1. Preet Bharara, the ex-U.S. attorney fired by the Trump Administration, tweets…
Quick reminder: something doesn’t have to be illegal for it to be foolish, wrong and un-American.
True. When Donald Trump, Jr. was informed that a Russian lawyer wanted to meet with him to pass along damaging information about Hillary Clinton, he should have gone to the FBI immediately, because this could have been indicative of a national threat. Instead he said “Whoopie!” or words to that effect. Moron.
But we knew that.
*Notice of Correction: In the original post, I erroneously stated that Bharara had joined Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference with the election. That was incorrect. I apologize. I was confused by this headline from the Washington Examiner: Special counselor adds former Preet Bharara prosecutor to Russia probe: Reports. It’s a bad headline, but I should have read the whole article. Careless.
2. Similarly, if Danny Jr told Kushner and Manafort what he was told the meeting would be about, THEY should have told him that the meeting was a bad idea, and to report it. They are slime-bags, and none too bright either.
We knew that, too.
3. It may be pure moral luck that this didn’t turn into a serious breach of election laws. But the fact is that no information changed hands, as far as we know. There was no “collusion,” which isn’t a legal term anyway.
4. The New York Times, from its good side, actually detailed the legal realities of the case, which ironically show how absurdly over-heated and misleading its own coverage is. The Times consulted with legal experts who said,
- The events made public in the past few days are not enough to charge conspiracy. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor said the revelations are important because if further evidence of coordination emerges, the contents of the emails and the fact of the meeting would help establish an intent to work with Russia on influencing the election…at least on Donald Trump Jr.’s part.
But as has been the situation throughout, the episode is still waiting for real evidence of genuine collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and this wasn’t it. The anti-Trump mob, in the news media and out of it, is so, so eager, so desperate, to prove sanctionable wrongdoing that it is pouncing on everything that contains a shred of hope.
- There has to be an underlying federal offense that is being conspired to be committed. So far, there is no evidence of that, and the aborted meeting with the Russian lawyer didn’t come close.
If the e-mails released yesterday specified that what was being offered had been obtained by an illegal computer hack, that would be enough. They didn’t.
- A federal law, Section 30121 of Title 52, makes it a crime for any foreigner to contribute or donate money or some “other thing of value” in connection with an American election, or for anyone to solicit a foreigner to do so. As I wrote yesterday, “of value” probably doesn’t apply to mere information. There is no precedent for prosecutions under that statute relating to information. The Times hopefully notes that Courts have held, in other contexts, that a “thing of value” can be something intangible like information, but in other contexts, in the law, is a big qualification.
Orin S. Kerr, a George Washington University professor and former federal prosecutor, was dubious that the statute could be made to fit this scenario.
“The phrase ‘contribution or donation’ sounds like a gift to help fund the campaign or give them something they otherwise would buy that is the standard, that doesn’t seem to be met, based on what we know so far, because this wasn’t something that someone else could have gathered that was for sale in a market or would be otherwise purchasable.”
- The Times agrees that “the precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.” Nor is there evidence that has been made public or alluded to of any discussions between Russian officials or surrogates and the Trump campaign about disseminating the emails of Democrats that American intelligence officials say Russia hacked.
5. Is that clear? This episode shows, at worst, that Trump’s son might have been willing to accept information that was not necessarily illegally obtained.
6. And that Don Jr. is an unethical dimwit. Just like his Dad.
7. The episode also shows the danger when utter amateurs get involved in national politics, foreign policy and government at high levels. All of the Trumps are naifs at this; I doubt Don, Jr. knew that he was treading close to some legal lines, but that’s no excuse. It’s his responsibility to know the laws. We claim to want outsiders, but this kind of blundering inevitably comes with outsiders, especially when they are also dumb and unethical.
8. It isn’t “Everybody Does it” or a deflection to ask why this story about the Clinton campaign didn’t get similar traction:
Politico‘s Kenneth Vogel and David Stern reported in early January that the DNC contacted officials from the Ukrainian government for their own oppo research efforts. These contacts did not involve cut-outs, as Veselnitskaya may or may not have been, but did directly assist in searching for damaging information that could be used in the election….But where Trump’s own flesh and blood was involved in clandestine meetings, the DNC was careful to keep Clinton and her family at arm’s length, handling the connections to Ukrainian officials through operative Alexandra Chalupa. Chalupa, whose work included engaging with expatriate Democratic voters, suspected Manafort was using his Russian connections to boost Trump. According to Politico, she began coordinating with officials at Ukraine’s Washington embassy to expedite her research, in the hopes of provoking Congress into holding a hearing before the election about Russian contact with the Trump campaign.
Well, we know why: the news media is out to get Trump, but will always protect Democrats, and bury such news if it can. Also, what the DNC did was slick and professionally unethical, unlike Donny Boy’s floundering.
9. Hypothetical: Illegal Russian hacks manage to find the 30,000 e-mails Hillary Clinton had destroyed. The Russians approach the FBI and offer to turn them over. The FBI is investigating Clinton’s e-mails at the time. in the conversations between Russia and the FBI, the Russians say, “We are enthusiastic about the likelihood that this evidence will result in Mrs. Clinton’s defeat.”
If the FBI accepts the e-mails, will the agency be colluding with the Russians?
If the FBI releases them to Congress, will it be assisting in a foreign effort to influence our election?
If it was Trump’s intent to turn what he received from the Russians over to the FBI, would he still be “colluding?”