The NY Times has an article today about email exchanges between Donald Trump Jr. and a person setting up a meeting with a Russian lawyer promising damaging documents and information about Hillary Clinton’s connections to Russia.

In a preemptive move, Trump Jr. published the email exchange on Twitter (here and here) just before the Times published its story.

The emails are highly embarrassing and politically damaging, but as usual, the media and other Trump opponents are overstating the case. The media overstating the case and popping the champagne corks are probably the best things Trump Jr. and the Trump administration have going for them.

The emails show no actual evidence of “collusion” or illegality. There is nothing indicating the information to be offered was stolen or otherwise improperly obtained, or that other than being willing to listen, the Trump campaign was involved in how the information was obtained. To the contrary, the promised information was “official records and information.”

This also took place prior to the hack of the DNC being publicly known, so there was no reason to suspect that this was hacked information. Notice how the narrative has changed from the Trump campaign colluding with the Russians to “hack the election” to the Trump campaign being willing to have a meeting with someone who may have damaging oppo research.

And of course, there was no there there. There’s no indication any information actually existed.

Trump Jr. displayed incredible amateurishness in how this was handled. There isn’t any doubt that the Clinton campaign, if offered “official records and information” showing improper Trump dealings with the Russians would have taken the meeting.  But her campaign would have been savvy enough to do it through surrogates and allies, and to provide key players with deniability and distance. We know this because in January 2017 Politico reported that the Ukrainian government helped Hillary with opposition research on Trump, but she did it though “allies.”

Trump Jr., by contrast, took the bait, and brought others from the inner circle into it. In so doing, he provided seeming confirmation for a preexisting narrative. Even if the actual emails don’t show it.

The lack of suspicion of someone who approaches with such a promise is quite astounding. I’m always suspicious of unsolicited tips and contacts. Is this person for real, am I being set up, and so on, immediately run through my mind. That appears not to have been the case for Trump Jr. here. If, as intelligence officials have stated before, the goal of the Russians was to disrupt the U.S. political environment, it didn’t matter whether there actually was damaging information on Hillary — Trump Jr. merely taking the meeting was the hook the Russians had into a later disruption.

So my overall take on this is that the Trump Jr. emails show amateurishness, but not collusion or illegality.

I explained my position on the Tony Katz Show earlier today.

(click here if audio viewer doesn’t load)

My take is not the collective narrative, but the collective narrative repeatedly has gotten ahead of itself and the actual evidence.

Here are some key excerpts from the NY Times article, including some portions that are largely ignored in the media frenzy, Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” …

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers….

The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails….

The back story to the June 9 meeting involves an eclectic cast of characters the Trump family knew from its business dealings in Moscow.

The initial email outreach came from Rob Goldstone, a British-born former tabloid reporter and entertainment publicist who first met the future president when the Trump Organization was attempting to do business in Russia.

In the June 3 email, Mr. Goldstone told Donald J. Trump Jr. that he was writing on behalf of a mutual friend, one of Russia’s biggest pop music stars, Emin Agalarov. Emin, who professionally uses his first name only, is the son of Aras Agalarov, a real estate tycoon sometimes called the “Donald Trump of Russia.”

The elder Agalarov boasts close ties to Mr. Putin: his company has won several large state building contracts, and Mr. Putin awarded him the “Order of Honor of the Russian Federation.” …

Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the fact of the meeting, though not the content, in a revised form on which all those seeking top secret security clearances are required to list contacts with foreign government officials and their representatives. The Times reported in April that he had failed to list a number of Russian contacts, which his lawyer called an error.

Mr. Manafort also disclosed that a meeting had occurred, and that Donald Trump Jr. had organized it, in response to one of the Russia-related congressional investigations.

Trump Jr.’s lawyer issued the following statement:

Was this “collusion”? That’s not a legal term, and it depends on how you want to define collusion. Mirriam-Webster‘s definition is: “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.” Based on the emails, the purpose was not for an illegal or deceitful purpose, it was to expose allegedly improper conduct by a political opponent. But “collusion” is so ill-defined, that the media is running wild with it, and as usual, overstating the case:

Don’t think for a second the media or other Trump opponents actually care about the substance of Trump Jr.’s emails or meeting. If they actually cared about collusion with foreign governments, the January 2017 Politico report on actual collusion between Clinton allies and the Ukrainians would not have gone down the media memory hole.

I don’t underestimate the potential political damage from this. It breathes new life into the attempt to delegitimize Trump’s victory.

Perhaps had this not come after a year of mostly false and anonymous stories that have been serially debunked over time, it would have more legs.


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