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Trump Jr.: It’s the crime, not the cover-up (OK, it’s also the cover-up)

Informed Dissent

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So it's the crime, not the cover-up.

Actually, it's the cover-up, too, but focus for now on the crime.

On June 3, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., a 38-year-old grown-up whose father was running for president of the United States, received an email from one of his father's business partners informing him that the Russian government wanted to provide the campaign with "very high-level and sensitive information" about Hillary Clinton's dealings with Russia, as part of the regime's "support for Mr. Trump."

Unfazed by the notion that a hostile foreign government was seeking to interfere in an American election and prop up his father, Trump Jr. quickly replied: "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."

Four days later, on June 7, Trump Jr. negotiated a meeting with a Kremlin-tied lawyer. Three hours after the meeting was confirmed, Trump Sr. – who now swears he only learned of all this recently – announced to the world that he would, in the next week, give a major address detailing Clinton's "corrupt dealings" with foreign governments, including Russia. (That speech never happened.)

Two days later, on June 9, the meeting took place: Trump Jr., campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, the attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and, we learned Friday, a Russian-American lobbyist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence named Rinat Akhmetshin, who told the Associated Press that Veselnitskaya brought documents purporting to show the illicit transfer of funds to the Democratic National Committee. (CNN reported that three other people attended the meeting who have not yet been identified.)

In Akhmetshin's telling, Trump Jr. asked Veselnitskaya for more proof, and Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to do more research, at which point Trump Jr. lost interest. In Trump Jr.'s telling, Veselnitskaya didn't have the goods and the conversation turned to adoption policy, then the campaign never thought about the Russian government's professed "support for Mr. Trump" again or thought this was worth mentioning to the FBI – even after Wikileaks began pumping out Russian-hacked emails and we learned the Russians were running a massive fake-news operation.

For the moment, let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Let's say that this was the extent of the campaign's conversations with Russian apparatchiks, that the Russians opened this door, found the Trump campaign clearly receptive, and then decided never to talk through it again. Let's say that Trump's promises of Clinton dirt a few hours after Trump Jr. confirmed this meeting was 100 percent coincidence, and he really did just learn about this. Let's say that Manafort's deep and well-documented ties to the Kremlin and Kushner's amnesia when it came time to fill out his security-clearance forms were likewise coincidental. And let's say none of this had anything to do with Trump's decision to fire James Comey.

Fine. That doesn't make it any better.

The fact is – in black and white, for all the world to see – Trump campaign officials were told that the Russian government wanted to help them win and jumped at the chance. That is the very definition of collusion, whether anything came of it or not.

Of course, believing that was the end of it, given all that followed in the waning months of the campaign and the obfuscation that has flowed from the White House ever since, strikes me as utterly implausible. We know that the Russians intervened on Trump's behalf. We know that Trump's campaign was aware of the Russians' intent and welcomed that intervention. So are we really to believe that nothing became of it? (Not to mention the fact that literally everyone involved is an inveterate liar.)

This is a scandal unlike any we've seen in Washington in decades, every bit as corrupt as Watergate, worthy of the same opprobrium and outrage. And yet, the increasingly illegitimate president and his gutless party continue to govern.

While the world obsesses over the Russia meeting and awaits the seemingly inevitable frog-marches, Senate Republicans are trying to muscle through a bill that will leave tens of millions of sick and poor people without access to affordable health care so that wealthy Americans can get a tax break. There's a radical Supreme Court justice who will roll back progress for decades to come. There are top White House advisers who want to slash legal immigration in half and think the answer to the Afghanistan quagmire is more mercenaries. There's the head of the Department of Education's civil rights division, who thinks that "90 percent" of campus sexual assault allegations "fall into the category of 'we were both drunk,' 'we broke up.'"

The point is, no matter how corrupt or chaotic or dysfunctional the administration, no matter the shitshow that would be entertaining were it not so pathetic, the policies being enacted will have repercussions long after these goons are gone, whether by hook or by crook. This isn't another jeremiad imploring you not to be "distracted"; Russia's incursion into our democracy is a big deal, and it should be treated as such. But we do risk being so deluged by scandal and governance-by-idiots that we become inured to it, that we adjust our standards to the point where we come to accept this as some sort of new normal.

This can't be normal. This can never be normal.

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