‘They finally caught Trump colluding with the Russians’ — is the line every major mainstream media organization is implying this morning. The latest news of Donald Trump, Jr. and others from the campaign meeting with a Russian attorney last June sounds scandalous, but it’s only scandalous if you don’t read the facts of the meeting.
The New York Times reported Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who allegedly promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
Now, without reading any further details, people jump to assumptions. They assume this lawyer has connections to the Kremlin. They assume the damaging information came from Wikileaks or another hacker. They assume it would be illegal to talk with a Russian about anything related to Clinton.
Those assumptions are wrong, and the facts of the meeting totally fly in the face of the media narrative about Russia to this point.
Was it inappropriate to meet with a Russian lawyer about Hillary Clinton?
This is where the facts of the meeting become important. The lawyer promised information about Russian illegal donations to Clinton and the DNC. Trump, Jr. wasn’t promised hacked DNC data or Clinton emails. A Russian said she had proof other Russians gave money illegally to the Clintons. Can you imagine the Clinton campaign turning down this meeting if the role was reversed? If a random Russian had information about other Russians illegally funding Trump’s campaign, John Podesta certainly would have met with her.
The fact that the information was about other Russians is relevant, and the press is ignoring it.
Was this woman representing the Kremlin?
The Times presented no evidence of this at all. They described her as “best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act,” which bans Americans from adopting Russian children. The best connection they could come up with is that one of her clients is “a senior government official’s son.” Indeed, Trump, Jr. said her hidden agenda was to discuss this law, and that nothing valuable about illegal donations came from the meeting.
Now, could she be some secret agent? Sure, and maybe that should be investigated. Our guess is that our intelligence community would have figured that out by now, considering their well-documented surveillance of Russian nationals — especially ones interacting with Trump Tower.
The current facts show no ties to the Kremlin.
Was the information promised related to hacked emails or Wikileaks?
Obviously not, unless the reports are wrong, and this is some conspiratorial cover-up.
Was this meeting illegal?
Politifact did a left-leaning analysis of the laws against campaign collusion with foreign entities. Even in their analysis, Nathaniel Persily at Stanford University Law School states, “A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime… And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime.” Notice the key word: spending.
The sharing of facts isn’t prohibited, even if the facts were about leaked emails — which in this case, they weren’t. Now, if you could prove Russians spent money collecting these emails with the sole purpose of helping one candidate, there may be a case there. But, that’s not what happened. The information promised were facts not spending. Was anyone at this meeting assisting a Russian with spending money to influence an election? Even the most ardent liberal legal experts would say no, with the current facts known.
Until this point, the left-wing narrative has been: Russian government officials hacked or supported hacks of DNC and Clinton emails, then worked with Trump’s campaign to distribute this information.
This meeting doesn’t fit that narrative. It wasn’t a Russian official. The damaging information wasn’t hacked emails — it was about Russian involvement in the election to help Democrats. The meeting, at worst, was meeting with one Russian about other Russians’ activities.
While Democrats may feel vindicated by the Times story, if they actually read the facts, it doesn’t match the talking points they have been parroting since last November.