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.
[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]