Trump-Russia: Donald Jr. goes rogue

Our view: Maybe it’s a family thing but Trumps appear unable to provide a straight story about their encounters with Russians

It doesn’t take a $500-an-hour criminal defense lawyer to recognize that President Donald Trump and his family need to get their stories straight about Russia. Whatever hopes the president had to put that particular subject behind him after his meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 conference in Hamburg were dashed over the weekend with new revelations (beginning with a New York Times report) over a meeting Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort had with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin 13 months ago.

Here’s how that particular event has been characterized over the months: First, nobody was willing to admit it ever happened, then it was only about Russian adoption and finally, it was revealed that the whole thing only took place because the organizer had offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

If true — and granted that’s a big “if” given the shifting nature of accounts — it doesn’t prove that Trump family members or associates colluded with Russia over election meddling, but it sure suggests they would have been happy to get the Kremlin’s help on that front. It also underscores how the Trump administration, either by design or incompetency, can’t seem to come clean about Russian hacking. As recently as four months ago, Donald Trump Jr. denied that he ever met with Russians while acting in a campaign capacity. Yet attending a meeting specifically to get dirt on your father’s political opponent would seem to be the very definition of a campaign-related duty. That the “dirt” in question allegedly turned out to be unhelpful is irrelevant.

And, by the way, that follows months of top administration officials denying that anyone in the Trump inner circle had contact with any Russians who might be linked to election meddling. Even after the revelations regarding how former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn misled the administration over his Russia ties and contacts, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Vice President Mike Pence have been adamant on the subject. Were they all misled by Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Kushner and the long-since departed Mr. Manafort? That Donald Jr. initially claimed the meeting was only about adoption (when it’s now clear that’s not what it was supposed to be about) only adds to the overall sense of cover-up and intrigue.

Of course, President Trump didn’t help himself much in this regard by treating Russian hacking of the last election as little more than a public relations matter (if that) with some sort of “wink-wink” scolding of Mr. Putin last Friday. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may insist that Mr. Trump “pressed” Mr. Putin on hacking during a “very robust and lengthy” exchange, but that’s pretty hard to believe given Mr. Trump’s recent pronouncements on the subject.

Somehow, President Trump left that meeting insisting that the matter was now behind them despite Mr. Putin’s continued denial of any involvement, and then the American president bragged that the two countries would cooperate on a cyber security partnership. Mr. Trump even wrote that it would make possible an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded...and safe.”

We would like to report that Democrats mocked that one to the hilt, but Republicans beat them to the punch with Sen. Lindsey Graham calling it “close” to the “dumbest idea I’ve ever heard” and Sen. John McCain joking how he’s certain Mr. Putin would be of “enormous assistance” given how “he is doing the hacking.” Sen. Marco Rubio had an even better slam, likening it to partnering with Syrian President Bashar Assad on a “Chemical Weapons Unit.” The proposal became such an enormous laugh line on the Internet that even after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended it on network television Sunday, President Trump backed down, tweeting Sunday night that he didn’t believe the cyber security effort was going anywhere but the ceasefire in Syria was the real accomplishment of the talks. “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a ceasefire can,& did!,” he wrote.

Are there really still elected leaders who think there was no need to appoint a special counsel to look into Russian meddling in the election? If anything, the latest turns of events suggest that it would be better if Mr. Trump recused himself from just about anything having to do with Mr. Putin or Russia. That’s not possible, of course, but until Robert Mueller concludes his probe and presents his findings, it’s hard to believe much of anything coming from the mouths of President Trump, his family and his associates on the subject.

Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
55°