The usual suspects in the press have been going virtually wall-to-wall with this story -- taking breaks to cover the Roy Moore debacle -- and the headline admittedly doesn't look great for Team Trump. "The Secret Correspondence Between Donald Trump Jr and Wikileaks" has an ominous air to it, and at first blush, it appeared as though the president's eldest son would once again provide serious fodder to support the "collusion" narrative.
Remember, Junior coordinated the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, the incriminating correspondence ahead of which looked a lot like the Trump campaign attempting to coordinate attacks with the Russians. (Incidentally, it turns out the dirt she was peddling was provided by the Democratic firm Fusion GPS, which was simultaneously paying a British ex-spook to unearth damaging information on Donald Trump's ties to Russia, relying on Russian sources to do so. She arrived at the Trump meeting after huddling with the founder of Fusion GPS, whom she saw again later that same day. The media's breathless coverage of that string of extraordinary developments was virtually nonexistent). In any case, this story and lede looked potentially quite damaging for Trumpworld:
SCOOP: Turns out Donald Trump, Jr. corresponded with Wikileaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. My latest. https://t.co/pVGEBqmB9O— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) November 13, 2017
The transparency organization asked the president’s son for his cooperation—in sharing its work, in contesting the results of the election, and in arranging for Julian Assange to be Australia’s ambassador to the United States.
Upon further review, I'd argue there's less to this revelation than meets the eye. Granted, it is newsworthy, Don Jr. can rightly get rapped for not immediately recognizing and reporting the correspondence as suspicious and inappropriate, and broader Trump camp denials about communication with Wikileaks have sustained a hit (though Pence still seems to be on firm ground by rejecting the notion that the campaign was "in cahoots" with Wikileaks. I'm not sure they were lying, per se, but they were at least disorganized and amateurish enough to have no idea what was happening, and who might be recklessly freelancing within their ranks. There's no point in whitewashing a bad story for the White House. But the tone and content of the 'direct message' Twitter interactions between Junior and whomever runs Wikileaks' account looks a lot less damning than it might have. Details:
The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States...Though Trump Jr. mostly ignored the frequent messages from WikiLeaks, he at times appears to have acted on its requests.
The piece flags the very few instances in which Trump Jr. replied to Wikileaks' barrage of messages, most of which were short, relatively generic responses. Wikileaks started contacting him in late September of 2016. After ignoring most of their intervening messages, he ceased replying altogether in mid-October -- even as Wikileaks escalated the frequency and nature of their (sometimes very bizarre) requests. Initially, Junior emailed top campaign officials to inform them that Wikileaks had made contact, and only appears to have sent one proactive message to the organization, the subject of which was telling unto itself:
He wanted to know what Wikileaks was about to drop on Hillary, suggesting that he was genuinely curious and in the dark. He didn't know what was coming. That...doesn't do much for claims of "collusion," does it? In general, this is how I characterized the dynamic between Wikileaks and the president's eldest son throughout their relatively brief (and as The Atlantic piece says, "largely one-sided") virtual interaction:
Wikileaks comes off as relentlessly thirsty and needy. Don Jr. comes off as barely interested & rarely responsive.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 13, 2017
All in all, Wikileaks comes off looking much worse and batty than Junior, who turned over all of these records to Congressional investigators. Also, taking nothing away from The Atlantic's scoop, is it really all that shocking that Wikileaks reached out to him? None other than Julian Assange himself publicly tweeted as much in July. Yesterday's news isn't a non-story, but it doesn't look especially scandalous to me -- and I say that as someone who jumped down Don Jr's throat for the Trump Tower meeting emails. I'll leave you with a parting thought via Allahpundit: Might Wikileaks have been in private contact over Twitter with other senior campaign officials -- including, er, Donald Trump?