Earlier today, here at Townhall and on Fox News, I said that more information needed to be gathered before anyone should declare the Donald Trump, Jr. story a bombshell or a dud. First and foremost, I argued, it would be very helpful to see the actual emails that preceded the now-infamous June meeting, which the New York Times claimed would demonstrate that the president's son was well aware of the alleged source and nature of the promised anti-Clinton information (which never materialized) in advance. The Times story was rooted in unnamed sources who characterized, but apparently did not produce, the messages in question. In order to determine if the documents were being mischaracterized, we should see them, I said. About an hour later, Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted the full four-page exchange, which Cortney relayed here. Trump Jr. cast his tweets as efforts at full transparency, but one can't help but wonder if there was another pressing motive at play:
He preempted the Times, which had the chain and was about to run with it. In any case, the content of these emails was, in my case, literally jaw-dropping. Trump Jr's associate alerted him to the supposed existence of highly sensitive information regarding wrongdoing tied to Mrs. Clinton, telling him that it would be furnished by a "Russian government attorney" who was representing "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump" (who now claims she wasn't tied to the Kremlin). To which Trump Jr. replied, "if it's what you say I love it." This couldn't be much clearer:
And these shifts look really bad, especially when you read the quote from March in which Trump Jr. flatly denies meeting with any Russian nationals in arranged meetings:
Many Trump defenders on social media are now frantically reframing the contours of the debate. The standard has been, for months, that there is zero evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Until the last 24 hours or so, that had been true, much to the chagrin and consternation of many on the Left. But these emails topple that once-potent argument. Some are now saying that this isn't collusion, but merely "opposition research." It's both, isn't it? Here we have top Trump lieutenants (including Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who were, ahem, looped into this email chain) meeting in person, eyes wide open, with someone at least one of them believed to be a Russian government intermediary promising harmful opposition research on Hillary Clinton. That's not the same as colluding to hack the DNC's emails, for example, but it's certainly a form collusion.
Others are pointing out that colluding with representatives of a foreign government, even an adversarial one, isn't a crime. This could very well be true. Still others, including the White House, are pointing out that the Democrats also colluded with a foreign government in hopes of defeating their opponent in 2016. This is true. One certainly can raise the distinction that Russia is a hostile power and top geopolitical threat (Mitt Romney, call your office), whereas Ukrainian and American interests were much more aligned, but the fact remains that a DNC operative linked up with foreign officials to try to harm Trump's campaign, and kept the Clinton campaign abreast of her work. That may be a savvier method of insulating the upper echelon of your party and presidential campaign from accusations of foreign collusion, but it's still foreign collusion.
So, in isolation, these defenses -- it was opposition research that wasn't illegal, and the Democrats also did it -- aren't altogether unpersuasive. The problem comes down to shattered credibility vis-a-vis the established goalposts. For many months, the Trump administration has repeatedly and adamantly insisted that the president's campaign did not collude with the Russians during the election. Period, end of story. This line served them well while it remained operative, which it very arguably no longer does. Perhaps because the paper trail does not point to a quid pro quo, and because the promised material apparently didn't exist or was never produced, the full circle of collusion isn't quite complete. But the emails show the president's son eager to gather negative intelligence from a foreign operative, and arranging a meeting to facilitate that exchange. Many Americans may be willing to countenance a "win at all costs" mentality, even while viewing resulting moral compromises as unseemly. What many of them may not be as open to forgiving is being lied to. Leaping from "absolutely no collusion" to "okay, fine, there was collusion, but..." is a serious problem. As one Twitter pal puts it, it may not be incriminating, defined narrowly, but it's damning.
Now that this correspondence is out in the open, I renew the following questions: (1) Did Kushner and Manafort know about the nature of the meeting walking in (for what it's worth, the sketchy Russian attorney says Kushner left early, and Manafort sat on his phone the whole time), and (2) Is it plausible that Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman would all meet with a Russian government emissary vowing to provide the goods on Hillary without Trump's knowledge? I'll leave you with this point from Josh Barro about what Trump Jr's "love it" reaction might imply, as well as a flashback clip:
Trump Jr. says he's willing to testify before relevant Congressional committees. He may get his wish, sooner rather than later. Given the damage that's already been done, if you were his attorney, would you advise him that this is a good idea?
UPDATE - Never bet against reckless Democratic overreach: