One of Watergate’s legacies is the weaselly description of disproved White House statements as “inoperative.”
After Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday released emails about a June 9, 2016, meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower, it’s time to dust that word off and put it back to use.
With the email release, much of what we have been told about alleged ties between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russians has become “inoperative.”
In the emails, Trump Jr. is seen expressing enthusiasm about a possible Russian government effort to boost his father’s campaign with information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Suddenly, his previous statements about Russia and the Trump campaign look awfully inoperative.
Just check out the chronology.
His statement on CNN last July — weeks after the June 9 meeting — when he said, “It’s disgusting. It’s so phony,” about the idea that Russia backed his father?
His denial four months ago that he ever met with Russians while acting in a campaign capacity?
Oh, dear. Inoperative.
His subsequent claim that, while he did actually meet with Veselnitskaya, it was about adoption?
His claim that the meeting was just your everyday political opposition research?
Inoperative. The email chain clearly tied the meeting to “part of Russia and its government’s support for Trump.” U.S. law prohibits accepting “anything of value” from an agent of a foreign government.
The numerous statements by President Trump and other members of his administration that no one involved in the Trump campaign ever met with Russian actors?
Mark those statements down as inoperative, as well. Not only did Trump Jr. admit to attending the meeting, he summoned campaign chief Paul Manafort and top adviser Jared Kushner, too.
Congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, which American intelligence agencies say was trying to tip the election in Donald Trump’s favor.
The email chain is instructive. A senior Russian government official contacts one of the senior Trump’s former business partners and, via an intermediary, offers to hand over some incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. The email says, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” To that, Trump Jr. replied, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
President Trump, a master of obfuscation, and his administration think they can do whatever they want as long as they can’t be proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. But we expect a much higher standard from a president. If, in the end, it turns out there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, Trump still will have proved himself unworthy to be our leader. His nonstop stream of lies, shady business dealings, undermining of American interests, blatant conflicts of interest and inveterate name-calling have dragged a proud office into the mud.
Even if we learn nothing more about Trump Jr.’s meeting, we now know he was eager for assistance in his father’s campaign from a hostile foreign power. Russia’s effort to subvert American democracy, as cited in the emails, didn’t appear to bother him a bit.
The emails raise as many questions as they answer. What, exactly, took place at the meeting? Was there a connection to the subsequent Wikileaks release of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, a leak that U.S. intelligence services believe was directed by Russia? What did other members of the Trump campaign know? What did President Trump know, and when did he know it?
On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya was “a big nothingburger.”
How long before that statement becomes inoperative, too?