The heir to generations of hard-won success and Donald Trump, Jr.
They’re a bunch of hardasses over at the New Yorker, where coverage of Donald Trump, Jr. renders the possessive of his name with a period-comma-apostrophe-s. For example: Donald Trump Jr.,’s Love for Russian Dirt. That’s some strict copy editing, right there. No one is eyeballing it at the New Yorker. Probably, the way they maintain such high standards is by hiring the old copy editor’s son. It just makes sense. Once a guy has spent his whole career editing copy, practicing at the highest level until he knows every page of the stylebook, the second-best copy editor in the world has got to be his kid. Being good at stuff is hereditary. That’s why the world is ruled by kings.
Anywhom, Donald Trump Jr.’s emails tested the limits of this principle when he released them on Twitter this morning. He seems to have published them in an attempt to scoop the New York Times, which reported today that Trump Jr. expressed interest in damaging information about Hillary Clinton that was explicitly provided by the Russian government. Here is an actual email exchange between “Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer” Natalia Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. that I am not making up:
Veselnitskaya: This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.
Trump: If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.
Kids: When someone asks you if you want sensitive information from a foreign government to help your political campaign, you say, “Are you a cop?” They have to tell you if you ask. I don’t know how this exchange could be more explicit. If you were writing a comedy sketch where Donald Trump, Jr. gets caught in a DOJ sting, you could use this wording. Trump surrogates have argued that the meeting that came from these emails turned out to be about Russian adoption policies, and Veselnitskaya offered “very high level and sensitive information” as a false pretext. That would explain her wording. If you had such information, would you ever say so in an email? But Trump Jr. literally goes on record as loving this illegal plan, bringing to his role in his father’s presidential campaign less discretion than one brings to a weed deal on Facebook.
It’s almost as though he attained his position by favoritism. There’s something gross about the way President Trump gives important jobs to his children. It’s un-American. A founding principle of our government is that it will be run by people who have earned it, or at least won a popularity contest. Getting born into it was the old way, the collapsing system that took Europe down with it. Maybe I’m just mad because my dad isn’t president. But if Trump had hired an experienced campaign operative to do Donald Jr.’s job, I bet they wouldn’t have sent this email. They might still have colluded with Russia to influence the election, whatever that means. But they wouldn’t have embarrassed the whole country doing it.
Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Yesterday, President Trump divulged classified US intelligence during a meeting with Russian diplomats Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov. According to the Washington Post, the disclosure pertained to a plot by ISIS to smuggle bombs onto planes in laptops. Of less concern than the material itself is the possibility that its divulgence could compromise intelligence sources and methods, since “a Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information.” There’s also the aspect of this situation where Trump actually does on purpose exactly what he attacked Hillary Clinton for potentially doing by accident with her emails. So this is the scandal that finally undoes the Trump administration, right? Right? [crickets][racist crickets]
Michael Flynn gives the international symbol for imminent resignation.
President Trump took to Twitter this morning to condemn the leaks that have embarrassed his administration for the last month. After The New York Times reported that his campaign aides had repeated contact with Russian intelligence agents last year, citing “four current and former American officials,” the president tweeted that “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Compare this to the less real scandal of accepting the help of a hostile foreign power to become president, which is only mildly un-American. But Trump raises a valid question. When is it a betrayal of the United States to leak classified information to the public, either directly or indirectly through the press, and when is it a service?
Michael Flynn explains to the National Security Council that God didn’t make Rambo.
Those of you who picked “three weeks” in your office pool on the first resignation of the Trump administration are about to get free cupcakes. Retired general Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor last night, approximately seven hours after Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC that he enjoyed the “full confidence” of the White House. Why Flynn retired is unclear. His original mistake was to discuss sanctions in a phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States back in December, when he was not yet a federal official. That conversation itself is not the problem; the problem, ostensibly, is that he lied to Mike Pence about it. But the administration has known he lied about it for more than a month. Here’s Conway admitting that while simultaneously claiming that this lie was the straw that broke the camel’s back:
It seems like the real problem is that people are finding out about the lie. But Conway has issued two contradictory statements on this issue in the last 24 hours—three if you consider the resignation a statement, since she was almost certainly involved. Between her, Stephen Miller, and the
shadowy blotchy Steve Bannon, this administration is turning out to be a real field laboratory for students of lying.
A nesting doll in a Moscow souvenir shop—photo by Andrey Rudakov
Like many people, I would like to believe that Russia made Donald Trump president of the United States. That would solve a lot of problems for me—for example, the problem of reconciling tomorrow’s inauguration with my faith in American democracy and the people who operate it. That took kind of a hit in November. As a person who would not like to see Trump and his ilk win again and again, believing Russians hacked the election would also relieve me of my concern that Democrats could not beat the worst presidential candidate in American history.
But that phrase—“Russia hacked the election”—is simplistic and dumb. There is no evidence that Russia or its agents did anything to interfere with ballots or their counting. No election-related computer systems were compromised. Russians “hacked the election” by releasing to the public emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta. Surely, Russia favored Trump, because it could have done the same thing to him but didn’t. But the fact remains that Russia “hacked the election” only in the sense that it gave voters accurate information about Clinton they didn’t already know.
The actual election—the part where Trump becomes president by winning the electoral college—happened at the will of the American people in accordance with our constitution. It’s completely terrifying and sad that it happened that way—more terrifying and sad, probably, than if the Russians changed the vote count. But we should confront this state of affairs in our politics, so we can cure it. Blaming the Russians and declaring Trump illegitimate only denies that we are sick.
It is for this reason I must humbly disagree with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who told Meet the Press he will not attend the inauguration because he does not consider Trump a legitimate president. Lewis is a damn hero, and he can do whatever he wants. But I think it’s a mistake to pretend that Trump did not ascend to the presidency within our existing system, according to the will of the American people constitutionally expressed. Russia didn’t do this. We did. I think we should reckon with that, and the narrative that Russian interference renders the result of this election illegitimate lets us off the hook. You can read all about it in this week’s column in the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!