How Do You Solve a Problem Like Don Jr.? (Video)Given that the many takes on Donald Trump Jr.’s extracurricular campaign activities range from garden-variety "opposition research" to "treason," arriving at a reasonable conclusion without spinning out is no small feat. One media outlet's "opposition research" is another media outlet's "treason."
Scanning the headlines published this year by mainstream sources like The Washington Post, The New York Times, Vox, The Daily Beast and other outlets could well give news consumers the impression that we are thisclose to a ruinous reveal about the Trump administration’s alleged ties to the uppermost echelons of Moscow’s business and political elite.
Given that setup, it’s not surprising that this week’s media coverage from several such publications about Donald Trump Jr.’s fateful June 9, 2016, meeting with a woman described by an associate of the Trump camp as a “Russian government attorney” who could offer damaging information about Trump Sr.’s then-presidential rival Hillary Clinton cast the story as a bombshell of apocalyptic proportions.
To wit, here are just a few picks from an array of dramatic, even cinematic headlines posted Tuesday and Wednesday: “Trump’s Defeated Defenders Can Only Whimper” (Bloomberg View); “The Donald Trump Jr. Emails Change Everything” (Vox); “Trump Aides Freaking Out Over Don Jr.’s Russia Email: The ‘Sum Of All Fears’ ” (The Daily Beast); “Is Donald Trump Jr. Our Era’s Fredo Corleone?” (The Boston Globe); “Could Trump Jr.’s Meeting With a Russian Attorney Count as Illegal Conspiracy?” (The Washington Post); “Red Curtain Falls: Trump Jr. Emails Show Russia Ties” (The Guardian).
And then there were the headlines about other headlines — e.g., “Is Donald Trump Jr. Really the Fredo of His Family? An Investigation” (Vanity Fair); “Comparing Donald Trump Jr. to Fredo Corleone Is Grossly Unfair. To Fredo.” (Slate).
Of course, it was the president’s eldest son himself who served as the most important source of published information about the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya facilitated by British music publicist Rob Goldstone, now dubbed by The Daily Beast as “the Playboy Who Could Bring Down Trump.” According to reports, Donald Jr. decided to exercise at least a modicum of control early Tuesday by beating his ink-stained antagonists to the punch and tweeting out key details The New York Times was just about to break:
Here’s my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints). pic.twitter.com/z1Xi4nr2gq
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
So, Donald Trump Jr. may have denied the Times a scoop, but that couldn’t insulate the Trump administration from the impact of the paper’s multipart story backed by Donald Jr.’s confirmation (per the NYT):
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.”
If the future president’s eldest son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.
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 most likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.
On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Mr. Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.
[…] The Justice Department and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are examining whether any of President Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. American intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump.
The reaction to Donald Jr.’s admission from that faction of the press that President Trump has referred to as “the enemy of the people” was consistent with its previous coverage of the Trump White House.
What was different this time around, however, was the response from sources on the right. Instead of circling the wagons, a good number of conservative outlets and pundits seemed to be eyeing the horizon.
The Drudge Report’s homepage on Tuesday registered the news with a grabby, regionally appropriate metaphor:
Tuesday’s homepage at the National Review, the editors of which have been far from united in their takes on Trump, could have been mistaken for any number of left-leaning publications but for the Lena Dunham giveaway:
Rumors of pandemonium at Breitbart’s editorial meeting made their way onto CNN’s radar, although Breitbart’s homepage gave off no such distress signals:
Raheem Kassam, editor-in-chief of Breitbart London, reacted to the story of Donald Trump Jr.’s newly-released emails in a way that wouldn’t typically be expected from someone at the far-right outfit, which is a reliable supporter of President Trump.
“So like, this is straight up collusion,” he wrote in the news outlet’s internal Slack, according to a transcript of the conversation obtained by CNN. “Right?”
[…] Some staffers were seemingly left astonished. Writing in the company Slack, senior editor Rebecca Mansour reacted with only one word: “Wow.” Amanda House, the outlet’s deputy politics editor, wrote only, “???????”
The New York Post, for its part, got personal with this choice made by its editorial board:
The White House made predictable noises via Sarah Huckabee Sanders and, inevitably, the president’s Twitter account:
My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2017
Donald Jr. made an appearance Tuesday on one of the Trump family’s designated safe spaces, “Hannity“:
Fox News stalwart Sean Hannity, like right-wing radio baron Rush Limbaugh, held the pro-Trump line, pointing out on his show that Donald Jr. had not done anything that Hillary Clinton hadn’t in her own run at the White House. (The Clinton comparison was one, incidentally, that was also tracked by Consortium News’ Robert Parry.)
Given that the many mediated takes on Donald Jr.’s extracurricular campaigning activities and their ultimate significance ranged from garden-variety “opposition research” to “potential treason,” arriving at a reasonable conclusion that might prove to be more accurate than those currently on offer from self-interested pundits or politicians stuck in damage-control mode presents a unique challenge. Good thing Truthdig columnist, former judge and legal expert Bill Blum took a moment from his summer break to weigh in via email:
This story is the worst Russia news yet for the Trumps, and it has indictment potential for Don Jr. and possibly Jared [Kushner] and [Paul] Manafort. Among its many provisions, the Federal Election Campaign Act makes it a crime for a foreign national to contribute anything of value to an election campaign. It is also unlawful for an American to receive or solicit anything of value from a foreign person. Donald Jr.’s emails are close to a confession of a violation of these provisions. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but I suspect [special investigator] Robert Mueller will discover more than the emails. Jr.’s smartest move has been to hire a criminal defense lawyer.
Insights provided by investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler in this clip from The Real News Network are also worth considering:
If anything is certain in this morass, it’s that Donald Trump Jr. has ensured he’ll remain under heavy media scrutiny — as well as, Politico suggested Tuesday, under investigation by special counsel Mueller, to whom Donald Jr. has handed a “smoking gun.” Really, he has — just ask the crack team of “veteran prosecutors and white-collar defense attorneys experienced in Washington scandals” consulted by Politico specifically for that piece.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post is busy deciding between “smoking gun” and “distraction.”
Trump Jr. at least has the assurance, granted by the National Review’s latest headlines, that what he did is decidedly “not treason,” even if it’s “not defensible, either.”
Right. And as for President Trump? He’s “paralyzed.” Take it from CNN.Wait, before you go…
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