A re­volt­ing new low

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group

WASH­ING­TON – Ev­ery week – nearly ev­ery day – brings fresh, stom­ach-churn­ing ev­i­dence of Pres­i­dent Trump’s un­fit­ness for of­fice. The lat­est may be the most re­volt­ing.

Con­fronted with in­con­tro­vert­ible proof that his son leapt at the prospect of meet­ing with a “Rus­sian govern­ment at­tor­ney” of­fer­ing to dish dirt on Hil­lary Clin­ton as “part of Rus­sia and its govern­ment’s sup­port” for his can­di­dacy, the pres­i­dent took the po­si­tion that this was po­lit­i­cal busi­ness as usual.

His first pub­lic re­ac­tion, in an in­ter­view with Reuters, was that “many peo­ple would have held that meet­ing.” The next day, Trump ratch­eted up that as­ton­ish­ing as­ser­tion, from “many” to “most,” as­sert­ing, “I think from a prac­ti­cal stand­point, most peo­ple would have taken that meet­ing. Pol­i­tics isn’t the nicest busi­ness in the world, but it’s very stan­dard.” No. It. Isn’t. Don­ald Trump Jr. at least had the de­cency to ad­mit, in his in­ter­view with Fox News’ Sean Han­nity, that “in ret­ro­spect, I would’ve done things dif­fer­ently.” Not his father. I know be­ing Trump means never hav­ing to say you’re sorry. I un­der­stand the fierce parental in­stinct to de­fend your erring child, even if that child is a 39-year-old father of five.

But this meet­ing was un­ac­cept­able. It was not even in the ex­urbs of ap­pro­pri­ate. Hard to be­lieve this re­ally re­quires spell­ing out, but ap­par­ently it does, so here goes: A can­di­date for pres­i­dent of the United States and his cam­paign have no busi­ness, none, truck­ing with an emis­sary of a for­eign govern­ment ped­dling in­crim­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion about their op­po­nent.

That this meet­ing was ex­plic­itly de­scribed as an el­e­ment of a Rus­sian plot to in­flu­ence the U.S. elec­tion is ic­ing on an al­ready re­pul­sive cake. That the tar­get of this feeler – the can­di­date’s son – em­braced such med­dling rather than re­coil­ing from it, only adds to the sor­did­ness of the episode.

And that the in­tended ben­e­fi­ciary, now the sit­ting pres­i­dent of the United States, is un­able and un­will­ing to ac­cept that fact should be chill­ing to ev­ery pa­tri­otic Amer­i­can. Per­haps he is in­ca­pable of ever ac­knowl­edg­ing wrong­do­ing. That only adds to the chill.

Trump, we are told, didn’t know about the meet­ing with Rus­sian lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya un­til a few days be­fore it be­came pub­lic. Ex­cept, maybe, he did. “In fact, maybe it was men­tioned at some point,” Trump ac­knowl­edged in a con­ver­sa­tion with pool re­porters.

Was he talk­ing about Rus­sian adop­tion or the meet­ing it­self? Un­clear – but at this point the White House de­serves lit­tle pre­sump­tion of hon­esty or full dis­clo­sure.

I hear the what-aboutists stir­ring. But what about Democrats and Ukraine? Ac­cord­ing to a Jan­uary re­port in Politico, a Ukrainian-Amer­i­can con­sul­tant to the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee “met with top of­fi­cials in the Ukrainian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton in an ef­fort to ex­pose ties be­tween Trump, top cam­paign aide Paul Manafort and Rus­sia.” Prob­lem­atic? Per­haps. But Ukraine is not a U.S. ad­ver­sary. The scope of its re­ported in­volve­ment is far dif­fer­ent from a Putin-di­rected ef­fort to il­le­gally hack emails to help elect Trump.

If there is one sil­ver lining to this stag­ger­ing news, it is that it serves to strengthen spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller. Trump con­tin­ues to cry “witch hunt.” Yet there can no longer be any doubt that there is some­thing for Mueller to in­ves­ti­gate. And even this supine Repub­li­can Congress would not tol­er­ate his sum­mary fir­ing. Would it?

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