Bun­gled col­lu­sion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Charles Krautham­mer Charles Krautham­mer, who has won the Pulitzer Prize for com­men­tary, writes for the Washington Post.

The Rus­sia scan­dal has en­tered a new phase, and there’s no go­ing back. For six months the White House claimed that this scan­dal was noth­ing more than in­nu­endo about Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion with Rus­sia in med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion. In­nu­endo for which no con­crete ev­i­dence had been pro­duced.

Yes, there were sev­eral meet­ings with Rus­sian of­fi­cials, some only be­lat­edly dis­closed. But that is cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence at best. Meet­ings tell you noth­ing un­less you know what hap­pened in them. We didn’t. Some of these were ca­sual en­coun­ters in large groups, like the fa­mous July 2016 Kislyak-Ses­sions ex­change of pleas­antries at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. Big deal.

I was puz­zled. Lots of cover-up, but where was the crime? Not even a third-rate bur­glary. For six months, smoke with­out fire. Yes, President Trump was act­ing very de­fen­sively, as if he were hid­ing some­thing. But no one ever pro­duced the some­thing.

My view was: Col­lu­sion? I just don’t see it. But I’m open to em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence. Show me.

The ev­i­dence is now shown. This is not hearsay, not fake news, not un­sourced leaks. This is an email chain re­leased by Don­ald Trump Jr. A Bri­tish go­b­e­tween writes that there’s a Rus­sian gov­ern­ment ef­fort to help Trump Sr. win the elec­tion, and as part of that ef­fort he pro­poses a meet­ing with a “Rus­sian gov­ern­ment at­tor­ney” pos­sess­ing dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion on Hil­lary Clin­ton. More­over, the Krem­lin is will­ing to share troves of in­crim­i­nat­ing doc­u­ments from the Crown Pros­e­cu­tor. (Er­ror: Bri­tain has a Crown Pros­e­cu­tor. Rus­sia has a State Pros­e­cu­tor.)

Don­ald Jr. emails back. “I love it.” Fa­tal words. Once you’ve said “I’m in,” it makes no dif­fer­ence that the meet­ing was a bust, that the in­ter­me­di­ary brought no such goods. What mat­ters is what Don­ald Jr. thought go­ing into the meet­ing, as well as Jared Kush­ner and then-cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort, who were copied on the cor­re­spon­dence, in­vited to the meet­ing, and at­tended.

“It was lit­er­ally just a wasted 20 min­utes, which was a shame,” Don­ald Jr. told Sean Han­nity. A shame? On the con­trary, a stroke of luck. Had the lawyer real stuff to de­liver, Don­ald Jr. and the oth­ers would be in far deeper le­gal trou­ble. It turned out to be in­com­pe­tent col­lu­sion, am­a­teur col­lu­sion, com­i­cally failed col­lu­sion. That does not erase the fact that three top Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials were ready to play.

It may turn out that they did later col­lab­o­rate more fruit­fully. We don’t know. But even if noth­ing else is found, the ev­i­dence is damn­ing.

It’s rather pa­thetic to hear Trump apol­o­gists protest­ing that it’s no big deal be­cause we Amer­i­cans are al­ways in­ter­ven­ing in other peo­ple’s elec­tions, and they in ours. You don’t have to go back to the ’40s and ’50s when the CIA in­ter­vened in France and Italy to keep the com­mu­nists from com­ing to power. What about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bla­tant in­ter­fer­ence to try to de­feat Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu in the lat­est Is­raeli elec­tion? One might even add the work of groups sup­ported by the U.S. dur­ing Rus­sian par­lia­men­tary elec­tions—the very ori­gin of Vladimir Putin’s deep an­i­mus to­ward Hil­lary Clin­ton, then sec­re­tary of state, whom he ac­cuses of hav­ing or­ches­trated the op­po­si­tion.

This de­fense is pa­thetic for two rea­sons. First, have the Trumpites not been telling us for six months that no col­lu­sion ever hap­pened? And now they say: Sure it hap­pened. So what? Ev­ery­one does it.

What’s left of your cred­i­bil­ity when you make such a ca­sual about-face?

Sec­ond, no, not ev­ery­one does it. It’s one thing to be open to op­po­si­tion re­search dug up in In­di­ana. But not dirt from Rus­sia, a hos­tile for­eign power that has re­peat­edly in­vaded its neigh­bors (Georgia, Crimea, East­ern Ukraine), that buzzes our planes and ships in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, that op­poses our ev­ery move and ob­jec­tive around the globe. Just last week the Krem­lin killed ad­di­tional UN sanc­tions we were look­ing to im­pose on North Korea for its ICBM test.

There is no statute against help­ing a for­eign hos­tile power med­dle in an American elec­tion. What Don­ald Jr.—and Kush­ner and Manafort— did may not be crim­i­nal. But it is not merely stupid. It is also deeply wrong, a fun­da­men­tal vi­o­la­tion of any code of civic honor.

I leave it to the lawyers to ad­ju­di­cate the le­gal­i­ties of un­con­sum­mated col­lu­sion. But you don’t need a lawyer to see that the Trump de­fense— col­lu­sion as a des­per­ate Demo­cratic fiction de­signed to ex­plain away a lost elec­tion—is now of­fi­cially dead.

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