The Jury Talks Back

7/13/2017

Two Troubling Aspects to the Accusations Against Donald Trump

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 6:54 am

But first, some commentary from Dan McLaughlin:

One of the rules you should try to follow, if you talk or write about politics, is to apply the same basic standards and rules for longer than just whatever gets you through the current news cycle. That’s true of what you think is right and wrong and scandalous, and it’s doubly true of what’s legal and illegal. The rule of law exists so that we know what rules apply to our friends and political foes alike. When it comes to yesterday’s big bombshell story, too many Trump defenders are forgetting to apply that to the question of what’s right and wrong, and too many Trump critics are forgetting to apply it to the law by throwing around words like “treason.”

. . . .

Don Jr. was wrong to take that meeting, full stop. It is a real scandal that he did so, period. No amount of comparison to other misconduct by anybody else mitigates that, no amount of amateurism on his part excuses it (if anything, this illustrates the problem with having a presidential campaign full of people of low character and no political experience). Conservatives defending Don Jr., or Paul Manafort, or Jared Kushner (both of whom were told about the meeting and forwarded the email chain at the time) should be embarrassed. The fact that this looks like as much a Russian sting on Don Jr. as a legitimate attempt to help him shouldn’t change our view that the whole affair illustrates why Putin’s regime is malicious and a malignant influence on the politics of the U.S. and other democratic nations. And for Republicans, it should be a reminder of why the party’s prior two presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, took a hard line on Putin, as did most of the Congressional GOP until Trump became the party’s standard-bearer.

A couple of defenses have been offered. One is that anybody would have been interested in receiving incriminating evidence about their campaign opponent, and accepting opposition research from all sorts of shady sources is what campaigns do all the time. This is half true: I don’t blame Don Jr. for being intrigued by the offer. But anybody with half a brain and half a conscience would have realized, before sitting down to meet a source connected to the Russian government on behalf of a presidential campaign, that there was something very wrong with this picture. Maybe his inexperience in politics (unlike Manafort’s) made him cynically think that this is how it’s usually done, but he should have had at least enough skepticism to ask somebody who knows what campaigns do. And yes, it’s true that Politico reported in January that the Hillary campaign and the DNC worked hand-in-glove with the Ukranian government to get dirt on Trump, an effort that should give Democrats some humility about their own over-the-top rhetoric on this stuff. . . .

But that was bad too, and this was worse because of the overall context: while the Ukranian government has been populated by plenty of shady characters in the past decade, Russia is a much bigger and more hostile international actor than Ukraine, and Putin has a known, ongoing strategy of disrupting the democratic process in other countries (none more than in Ukraine). The Trump camp already knew that Russia was widely believed to be the source of the earlier hacks.

Another line of defense is that it shouldn’t be a big deal for the Trump campaign to meet with Russians to learn damaging information about their adversaries, because the media does exactly the same thing (indeed, in this very story, the Today Show interviewed Veselnitskaya to get the dirt on Don Jr.). But campaigns for high public office are different, because foreign governments know they are dealing with future American leaders. It’s still not the same thing.

But just because Don Jr. was wrong, doesn’t necessarily make what he did illegal. The word “treason” has been thrown around very loosely, even by Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary’s erstwhile running mate.

So, I said in the headline that I was troubled by a couple of things. What are they?

I’m not that troubled right now by the Democrat overreaching described by Dan, frankly. They just beclown themselves and they clearly can’t achieve impeachment on this thin gruel, at least until 2018 (and frankly never, if nothing else materializes), because Republicans won’t let them.

No, what troubles me are two other things.

First, this lawyer connected to the Kremlin is also connected to Democrat oppo researchers. And the facts surrounding her presence in the country seem curious. Read Erick Erickson for the full details I currently lack the time to set forth at length. There are some real questions raised there.

Second, I am troubled by this notion of treating political information (or statements) as a “thing of value.” Eugene Volokh has a piece (h/t commenter harkin) about the First Amendment concerns raised by an argument that it is a crime to receive information from any foreigner, as some lefty election law “experts” (hi Rick Hasen!) have argued. (Prof. Volokh says this might be different from receiving information from foreign governments, but says even this is not obviously criminal, giving the example of proffered information from an obviously friendly government (Canada) as an example.)

This has troubled me for some days now, on related but slightly different grounds. The left has long wanted to set limits on political commentary by calling it a “thing of value” that they can subject to their burdensome and unconstitutional laws. Opposition research even by domestic individuals can be controlled by the Democrat jackboots if you call it a “thing of value” for purposes of laws governing campaign donations. And indeed, Democrats, who have a virtual monopoly on Big Media with one or two exceptions, would be thrilled to essentially drum out of existence grassroots media of the sort that helped propel Donald Trump into the Oval Office.

I have long opposed proposed FEC limits on, for example, blog commentary as a “thing of value” that could be considered a donation to a political campaign. Let’s say that Patterico.com had come up with the single piece of oppo research that destroyed a Dem candidate and won the presidency for a Republican. What is the presidency worth? Eleven gajilliondy dollars. So therefore my contribution to the Republican could be valued at elevent gajilliondy dollars, which clearly exceeds the legal limit, and I could be put in prison. The more effective your oppo research, the more illegal it is. See how that works?

And do you see how a political party that controls the media, which they would not subject to the same rules (natch), might want to institute a rule like that?

So these are some of the things I have been thinking about as I watch this comedy unfold.

The remedy for unseemly actions like that of Donald Trump Jr. is the ballot box. I won’t be voting for Jr. any time soon! And if a voter thinks Daddy knew about this meeting — as I do — and is offended by it, then by God they can choose to vote for someone else next time around. But trying to criminalize what we have seen so far is not obviously the right move.

26 Comments »

  1. This is spot on. I wish I’d thought of it.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/13/2017 @ 7:12 am

  2. Fortunately for me, you thought of it and I read your blog.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/13/2017 @ 7:32 am

  3. After reading the Erickson post:
    There is something questionable about these Russians;
    This involves the Russian government; and
    Russia views Jr as the easiest-to-exploit weak link.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/13/2017 @ 8:21 am

  4. We Democrats have an annoying habit of putting the cart before the horse instead of letting things play out. Whatever Donald Trump Jr did — and it is bad — it wasn’t a violation of campaign laws (for the reasons Patterico says) and it sure as hell doesn’t rise to the level of treason.

    Just like the morons who decide to draft Articles of Impeachment against the President way too prematurely — it gets embarrassing.

    Comment by Kman — 7/13/2017 @ 11:51 am

  5. I have an issue with one small part of an otherwise excellent article, and it’s the in the linked and quoted article;

    “The Trump camp already knew that Russia was widely believed to be the source of the earlier hacks.”

    That’s only plausible if the hacks had been revealed by that point. They hadn’t. Remember, the Democrats kept it quiet for over a month.

    One aspect of this meeting that I’ve yet to see mentioned anywhere; while Trump Jr. looks to have not broken any laws, can the same be said for the other Trump people at the meeting? Specifically, Jarrod Kutchner. I think he’s the only one who later got a security clearance, and if so, he’d be required to disclose a meeting with a Russian national. If he didn’t, he broke the law.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 7/13/2017 @ 3:56 pm

  6. I think that’s how this came out, as part of Kushner’s disclosures for his security clearance.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/13/2017 @ 5:37 pm

  7. @DRJ,

    If you’re right and this did come out via Kushner’s disclosures for his security clearance, then a federal felony was absolutely committed. Not by Kushner, but by whomever leaked it.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 7/13/2017 @ 7:17 pm

  8. Only if the person who leaked the story had learned about it as a government official in the course of his or her employment. But it could also have been leaked by someone who knew about it from the campaign or who was directly involved. The Trumps could have leaked it since they knew it was coming out eventually.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/13/2017 @ 9:11 pm

  9. My point wasn’t that the email/Russian story was leaked as part of Kushner’s disclosure, but that Kushner’s application for a national security clearance required him to disclose the existence of the emails. Once that happened, it was just a matter of time before the story would become public through a leak or (more likely) through action by the Special Counsel. Trump might think it’s better to get it out now so it’s old news in a month.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/13/2017 @ 9:17 pm

  10. copying to here cause it wasn’t answered in the general thread:

    146.Hey Patt – if you answered I missed it.

    Is the thread title a typo or did you really mean to say Donald Trump and not Donald Trump Jr.?

    Comment by harkin — 7/14/2017 @ 5:08 am

  11. Patrick said that if you really need an an answer from him, you should email him. His email address is on the right side in the About section.

    I think Patterico would say Junior is only of interest because Trump is President. Junior took the meeting, Kushner had to reveal the meeting and Junior had to deal with the fallout because Trump is President. Thus, this is ultimately about Trump.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 5:55 am

  12. 11 – “Thus, this is ultimately about Trump.”

    But the “accusations” and “unseemly actions” discussed in the post are all on Jr.

    I do really like the way he ends the post about the incredible double standard and the fact the press is in the tank for the Dems tho. It makes the headline regarding “troubling aspects” refreshingly topical.

    …..I just don’t get the reference to DT and not DTJr in the headline. I almost thought it was Freudian but the body of his comments belies that.

    Comment by harkin — 7/14/2017 @ 6:11 am

  13. copying to here cause it wasn’t answered in the general thread:

    146.Hey Patt – if you answered I missed it.

    Is the thread title a typo or did you really mean to say Donald Trump and not Donald Trump Jr.?

    It was Trump’s campaign manager at the meeting and nobody would care if there were not a tie to the President.

    Comment by Patterico — 7/14/2017 @ 7:08 am

  14. The Trump family is a unit now, especially since Trump has not relinquished his business profits but has onlygiven day-to-day control of his businesses to his sons. Thus, as the link demonstrates, foreign governments also treat Trump, his children, and their businesses as inseparable. As he would say, it’s obvious to anyone who does the analysis that Trump, Kushner and Trump’s sons are a unit.

    Further, Junior was acting on behalf of the Campaign, along with Manafort and Kushner. It’s way too late to argue there is no relationship when we’re talking about family who take on the role of high-level agents.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 9:38 am

  15. Would you have argued that First Lady Hillary’s health care had nothing to do with Bill’s Presidency, so it didn’t matter who she met with?

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 9:40 am

  16. Specifically, that it didn’t matter who she met with during the campaign?

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 9:43 am

  17. 15 – “Nothing to do with” and “accusations against” to me are worlds apart.

    13 – I’m still confused but thanks P for answering.

    Comment by harkin — 7/14/2017 @ 9:56 am

  18. harkin,

    My point is that first families can’t participate in running the campaigns and/or the Presidency, while simultaneously acting like they can do whatever they want in secrecy. Hillary tried to combine secrecy and action in Bill’s first term regarding health care. She was criticized, investigated and sued like an official, not a family member. Junior will be treated the same if he pursues a quasi-official role.

    IMO, the family if a candidate or President can’t act like they are above it all, while also getting down in the mud of policy/campaigning.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 12:38 pm

  19. This makes sense to me. If it’s true, this is the start of a steady drip-drip-drip of bad news days for Trump.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 1:19 pm

  20. At gest, this story makes Junior look like a dupe and Trump look naive for trusting so much authority to someone whose only quality is loyalty. That is not an image that will help Trump.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 4:28 pm

  21. At best, not at gest.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 4:28 pm

  22. It presumes unimaginable hubris on the part of the Russians. I have no basis to disagree with Mr. Mowatt-Larssen — I have read a lot of spy fiction by other writers too — but that is an operation for the likes of an Edward Snowden or a Reality Winner or a Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. Not the family of a President.

    And then, there’s the inescapable fact that Mr. Mowatt-Larssen’s scenario was commissioned by the Washington Post. 😉

    Comment by nk — 7/14/2017 @ 4:36 pm

  23. It does seem like a risk, except for the involvement of the people Trump dealt with in the Moscow Miss Universe pageant. They were Russians, trusted with projects by Putin, who had a history with the Trumps. It might have felt like a risk worth taking.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 4:42 pm

  24. But it could also be fiction. Elaborate spy craft fiction.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 4:43 pm

  25. In “Spy Story” by Len Deighton, the British secret service brings down a high-ranking Soviet official (and all her relatives) by faking the attempted defection of her brother, a Soviet admiral. So the Russians could have been doing the same double-fake. Not to make Don Jr. an asset, but to cause a scandal for Trump Sr.. They’re bad hombres (люди).

    Comment by nk — 7/14/2017 @ 5:20 pm

  26. To me, the motive would be to compromise the son and thereby gain the father’s cooperation and good will, because he would want to protect the family name. The world knows that the Trump brand is everything to The Donald.

    Also, the Russians are like the Mafia. They want people to owe them, even if they never have to pay up.

    Comment by DRJ — 7/14/2017 @ 5:52 pm

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