Streetwise Professor

July 15, 2017

Remember Chinagate?: Trump Jr. Was Betting on Form

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:17 pm

The hyperventilating over the Trump Jr.-Veselnitskaya meeting continues. The latest revelation is from a Russian also present at the meeting, lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, who claims that Veselnitskaya gave the Trump Jr. party a “plastic folder” (why not a plain brown paper wrapper?) containing “printed documents” (as opposed to what, unprinted documents?) revealing a flow of dirty foreign money into Democratic Party coffers.

According to just about everybody, including the likes of Charles Krauthammer, this is utterly damning. Not only did Trump go to the meeting under the belief he would get damning documents, he actually got them! Proof of collusion!

Did I say hyperventilating earlier? I should have said “paint huffing”: the sound is the same but huffing leads to intoxication and brain damage, which is manifestly evident here. Because it is delusional to think it is somehow scandalous to pursue allegations of foreign money flowing illegally to the DNC during a campaign with someone named “Clinton” at the top of the ticket. It is delusional precisely because allegations that the Clintons and the DNC could be the beneficiaries of illicit foreign donations is hardly beyond the realm of possibility: It is a historical fact. Hello? Remember Chinagate? You know, Johnny Chung. John Huang. James Riady. Maria Hsia. Charlie Trie. Fundraisers in Buddhist temples. The Chinese embassy in Washington coordinating campaign contributions to the DNC–a story broken by the Washington Post, by the way. Veselnitskaya’s claims were not something wildly implausible: they were deja vu. (Which may be precisely why that was her come on.) (And by the way–could you imagine the Category 5 shitstorm that would be raging were there allegations that the Russian embassy in DC had been coordinating donations to the RNC?)

Note that such allegations and the information to substantiate them are not likely to emanate from the Vatican. It is almost inevitable that they would come from a potentially dodgy source with an axe to grind. And the source is ultimately irrelevant as to the truth or falsity of the documents or allegations that the source provides. Reducing all questions of fact to issues of motive-which is true of most of the arguments about Russian influence attempts -is a disreputable tactic, and one that usually means that the facts are pretty damning.

As it happened, Trump Jr. quickly judged that Veselnitskaya could not back up her claims, so he did not pursue the matter.

The nature of Trump Jr.’s supposed sin also sets the head spinning. It is somehow an unpardonable foreign manipulation of US elections to hear out someone claiming to have evidence that one’s opponent is the beneficiary of foreign manipulations? It is foreign interference to receive purported evidence (from foreign sources) about foreign interference?

And that’s somehow worse than accepting–and passing on to law enforcement–unsubstantiated allegations about Trump obtained from a foreign source? John McCain did that with the Steele dossier, which was paid for by (a) at least one of Trump’s Republican opponents, and (b) an as yet unnamed Democratic Party source. Trump Jr. didn’t pay to dig up the alleged dirt: it was brought to him. Trump Jr. rejected what was proffered. McCain (and perhaps others) passed on what they had like the clap.

The Steele dossier was opposition research, meaning that by design it was intended to influence the US election. It was circulated with that intent. It originated from a foreign source, motives unknown. All things which allegedly make the Trump Jr.-Veselnitskaya meeting wrong. Yet the amount of curiosity about the dossier pales in comparison with this Trump Jr. meeting. Do you think Trump Jr. will be able to get away with stonewalling the way Fusion GPS, the intermediary in the Steele dossier, is doing?

No. If the Trump  Jr. meeting demands a full public inquiry, so does the entire genesis and history of the Steele dossier. And I would surmise that the Steele dossier story is far more sordid and damning than Trump Jr.’s ultimately barren dalliance with Veselnitskaya. Which is exactly why a cynic like me believes an examination of the dossier’s provenance is being avoided like the plague–it would not reflect well on many, many members of the political class and federal law enforcement.

Trump Jr.’s meeting was extremely unwise because of the optics, rather than the substance. The dangers of Russian connections were already apparent, although on 9 June 2016 they were not nearly as radioactive as they would become after the Wikileaks release of the DNC emails and subsequently the Podesta emails, let alone after Hillary’s crushing loss and the consequent need for a scapegoat and a means of kneecapping the Trump presidency. It was rash for Trump Jr. (and Kushner) to meet on the basis of such sketchy hints passed on via Z-list promoters: they should have dispatched an intermediary to do a preliminary check, which almost certainly would have led to the same result as the actual meeting did, but which would have avoided the risk–which ultimately crystalized, long after the election–inherent in a face-to-face meeting between a Russian and Trump’s two closest confidents.

But facts are facts, regardless of the source. And if Veselnitskaya indeed had factual evidence of a foreign attempt to influence the US election, her dubious background would not have gainsaid those facts. And given the DNC’s and the Clinton’s history with dirty foreign connections, it was hardly wrong to entertain and investigate assertions that history was repeating.  And if the allegations were proven, they would have demonstrated what is supposedly a horrible sin–foreign interference in the US election. Trump Jr. was betting on form, and by the standards now advanced by his father’s political opponents, performing a public service of policing American elections.

 

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9 Comments »

  1. Adding some parts of the interview accidentally omitted by Reuters here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-interview-exclusive-idUSKBN19X2XF

    >> “I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said. <>About Putin, he added: “Somebody did say if he did do it, you wouldn’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point.”<>I am the leader of the United States. I love my country. He loves his country,” Trump said.<<

    "I mean, what shows love for your country better than stealing billions, mass-murdering your political opponents and bombing hospitals purposefully and repeatedly, right? You can't hold that against a patriot."

    Comment by Ivan — July 16, 2017 @ 1:55 am

  2. Sorry, this wordpress thingie garbled it the first time

    Adding some parts of the interview accidentally omitted by Reuters here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-interview-exclusive-idUSKBN19X2XF

    === “I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said. ===

    “Totally different way, you see. The chap is clearly consistent, so he must be telling the truth.”

    === About Putin, he added: “Somebody did say if he did do it, you wouldn’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point.” ===

    “I will tell you even more such divine revelations after I watch tonight’s RT news”.

    === I am the leader of the United States. I love my country. He loves his country,” Trump said.===

    “I mean, what shows love for your country better than stealing billions, mass-murdering your political opponents and bombing hospitals purposefully and repeatedly, right? You can’t hold that against a patriot.”

    Comment by Ivan — July 16, 2017 @ 1:57 am

  3. “what shows love for your country better than stealing billions, mass-murdering your political opponents and bombing hospitals purposefully and repeatedly …”: why must you drag the Clintons into this?

    Comment by dearieme — July 16, 2017 @ 7:22 am

  4. Oi Prof! I think you’ve been sniffing the fumes too!
    Instead of focusing on Junior, try to look at it from the viewpoint of the Russian Intelligence services.
    Of course they’re not going to hand kompromat to a dipsy attorney even if she is married to some third level official in Moscow Region.
    No. What they wanted to know was whether the Trumps would be willing to drop the Magnitsky sanctions which are evidently proving more uncomfortable than surface appearances would suggest. That was the quo. The quid was a bit of help on the election with hacking. But the Russkies were going to do that anyway and certainly didn’t require the collusion or agreement of the Trumps.
    All that was required was that there be a set-up in the minds of the participants: quid pro quo. And that was established by the very fact of the meeting. What transpired in the meeting was irrelevant. But having the meeting established the mental framework: the Russkies would try to help the Trumps in some yet-to-be-defined manner and if he won, Trump would do away with the Magnitsky sanctions regime. Simples.

    Comment by Simple Simon — July 16, 2017 @ 8:30 am

  5. The Dems are just projecting

    Comment by The Pilot — July 16, 2017 @ 10:11 am

  6. These are difficult times for people defending Nixon/Trump”….

    “As a public service I am printing instant responses for Nixonites t*umpsters when they are attacked at a party waffle house (that’s where supporters were interviewed on NPR yesterday cause everyone wants to know how they feel….right?).

    Please cut it out and carry it in your pocket.”

    1. Everyone does it.

    2. What about Chappaquiddick /Benghaziiiiiiiii?

    3. A President can’t keep track of EVERYTHING his staff is doing.

    4. The press is blowing the whole thing up.

    6. The Democrats are sore because they lost the election.

    7. Are you going to believe a rat like John Dean nutcase like James Comey or the President of the United States?

    9. What about Chappaquiddick /Benghaziiiiiiiiiii?

    10. If you impeach Nixon/Trump, you get Agnew /Pence.

    23. I’m not breaking the law but sometimes you have to do it to save the country.

    25. Do you realize what Watergate Trump/Russia is doing to the dollar abroad?

    28. I’m sick and tired of Watergate Trump/Russia and so is everybody else.

    32. What about Chappaquiddick / Benghaziiiiiiiiiii?

    As they say, everything old new again….only this is so much worse.

    Comment by Anders Dahl — July 16, 2017 @ 4:37 pm

  7. If countries couldn’t influence other countries then we wouldn’t need embassies and diplomats.

    And then what?

    Comment by james — July 16, 2017 @ 9:08 pm

  8. @Simple Simon: That’s a fair point, but you said yourself that the Russians were going to do [whatever was that they did or did not do] anyway. So for sure, America should be alive to the possibility that Trump will try to offer some kind of dodgy favours to Moscow, but absent that, I’m struggling to see the problem (especially when compared with all the other… shall we say, somewhat surprising? things that Trump has been doing during his presidency so far).

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — July 17, 2017 @ 3:06 am

  9. The business with the Capitan Obvious details, “plastic” folder & “printed” documents, is a classic credibility-enhancing technique used by partisan hacks in the media. It gives the impression of thoroughness and completeness, whereas the all those details are in fact carefully selected (and omitted) to enforce a preconceived narrative. The Trumps seem to have an instinct for this, given that Don Jr’s reaction was to release the entire email thread, thus precluding a NYT dribble of carefully crafted incomplete revelations. It is of a piece with Glen Reynold’s maxim for conservatives going on TV interviews and needing to defend against selective editing: “Bring your own camera.”

    A full exegesis of how the news media creates a narrative can be seen here: http://reason.com/archives/1994/03/01/the-great-pretenders

    Comment by M. Rad. — July 23, 2017 @ 9:38 am

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