I had a plan for this piece. It was going to be about art and authenticity. It was going to be about the way artists both hold influence over and are reflections of their backgrounds and communities. It was going to be about the intersection of art and business in the creative industries. I just watched the exceptional HBO Documentary series The Defiant Ones about the lives and careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, and these questions were raised.
It was a good plan. I was looking forward to writing that article.
Then Donald J. Trump Jr. tweeted the full content of his email exchange with Rob Goldstone regarding a meeting with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya, and in so doing seems to have confessed to a serious crime.
Okay. If you’re anything like me, you will be immediately overwhelmed, confused, cautiously hopeful, and just plain baffled. Why would he DO that?
My first inkling of the story was a tweet from the excellent Jared Yates Sexton, a journalist and professor who has written for the New York Times, New Republic, and Politico:
I…worked on this story for a year…and…he just…he tweeted it out.
11 Jul 2017, 16:37
That sense of utter bafflement must be running through every journalist and investigator working on the collusion question. This is both tectonic and just plain weird. I’ll do my best to explain why.
First of all: Russia. It, Putin, and hacking have been all over the news for months. The whole thing can easily meld in to an amorphous blob, so it’s worth separating the various questions out. Broadly, they are as follows:
- Did hackers working for the Russian government hack the Clinton campaign?
- Did the Russian government more generally try to swing the election for Trump and if so how effective were they?
- If they did, was Trump’s campaign working with them (colluding) or merely benefiting?
- If collusion did take place, did Trump know about it personally?
These don’t all have to be true, and any one of them is a huge deal. I wrote an article on the first question, and I drew the conclusion that there was no concrete evidence publicly available to suggest that the hackers who attacked the Clinton campaign were in the employ of the Russian government. I stand by that.
The second question is much greyer. Putin himself has alluded to the fact that he doesn’t see any problem with Russia asserting its influence in other countries. He’s also accused the US of being hypocritical in this regard, challenging a reporter to spin a globe and wherever they drop their finger they will find a country where the US has asserted its influence. To say that Russia saw benefit to a Trump win and was motivated to try and influence the outcome seems to me to be a fair assessment of what took place. That said, the question of what effect Russia had remains.
Thirdly, the question of collusion. This is important because while the first and second questions matter hugely, neither implicate Trump or his campaign from a criminal standpoint.
If his campaign were actively conspiring with a foreign adversary to influence or undermine an election however, that is illegal.
Note the words “conspire” and “adversary”. Conspiracy is a legal term, and is defined as:
“An agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act, along with an intent to achieve the agreement’s goal.” – The Legal Information Institute
Adversary is relevant because the laws regarding the sharing of information with foreign governments change according to whether the US views them as allies or adversaries. The Ukraine, for example, is regarded as an ally. Russia, fairly obviously, is not.
What Donald Trump Jr has tweeted is evidence of him taking a meeting with an individual he believes to be working for the Russian government because he wants to gain information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton.
That in and of itself is a crime, because Donald Trump Jr. has tweeted out evidence of his intention to work with a foreign adversary to influence an election.
You don’t need to take my word for it. The associate dean of Cornell Law School, Jens David Ohlin, is quoted by The Washington Post as follows:
“It’s a shocking admission of a criminal conspiracy […] The conversation will now turn to whether President Trump was personally involved or not. But the question of the campaign’s involvement appears settled now. The answer is yes.”
Which brings us neatly to question four: is Trump personally involved?
Well, that’s still technically unanswered. Trump Jr forwarded the emails to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who currently has security clearance and a position in the White House. That isn’t damning evidence, but it’s certainly worth looking in to. I’m sure all our guts are telling us that he must have known, but consistency matters, and there is still no publicly available evidence that he personally was part of the conspiracy.
There is evidence of conspiracy now, though, and it is astoundingly public. Apocalyptically public. Public in a way that makes you shake your head and wonder what could possibly have made him decide to do that.
The most comforting thought? He’s an idiot.
A more uncomfortable one? He’s been convinced or misled in to sacrificing himself as a distraction while the administration does something that would otherwise be widely protested.
The most uncomfortable one? The administration is so confident in a lack of consequences that they have no qualms about brazenly announcing this sort of thing.
They know it will be in the news, they know there will be protests, and they know everyone will wring their hands, but ultimately nothing will happen and there will be no consequences.
Whether or not Donald Trump Jr goes to jail is now a question for a court of law. The question of whether or not there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges has been settled. For whatever reason, he provided it.
Which is why this story matters. If Donald Trump Jr is not charged with a crime, it is another piece of evidence that some people are beyond the reach of the judicial branch of the United States.
Should that be the case, I would personally deem it unfit for purpose.