In the meeting of Trump campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Left appears to believe it finally has an impeachment bullet. “Smoking gun” gloats syndicated columnist Doyal McManus. “Criminal implications,” sniffs CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin.
UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh douses such fevered diagnoses in this thoughtful analysis. Essentially, the alleged crime is seeking to receive “something of value” from a foreign national. But, no case has ever interpreted a piece of gossip as an item of commercial value. Rather, the law has applied the common sense understanding that a gift of value refers to cash, in kind services, or a marketable political asset like polling data or an advertising plan. “Hey, do you know what I heard about your opponent?” has never been commoditized. Volokh argues any such interpretation would unduly restrict speech and information, and violate the First Amendment.
But, it’s not just liberal legal beagles who are picking at the meat and bones of the story. Conservative Trump critics and some occasional defenders of Trump are also finding cause for angst and condemnation. “Disgraceful,” opines John Podhoretz. “Outrageous misconduct,” pronounces conservative super lawyer Andrew McCarthy. “This is terrible” agrees libertarian Sensei David Harsanyi. “Wrong and stupid” piles on Keith, my blogging partner here at Insurgent Tribe.
The collective opinion of these critics is that whether or not meeting with the Russian temptress crossed any legal lines, it was stupid, it was compromising, it was scandalous, it looks and smells bad. It was a capital political offense.
With much respect for these commenters, I just don’t see it. Donald Trump Jr. heard from a shadowy operative that she had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Campaigns live to find dirt on their opponents. No political aide, staffer, or official in their sane mind would refuse to hear what the information might be, how damaging it was, how credible it was, how it was obtained (for example, if the info was the fruit of a crime, then any rational politico runs from the fire alarm). But just to sit down and say: “What have ya got,” seems to me to be the only earthly response imaginable.
Now, there is, of course, a whole world of objectionable and compromising real estate that might snare a candidate or campaign. Was there some quid pro quo proposed, a request for a favor in the Russian interest? The slope is slippery and the chasm deep, but, “show me what you got” seems an unimaginable card to refuse to play.
As it turns out, Ms. Veselnitskaya, had nothing and delivered nothing, and says Trump Jr. may have been misled about her role and intent. But, what, if she had had information, say, that Hillary Clinton demanded contributions to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for her approval as Secretary of State, of the sale of uranium rights to Russian interests? A shocking and implausible claim, I know. Still, a serious query to the critics of the meeting: Would it not be in the national interest for Americans to know their Secretary of State was selling access to her office and decisions? Would there be anything nefarious or harmful to the US interest for the Trump campaign to receive and disclose that information? Of course not!
Context and actual policy are critical here, too. The Trump administration is not doing Russia any favors. Trump’s plan to increase energy production is putting the screws to Russia’s major hard export. The US military’s tougher stance in the Middle East is undermining Putin’s client Assad. Nikki Haley regularly blasts Russian policy at the UN. Trump’s acclaimed speech in Poland not only cast a dim eye on Russian thuggery, but promised Poland strategic energy if Putin again tries to cut off the pipelines.
Too, the double standards of liberal critics of the current administration are hard to stomach. The Trump team was offered, and tried to eyeball, dirt on the Clinton organization. Let’s compare that to a brief review of Democrat plotting and entanglement with foreign enemies. This short and incomplete survey is not offered as a tu quoque get out of jail free card, but rather as a substantive measuring stick. What kind of entanglements have not been generally regarded by Democrats and their media allies as scandalous betrayals of the American trust, and how do they compare by trying to peak into a hinted dossier?
Well, in advance of the 1984 election and at the height of the Cold War, Senator Edward Kennedy contacted the Soviet Union and solicited foreign policy moves by Mikhael Gorbachev that would undermine President Reagan on the global stage, and embolden leftist nuclear protestors.
John Kerry traveled to Nicaragua and gave aid and comfort to Daniel Ortega at a time the Reagan administration’s policy was to try to dislodge the dictator’s communist grip on Central America.
Barack Obama and John Kerry negotiated secret side deals with Iran to bribe it into the nuclear accords. They altered their rules of engagement and strategies in combat missions in the Middle East, to avoid offending Iran. They spirited $400 million in laundered cash to Iran on pallets.
Hillary Clinton actually did approve, as Secretary of State, the sale of uranium assets to Russian interests, and Russian interests actually did contribute millions to the Clinton family enterprise. Bill Clinton, future First Man in waiting, gave a half million dollar speech to Russian interests.
No liberal batted an eye. The Gray Lady never got her knickers in a twist about any of this. It wasn’t deemed “treason” or “impeachable,” or “aid and comfort to the enemy.”
But, somehow, a 20 minute meeting with a mysterious Russian caller to see what the caller might have to offer shakes our Republic to its foundations, corrupts our democracy, and betrays the Constitution.
Oh, poppycock. These people are not serious and should not be taken seriously.