Commentary

Barrie Dunsmore: Trump Jr.’s emails

Editor’s note: This commentary by retired ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore first appeared in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald Sunday edition. All his columns can be found on his website, www.barriedunsmore.com.

“This is much ado about nothing.” “It’s a nothing burger.”
“There is no there there.”

That summed up the initial reaction of the White House and its lawyers to the news of the week — that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin, in the expectation she had dirt on Hillary Clinton. It reminds one of the Nixon White House description of Watergate, as nothing but a “third-rate burglary.”

Yet by midweek it was clear that of all of the many reports in recent months suggesting the possibility of collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russian meddling in the 2016 American presidential election, this latest is potentially the most explosive. It cannot yet be said there is now legal proof of collusion, but such proof appears to be tantalizingly close.

When the New York Times first broke the story that Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and then campaign manager Paul Manafort had met in June 2016 with a known Russian operative, Trump’s son dissembled. He claimed he didn’t even know the name of the female Russian lawyer, said she wanted to talk about Russian orphans, and totally dismissed the meeting’s importance. However after further prodding by the Times, the next day he admitted he had been told the Russian lawyer had damaging information about Hillary Clinton, implying that was why he had agreed to meet her — although he went on to say that her information was “vague, ambiguous and made no sense,” and was not of any use or interest to him.

But with that, the cat was out of the bag. Out of Donald Trump’s son’s mouth was an admission that the Trump campaign would love to have dirt on Hillary, even if it came from a foreign adversary like the Russians.

Then on Tuesday, faced with the reality that the Times was about to print a number of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails on how this now infamous meeting was set up, he publicly released his own copies.

Even in a cynical place like Washington, those emails landed like a political bombshell. And nowhere was the impact greater than in the White House itself. The Washington Post reported it was “in chaos … as the president fumes against his enemies and senior aides circle one another with suspicion.” The Post quoted a Trump supporter as describing the atmosphere as like “a category 5 hurricane.”

I can’t help feeling that what we have learned this past week will in hindsight, be seen as the significant turning point in this dramatic political saga.

 

Among other things, the email revelations have destroyed the previous assertions that the Russian lawyer was unknown to Trump Jr., Kushner or Manafort and that they had no idea her promised anti-Hillary material came directly from the Kremlin. But most important, they give lie to the Trump mantra that his campaign had never, ever had substantive contacts on such matters with the Russians.

The most significant email came from a Trump business associate, a British music publicist who represents a popular Russian singer whose father is a very wealthy businessman with close ties to President Putin. They had all been brought together in Moscow during Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant in 2013.

In that email to Donald Jr., sent June 3, 2016, the publicist said a senior Russian government official was offering to provide negative information on Hillary Clinton. The documents “would incriminate Hillary for her dealing in Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Trump Jr. responded immediately, “If it’s what you say, I love it.” Within a few days a June 9 meeting had been set up for Trump Tower in New York with a “Russian government attorney.”

Obviously on the Trump side, this was seen as an important meeting, but which Donald Jr. now insists was a bust. Maybe it was. But maybe it wasn’t. We have only his word for it, and frankly the Trump word — his or his father’s — leaves much to be desired.

There is as yet no evidence that any crime has been committed. But it is not far-fetched to speculate that this could have been a meeting which led to a quid pro quo between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin — that if the Russians helped to elect Trump — he would be sympathetic to Russian aspirations, would be non- confrontational and might reconsider Russian sanctions.

The son and the White House both deny the president knew anything about the meeting until very recently. That seems a stretch. But we do know this: During the campaign, Trump publicly exhorted the Russians to find Hillary’s missing emails — and praised WikiLeaks, which was publishing many of the Democratic Party documents the Russians had stolen. As president, Trump has been openly critical of a number of America’s historical allies — has scared NATO, threatened trade wars and tried to upset the international order. But there has been nary a word of criticism from him of Russia — or Putin himself. Trump said it was an “honor” to meet him last week in Hamburg, where he basically gave Putin a pass on the issue of Russian meddling in the American election. Trump has also opposed the latest Senate bill to increase sanctions on Russia because of the election hacking. How can all this be explained?

We are not at the end of the Russian crisis. And we still don’t have a definitive picture of how it might end. It could take another year of investigations by the FBI/special counsel as well as the Senate and House intelligence committees, and there is some dramatic testimony ahead which could contain surprises. Trump and some conservative Republicans may try to mount a counteroffensive. Still, I can’t help feeling that what we have learned this past week will in hindsight, be seen as the significant turning point in this dramatic political saga.

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  • Jim Sawhill

    Aside from attack politics and global warming, does anyone know what left’s policies are for Americans? If the Dems can’t find some connection to the real world, the party will go extinct in 2018.
    Hillary lost – awful candidate. Move on (as they said about Bill and Monica).

  • Jason Wells

    Mr. Dunsmore, In the past year have you made a commentary that was not exclusively Trump Russia Trump Russia? IMHO if you want to be taken more seriously how about an article comparing the supposed Trump collusion to the verified Hillary camp collusion where they worked in concert with Ukraine Govt. to manufacture dirt on Manafort. Heck the DNC event sent an employee to Ukraine for this exact reason.(link below) Note Ukraine has now walked back the Manafort stuff.

    So in essence lets have some fair reporting and commentary submissions. The swamp is deep in DC and under our own golden dome here in VT. Its is important to see the bigger picture here and that is that this stuff is common practice in DC. When persons such as yourself and the MSM harp endlessly on this issue in regards to Team Trump while utterly ignoring the same and worse behaviors by the Dems the end result is more and more folks will tune it out and even further distrust the media if thats even possible at this point.

    http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/ukraine-sabotage-trump-backfire-233446

  • Paul Richards

    Try as you might Mr. Dunsmore to link this activity to Watergate and paint a grandiose, scandalous, mouth watering and damaging story line it’s still just a big nothingburger. Time to get some new material.

  • Willem Post

    Barrie,

    Close but no cigar.
    The Russian government likely was not involved in such an amateurish meeting.

    It is likely more serious stuff needs to be found to make a better case.

    To much fixation on Russia is becoming a mental disorder for the Democrats. It has taken over their thinking to the point of irrational.

    The media are hyping it to keep the pot boiling and sell newspaper and TV ads.

    Democrats are very naive to think 100% negativism and obstruction will get them votes.

    Democrats have to run on a positive, hopeful message, such as reducing the size of government, and reducing deficits, and reducing taxes.

  • Dan DeCoteau

    Just as a comparison to your one sided accusation, Donald Trump Jr. released his emails related to this meeting, Hillary Clinton deleted 33,000 emails on a personal server used for government work against all government guidelines and laws. Her circle of protectors smashed hard drives with hammers and used special software to scrub other hard drives. And there’s this, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-clinton-foundation-state-and-kremlin-connections-1469997195 from the Wall Street Journal.

    And this, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton-foundation-as-russians-pressed-for-control-of-uranium-company.html from the New York Times. And there’s so much more waiting to come into the daylight.
    .
    I’m sure that to you, this is just a right winger conspiracy as all left wing corruption and scandal is swept under the rug by the main stream media wing of the democratic party. You want a Russian connection and you are going to get one but the problem is the collusion is leading right to the Obama/Clinton effort to subvert and destroy the president of the USA.

    Shortly after Hillary’s melt down on election night she blamed her loss on Russian interference in the elections. She started the Russian innuendo, the press has run with it to sell papers as well as the TV networks to bolster ratings. The press has also been complicit in using illegal leaks from inside the government by claiming sources as unnamed thus protecting felonious activity from within the government itself making them as guilty as the so-called Russians. So who is trying to subvert a legitimately elected president, elected by the voters? The real story is about to come out about the so-called Russians and you are not going to like where it goes.

  • Jason Wells

    No heads in the sand here. This incident blows the whole Russia Russia narrative out of the water. If President Trump has been working with Putin since way back when and so in debt to Putin as the dems are screaming why pray tell would Putin need this crazy cast of characters to pull this off? After all Putin is this KGB super spy right??? He could have just mailed a flash drive to Trump Tower and be done with it.

    To make matters worse we now find State Dept. officials were mailing each other photos of the lawyers house whom Jr. had the meeting with just days prior and even ABC reports that the translator in the meeting had been working for the State Dept. As each day goes by this looks more and more like a big boomerang thats headed back to the Dems (and McCain) at mach5.

    Makes me wonder just what Mueller is up to right now. Wouldn’t that be a hoot if he came out against Obama, Rice, Rhodes, Hillary and the whole lot of em. Appearances are everything in DC and this could very well be the reason for him stacking his team so heavily with Clinton donors.