Trump admits his son sought Russia’s help
President Trump has once again altered the narrative of his son Donald Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, with the president explicitly admitting that the purpose was to collect damaging information on Hillary Clinton. “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics—and it went nowhere,” the president tweeted Sunday. The admission directly contradicted a July 2017 statement—attributed to Donald Jr. but later confirmed to have been dictated by the president—that said the meeting was primarily about adoptions of Russian children. Federal law prohibits campaigns from accepting a “thing of value” from foreign nationals. The president continued to maintain he had no prior knowledge of the meeting, and that the Russians provided no information on Clinton.
Trump’s legal team this week sent a counteroffer to special counsel Robert Mueller’s proposed terms for interviewing the president for the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The White House is insisting that questions be narrowly limited to potential collusion with Russia and not related to whether Trump obstructed justice in trying to impede the investigation through various actions and statements, including firing FBI Director James Comey. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lead attorney, said Mueller should not be permitted to ask questions that are “perjury traps.”
What the editorials said
It’s tough to keep up with Trump’s contradictions, said the San Francisco Chronicle. His “no collusion” mantra has given way to “colluding with Russia would not be against the law,” while paradoxically arguing “that he is innocent of this supposed non-crime.” Trump “maintains that he has nothing to fear from the truth,” yet his “brazen” efforts to abort Mueller’s investigation portray a president working “very hard to obscure it.”
Trump “has lied to the country for 13 months,” said the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger, and his “admission is a turning point of his struggle to contain the Russia scandal.” Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly is willing to testify that Trump approved of the planned meeting before it took place, which is hardly surprising; his son set it up after being explicitly promised “sensitive information” as part of the Russian “government’s support for Mr. Trump.” As the truth seeps out, Trump’s “façade of deniability is starting to crumble.”
What the columnists said
Trump’s strategy to delegitimize Mueller’s investigation isn’t new, said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. It’s the same “scandalize the prosecutor” tactic deployed by Bill Clinton in the 1990s against independent counsel Ken Starr. Unsurprisingly, the “media-Democrat complex” that “aided and abetted” Clinton’s public relations campaign “today clutches its pearls in anguish” while Trump and Giuliani successfully erode public confidence in Mueller’s investigation by portraying it as partisan. Trump has real reason to fear impeachment, which is why he has sought to turn public opinion, “the thing that moves Congress,” against the investigation.
Trump’s “desperate” behavior is more Nixonian than Clintonian, said former Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus in WashingtonPost.com. Knowing he incriminated himself on Oval Office tape recordings, Richard Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, triggering a constitutional crisis that led to his resignation. Trump is somehow “conducting himself more frantically than Nixon,” demanding Mueller’s investigation be shut down “while protesting his innocence.” As in Watergate, the rule of law is at stake. Soliciting Russia’s help to influence an election “is worse than a scandal,” said Cass Sunstein in Bloomberg.com. “It is a betrayal.” The Russian government was working “to weaken, undermine, and destabilize our country,” and no candidate or campaign should even consider accepting its offer of dirt on an opponent. “The highest loyalty of any candidate, and any president, is to his nation, not to electoral victory.”
Trump’s lawyers have good reason to fear their client being interviewed by Mueller’s team, said Greg Sargent in WashingtonPost.com. It would be dangerous for him to lie “about efforts to scuttle the investigation,” because there are witnesses and ample evidence that will contradict him. On the other hand, “Trump might tell the truth,” which could be even more incriminating. To establish obstruction, prosecutors will seek evidence of “corrupt intent,” and in Trump’s impulsive tweets, TV interviews, and actions, he’s provided a mountain of it.
Cover llustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Getty, AP, screenshot
Getty, Rebekah Welcy/The Seattle Times ■