The land mine that Donald Trump Jr. planted on Monday blew up in his father’s face on Tuesday. All the tricks and all the shticks, all the excuses and all the evasions that President Trump and his advisers have offered over the past year to deny the Russian conspiracy to influence the U.S. presidential elections – and their own willingness to be a part of it – went down the drain. Whether it’s because of a lack of intelligence, bad legal advice, his back to the wall or some Oedipal motivation that we are not privy to, Trump Jr. has pushed Trump Sr. to the edge of the abyss, and possibly beyond.
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In a show of poetic justice that only reality can produce, in sublime irony that only history will appreciate, the instrument of Trump’s latest defeat were emails. Not the Hillary Clinton emails that were hacked by the Russians, moved to Wikileaks and undoubtedly helped Trump get elected, but Trump Jr. emails that were leaked by someone to the New York Times before Trump’s son, in a questionable maneuver, published them himself.
The emails detail the contacts that preceded the June 9, 2016 meeting between Trump Jr., Trump adviser Paul Manafort, the president’s son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner, and Moscow lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which was called to convey a Russian offer to supply damaging material on Clinton. The New York Times report and the emails that followed it created the battering ram that demolished the lines of defense that Trump’s advisers had built to protect him.
There are two remaining bunkers now, and they are not as sturdy as before. The first holds the assertion that the meeting with Veselnitskaya was a one-time event that was never followed up or repeated.
The second includes the increasingly tenuous claim that Trump’s father had no idea what his son or his top advisers were up to and that they did not tell him about the extraordinary offer of assistance from the Kremlin. Both defenses don’t seem to hold water. If and when they collapse, they could drown the entire Trump presidency as well.
The emails reveal, in black and white, the myriad falsehoods that Trump and his advisers have disseminated, almost with abandon. The emails and other recent revelations prove, at least ostensibly, that Trump Jr. was told specifically and unequivocally of the Russian government’s plan to intervene in the elections in Trump’s favor; that the conspiracy reached the highest levels of Russian bureaucracy in the Kremlin; that the intermediaries were Russian businessmen close to Putin who had struck up a friendship with Trump when he hosted the Miss Universe contest in Moscow in 2013; that Russia specifically offered to convey information on alleged links between Clinton and Russian elements that would hurt her campaign; that Trump Jr. was happy to collaborate with the scheme hatched by America’s foremost geostrategic rival and that he never thought of telling the authorities about the proposed plot against America.
The revelations undercut and possibly demolish Kushner’s position and credibility, after he failed to report either the meeting or its content when he filed for his top-secret security clearance. They sparked panic in the White House, which was quick to accuse Trump’s “idiot son” of tripping up his father, at the same time that Trump himself praised his son’s “transparency.” It’s true that most Republicans won’t desert Trump in the wake of the new reports, though his position among GOP lawmakers who were already expressing doubts will further erode. At the same time, however, the tightening noose around Trump’s neck will solidify support for him among his base constituents and will strengthen their belief that his liberal rivals are trying to get rid of him by illicit means. Polarization and mutual distrust, already at dangerous levels, are likely to grow even further.
Tuesday’s report in the New York Times also cast a dark retroactive light on Trump’s amicable weekend meeting in Hamburg with Vladimir Putin. It casts new doubt on their agreements and increases suspicions of their joint efforts to “put the Russia thing behind,” as Trump tweeted, perhaps naively, upon his return.
Trump’s tilt towards Russia and his overall foreign policy will now face even greater scrutiny in light of renewed concern that he actively colluded with a foreign power to subvert American democracy.
After it seemed that Trump’s credibility had hit the bottom of the barrel, especially in the international arena, it now seems the barrel itself is free-falling to new depths.
The most intriguing question, of course, is how Trump himself will react. If he was a run-of-the-mill president, Trump could still use the most recent crisis to reset his presidency, distance himself from his problematic relatives and advisers and ask America for another chance. But with Trump being Trump, it’s more likely that sooner or later he will erupt with indignation, increase the venom of his poisonous attacks, accuse the whole world of working against him and drag America down with him. It could be riveting and even entertaining if it wasn’t so scary and dangerous.