Once again Democrats and the liberal media (is that redundant?) are popping champagne-corks and high-fiving because Donald Trump Jr. has disclosed that he met with a Russian “lawyer,” Natalia Veselnitskaya, in June 2016, to obtain info she supposedly had that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. The president’s son says Ms. Veselnitskaya did not, in fact, have such information, but merely wanted to discuss the USA’s Magnitsky Act. He has released the full e-mail log related to the meeting.
All this has produced hysterical shouts of “treason” from the Democrat side, and a stampede to the tall grass by timid Republicans. The media blow-dry set are ecstatic over finally having treed their elusive quarry. Hallelujah! It will be a firing squad for sure.
The Magnitsky Act imposed sanctions on Russia for alleged human rights violations connected to the 2009 death of a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who had claimed to have evidence of fraud by the Kremlin. Mr. Putin opposed the act, saying it unjustly damaged Russian business. That he might have sent Ms. Veselnitskaya to lobby for its repeal is entirely plausible, but would not have constituted a criminal intrigue.
Critics have accused Ms. Veselnitskaya of being a high-level Russian agent in the pay of the Putin government. That may (or may not) be so, but there is no evidence that she ever wanted to help the Trump campaign. Indeed, news footage indicates that she actually opposed Mr. Trump’s election. Pictures posted on her Facebook page appear to show her attending an anti-Trump rally on January 21, 2017. Protesters held signs saying “Impeach Trump” and portraying him as being “close” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Just three days before her meeting with DT Jr., Veselnitskaya tweeted an article headlined “NY Attorney General: Trump University Is a Straight-up Fraud Case,” via a Twitter account apparently belonging to her. Another time, she tweeted a story on Clinton vowing to win the Democratic nomination.
Both Veselnitskaya and Mr. Trump Jr. declare that nothing came of the meeting. She told NBC that she was there to lobby for repeal of the Magnitsky Act, but she denied ever having any info intended to injure Mrs. Clinton. It was Rob Goldstone – a Trump-acquaintance from the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow – who had suggested that incriminating evidence on Mrs. Clinton was possessed by a client of his who was allegedly close to Putin. The exact nature of this alleged “evidence” has never been identified.
Legal scholars across the political spectrum agree that even if the meeting looked questionable, Mr. Trump Jr. did nothing wrong. He was neither a government employee nor part of his dad’s campaign. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, told The Daily Beast that the emails between Goldstone and Trump Jr. to set up the meeting “are… shocking, but they don’t in themselves prove [DT Jr.] committed a crime.”
It remains unclear how well connected Veselnitskaya actually is to the Kremlin. The New York Times gave her the lofty (if questionable) title of a “Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, but a recent Bloomberg column described her as “low-level” and “no Kremlin power broker.” Russia-analysts differ on the level of influence and access she could have had.
As the narrative that Mr. Trump Jr. did something illegal – or possibly even “treasonous” – crumbles, Trump critics have taken to arguing that the technical point of the meeting’s legality (or illegality) is less important than whether it was part of a larger attempt by the Russian government to recruit the president’s son into a profitable collusion. This gives media talking heads and pols enough fuel to keep the Get Trump crusade going for many news cycles.
Both Trump Sr. and Jr. remain adamant that the meeting involved nothing illegal, even if its ostensible purpose was to obtain “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton. (Mr. Trump Jr. has freely admitted that this was what he hoped to gain from the meeting, but insists that he got nothing.)
Democrats’ anguished cries that this “simply isn’t done” in an American election campaign can’t pass the Laugh Test. Past Democrat attempts to find last-minute dirt on a Republican opponent – indeed, to invent something, if necessary – are too numerous to list. (Anyone recall the fake Air Force letter, released on the eve of the 2004 election, charging George W. Bush with desertion?)
Lately, new info has emerged showing that the meeting’s attendees numbered eight. Mr. Trump Jr., Trump-campaign advisors Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, Ms. Veselnitskaya, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, and publicist Rob Goldstone (who helped arrange the meeting) were known attendees. Two unnamed others – a translator and a member of the Russian family who requested the meeting to lobby for repeal of the Magnitsky Act – were also present.
Never-Trumpers are desperately clinging to the hope that one of these attendees will let slip some tidbit that leads to a discovery of actual election-collusion between Mr. Trump and the Russkies. But that hope is fading fast. It’s truly pathetic to see the disappointment on reporters’ faces – almost to the point of tears – as each “sensational” new revelation collapses under the general realization that the foreign connections Mr. Trump’s people undertook during the campaign were no different from what most campaign staffs have done in the past.
Presidential candidates’ meetings with representatives of foreign governments were always considered entirely routine until this year, when an “opposition” – operating on the ragged edge of treason – decided to fight to the bloody last to overturn the election. They believe their candidate – the exemplary Miss Hillary – lost because Russian agents worked with Mr. Trump to queer the vote and put him in the presidency. This is why every scrap of information – real or imagined – about any contact with the Russians is leapt upon, embraced, and literally squeezed to death by liberal media and their Deep State allies.
Where does this leave Mr. Trump and the voters who elected him? The short answer is “stalled.” A president has the same 1440 minutes in a day that we all get. So every minute he has to waste contending with new attacks – substantive or not – from his enemies is a minute he can’t spend restoring fiscal sanity and social normalcy to the country.
Polls say Mr. Trump’s favorability numbers are slipping. I don’t necessarily trust such polls, but there is probably some truth in them. My estimate is that Mr. Trump’s voters are becoming discouraged because they see so little progress on repealing Obamacare and reducing taxes – two of the goals they most wanted him to achieve. Instead, he is trading mud-clods with Democrats and the media over dumb stuff like his son’s meeting with some Russian babe last year to get “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton. (Oh, the horror of it!) As I heard a caller on talk-radio say: “Who cares!”
What can Mr. Trump do to get his ship moving again? He has a two-pronged problem: (1) the media, and (2) his own party. The prongs are related, but distinct. He is certainly stinging the media with his tweets, but actually “defeating” them is beyond even his formidable forensic gifts and the power of Tweed-dom. It’s like trying to stomp an army of ants. You can do a lot of damage, but they are too many.
From here it looks like Mr. Trump’s best tactic on this score is counterattack – but not just by tweets, as he has been trying to do. To get real help he should call in the toughest, baddest bird-colonel he can find and give him orders to launch a full-scale assault on the media and politicians who are bedeviling him and stalling his agenda. Nothing illegal – just gloves-off toughness that his bare-knuckle opponents can understand and respect.
This campaign should not be announced publicly, since the element of surprise is important. And, of course, “bird-colonel” was just a figure of speech. It wouldn’t be a literal military officer, but an experienced pol who knows how to play hardball with the big guys and wants to mix it up with them. Obviously, it must be an individual whose loyalty to Mr. Trump and his agenda is beyond question. This will let Mr. Trump concentrate on what he needs to do.
His biggest problem is not the media but his own party. Some GOP congress-people are still miffed that he elbowed them aside to gain the Oval Office. With little inclination to help his agenda move forward, they are jealously guarding their own importance by opposing some of the pillars of his presidency – repeal of Obamacare being Exhibit A. Mr. Trump needs to use all of his persuasive powers to move these worthies off their ample butts.
Congress always responds most to demonstrations of presidential strength and resolve. Geniality and bonhomie are fine, and gentle persuasion has its place, but clout is the real article. So if Mr. Trump is as smart as I think he is, he’ll get off his back foot and take the offensive. Like nothing else, this will bring his tottering GOP-compadres into line and push his program through.
So put on a clean uniform and boots, Mr. Trump. And give ‘em hell!