U.S. election to remove U.S. missiles from Germany? Wouldn’t everyone want that information to be delivered, with the likely result it would be made public? There is no real legal distinction between Germany and Russia at the moment. Neither is a declared or undeclared enemy. In fact, as the Trump defenders point out, Clinton operatives did seek information from the Ukraine government about the activities of then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Was this, too, illegal? Should it have been?
What if the Russian government did not try to funnel information through the Trump campaign staff, but instead gave the information to Breitbart, with the near certainty Breitbart would either publish it or give to the Trump campaign, or both? Does the intervening step of laundering the information through journalists cause the “crime” not to be a crime? Is not a foreign government providing aid to a candidate?
The reason this issue is even discussed is because Trump Derangement causes many rational thinkers to confuse an impeachable offense with an unlawful act. There is no legal connection between the two.
- The law has little to do with impeachment, which is all about politics.
There is little point in spending a lot of time trying to shoehorn disreputable conduct into the narrow definitions of the criminal code if your goal is to embarrass Republicans into impeaching the president. Trump will be impeached only when the political winds make it favorable for Republicans to turn on their standard-bearer, or create a new congressional majority. Removal of the president from office is not a penalty provided for any crime. The Constitution is the only source of such relief. To paraphrase Trump, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not be impeached unless a super-majority of the Congress favored his impeachment and conviction.
Analysts claiming one action or another by Trump and his enablers is a crime know this full well, which causes one to conclude that stretching the law in ways which would prove a bad precedent must be Trump Derangement. Crime might make the politics of impeachment more attractive, but only if a sufficient number of constituents pressured their representatives, or politicians caught some sort of virus that creates political courage. Otherwise, finding a criminal act is only one, possibly ineffective, route to the politics of impeachment.
- What does the White House Press Office do?
Listening to Sarah Huckabee Sanders or the late, great Sean Spicer deal with press questions is an exercise in futility. They never have real answers to anything. They do not seem to prepare for anything between their on-camera or off-camera briefings. They are unprepared for the most obvious questions, such as “When did the President last talk to his first-born son?” immediately after the email news broke. If their non-answers are to be believed, all the press office does when an obvious news story warranting obvious questions arises that is embarrassing to the White House is to head for Google and look up some event during the Clinton campaign or her career for which they can berate her uselessly. Instead, how about asking the President, Kushner, Bannon, McMaster and others what’s going on?
This is an administration that likes to claim the government doesn’t work. Example No. 1 is the White House Press Office. If it were abolished, who would know it is gone, unless you had cable TV time to fill?
- Are we no longer calling out obvious Trump lies?
According to the White House, Trump first learned about Junior’s emails about Russian “dirt” only a few days before the emails were released. OK, let’s buy that for a second or two. But The New York Times also reported that Trump himself approved the initial statement that the meeting was planned only to discuss restoring adoption for Russian babies in the U.S. The subsequent email production doesn’t even mention that subject. The sole reason for the meeting was to be presented with dirt on Clinton. We are presented with two possibilities: One, Trump knew the facts and authorized a statement lying about them; or, two, his own son lied to him and allowed the White House to issue false information. My vote is for No. 1, but No. 2 is not much less troubling.
- What About the Obvious Pre-Arrangement?
It is impossible to read the initial e-mail from Rob Goldstone to Donald Trump, Jr., and conclude that this was the first communication about the Russians offering to help the Trump campaign. A critical part of the initial June 3, 2016 email states:
“This is obviously a very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russian and its government’s support for Trump . . .”
Junior’s email back is a very casual version of “thanks, I’m on the road, call later.”
Unless Junior is so stupid as to be sub-human, which is doubtful, wouldn’t the proper response be: “What the hell are you talking about? What do you mean the Russians are offering to help?”
The casual response screams that the campaign knew in advance of June 3 that the Russian government was going to help the Trump campaign. Even if Junior is sub-humanly stupid, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort manifestly are not. Why did they not react with surprise, if not consternation, when receiving emails about a meeting set up by Russians to forward a Russian government plan to help the Trump campaign? Why did they not ask a dozen questions? If they did, one would think those emails or other communications would be produced quickly by the White House or Junior. That they have not been speaks volumes.
Of course, asking the White House about any pre-arrangement or other emails is pointless. Sanders and the missing Spicer would say, “I’ll get back to you” and never do so. Instead, they are investigating how mean Hillary was to her parents when she was disappointed by her presents on her sixth birthday. (“The President is not mean! Look at what Clinton did in 1953! She got mad about the color of her tricycle!”).