The New York Times reported over the weekend that Donald Trump Jr. had met last year with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised derogatory information about Hillary Clinton. The NYT has led the Fourth Estate in researching possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin conducted a cyber campaign aimed at aiding the Trump campaign and denying the presidency to Clinton.
The only remaining major question for all but the most blinded Trump supporters has been whether there was collusion between the campaign and the Kremlin. That is, did the Trump campaign coordinate or conspire with Russians to hinder Clinton's campaign or reduce her vote totals?
Although the Trump Jr. meeting sounds a bit like collusion, the fine print is less provocative. Would Chelsea Clinton have accepted an invitation to meet with someone who promised negative information about Donald Trump? Would any political campaign operative decline such an invitation promising "dirt" against an opponent in this era of background research teams and negative campaigning? The meeting might be ill-advised but shouldn't be surprising.
Trump Jr. says the meeting was a bust. He says he received no negative information about Clinton. He says he was told that some Russians were secretly contributing to the Clinton campaign, and the Russian lawyer only wanted to talk about international adoptions. He says he received "no meaningful information."
Far from being a "smoking gun" proving collusion, this incident seems to be another example of Trump administration inexperience or delusion. Unless Trump Jr.'s account can be contradicted by other sources, there's not much smoke in this collusion gun.
Second Day Second Thoughts
After I wrote the above post, Donald Trump Jr. gave more information about his meeting with a Russian official and released some emails that only raise more concerns about the Trump campaign's lack of caution and lack of any moral standards. The campaign that led chants of "lock her up" last year seems willing to accept derogatory information about Hillary Clinton from any source, no matter how suspicious or how tainted by its Russian origins.
These latest revelations (from Trump Jr. himself, lest anyone claim that it's all "fake news") show just how naive and trusting Trump officials have been about Russia's interests and actions in the 2016 campaign. They were willing to meet with and believe any intermediary who had "dirt" on Clinton. They knew the promised information was coming from inside the Kremlin — confirmation that a foreign power was attempting to influence and subvert a U.S. presidential election.
A year later, Donald Trump, the candidate the Kremlin was attempting to assist, continues to deny that the Russian government was trying to subvert the vote of the American people. Trump Jr.'s "I love it" (from his own email, released to the media by himself) may be the closest we've come to proof of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
If Trump Jr. is being truthful about the lack of useful information from his meeting with a Russian lawyer — a dubious proposition about the Trump administration — it might not matter. Trump Jr.'s enthusiasm for the derogatory information, acknowledged to be from a foreign power, may be all that is needed to show collusion.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller still has a long way to go with his investigation, but Donald Trump Jr. is making his task a little easier.