It’s exhausting, frankly, to open the news each day to see what new horror or embarrassment this administration has visited upon us, or what new scandal has broken, even since last night. Our president may despise The New York Times, may disparage it as “fake news,” but the rest of us must thank that venerable institution and the rest of our free press for doing their job—and doing it better than ever they were called upon to do.
The latest “I can’t believe this actually happened” bombshell concerns, of course, not Trump himself but his namesake, Donald, Jr., whose emails confirming Russian support for his father and meddling in the election present such low hanging evidentiary fruit that even Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III could pick them. For some time, there has been a bit of a mystery around how information might so readily pass from high level Russian officials to the Trump campaign, if not always through the beleaguered Russian ambassador. Junior’s emails shed more than a little light now on at least one other pathway: through trusted business associates, close to both Trump and the Kremlin. The Agalarovs, after all, who are identified in the emails, helped bring Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow and are themselves big real estate developers with close ties to Putin’s government, which approved massive land deals for them in the Russian capital. Historians may someday note that at least one back channel was staring us all in the face this whole time.
The emails, released by Junior in advance of a damning story by the Times, no doubt in a vain attempt to blunt the story’s impact or at least divert its media coverage, have had something of the opposite effect. Importantly, Junior also had copied then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner on his response, indicating that the campaign’s senior staff were willing to accept damaging information on the Democratic opponent from a foreign hostile state. Their subsequent attendance of the meeting confirmed this. In attendance at the meeting itself was not only a lawyer from the Russian government but also a known Russian counterintelligence officer. The story grows, and darkens.
This email string thus comprises the first direct evidence of coordination between the campaign and the Russians, but unlikely the last. As I considered both how very troubling and farcical this affair had become, I thought a limerick in Junior’s honor was appropriate:
Lest there be any confusion
Don Jr. has dispelled the illusion
His emails revealed
What they thought was concealed
Now he’s gonna do time for collusion
Junior’s attempts to explain the emails and the subsequent meeting with the Russians seemed only to raise further eyebrows. His defense appears to be that the campaign actually wound up receiving no useful information out of the meeting, and that the enticement of highly sensitive and damaging goods on Clinton wound up being only a pretense for a meeting about getting lifted certain sanctions that the Russians really hated.
But think for a moment about that. What Junior really wanted was to obtain and use highly sensitive and damaging information from his contacts in Russia. The very same day, June 9, Trump Senior wrote out a speech saying “our enemies have a blackmail file” on Hillary Clinton. He gave that speech on June 22. Had such information come from Russian contacts, Junior’s legal problems will of course have mounted: It is arguably a federal offense to obtain anything of value from a foreign agent during the course of a national election. If that information was then passed to Trump Senior, which the timing of his draft speech indicates, then there’s strong evidence that Senior was also in the know.
The president, in tepid defense of his son, remarked that Junior is a “good boy,” a “high-quality person,” and that he applauds his “transparency.” I can’t help but think the president probably wishes that level of transparency would render Junior invisible right about now. For with now another member of his immediate family caught up in the Russia investigation, and the curious timing of his speeches, it becomes increasingly implausible that all this was happening without the president’s knowledge.
And what poetic irony it would be if Trump’s downfall resulted from emails.