It is hard to add wisdom to the insights already flowing from all directions as startling new evidence erupts.
So we simply tell the story of Russia, Donald Trump, his administration, and his campaign, mainly in the President’s own recent words and the recent words of those around him. We begin just two weeks ago, on June 29, as the President attacks those who report on Russia’s intrusion into an American election.
Don’t we love that term: fake? What we’ve learned about fake over the last little while!
Fake news! CNN: Fake!
– President Donald Trump, June 29, 2017
Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks for the President on June 27:
I think it’s the constant barrage of fake news directed at this President probably that has garnered a lot of his frustration.
I think it’s a disgrace to all of media to all of journalism. I think that we have gone to a place where, if the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America.
We’ve been going on this Russia/Trump hoax for the better part of a year now with no evidence of anything.
– Sarah Huckabee Sanders, June 27, 2017
A few days later, the President issues a challenge as the nation prepares to celebrate its independence.
The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them. Because the people know the truth.
– President Donald Trump, July 1, 2017
MSNBC recently compiled and made publicly available, a series of statements, all in the same vein.
Paul Manafort is questioned by George Stephanopoulos:
Q: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you, or your campaign and Putin and his regime?
A: No, there are not. It’s absurd and there’s no basis for it.
Kellyanne Conway is questioned by John Dickerson:
Q: Did anyone involved in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?
A: Absolutely not.
Vice President Mike Pence is questioned by Chris Wallace:
Q: I’m asking you a direct question. Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had.
A: I joined this campaign in the summer and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people.
Q: Were there any contacts, sir? I’m just trying to get an answer.
A: Of course not. Why would be there any contacts?
Jeff Sessions testifies before Congress:
I did not have communications with the Russians. And I’m unable to comment on it.
Mike Pence is interviewed by John Dickerson:
Q: Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?
A: Of course not.
President Donald Trump holds a Press Conference:
Q: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
A: Well, I told you, General Flynn obviously was dealing, so that’s one person, but he was dealing as he should have been.
Q: During the election?
A: No. Nobody that I know of.
Kellyanne Conway is interviewed by John Dickerson:
These conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous. And it does undermine our democracy.
Then, on July 10, the New York Times publishes a story that, during the previous year’s campaign, Donald Trump, Jr. led a small, three member contingent of Trump campaign officials to a meeting with a Russian lawyer to discuss secret information stolen from the Clinton campaign by operatives working for the Russian government. The Times claims that email evidence is in their possession that all three participants knew the purpose of the meeting was to obtain information stolen by a hostile foreign intelligence service.
That evening, Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks on behalf of the White House. The President and the White House deny the story. It is fake news.
I would certainly say Don Junior did not collude with anybody to influence the election. Our position is that no one in the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election.
– Sarah Huckabee Sanders, July 10, 2017
The next day, the New York Times produces the actual email conversation between Donald Trump, Jr. and others.
June 3, 2016, from Rob Goldstone to Donald Junior:
Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.
What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.
Within minutes, Donald gives the go-ahead:
On Jun 3, 2016, at 10:53
Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?
It’s hard to get around the I love it especially later in the summer.
Rob Goldstone gets more specific with Donald, Junior four days later:
Jun 7, 2016
Hope all is well
Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.
I believe you are aware of the meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?
I assume it would be at your office.
Donald Junior answers that same day:
Jun 7, 2016, at 5:16 PM
How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.
And an hour later, Donald Junior spells out who else will be there to receive the pirated documents:
Jun 7, 2016, at 18:14
Great. It will likely be Paul Manafort (campaign boss) my brother in law and me, 725 Fifth Ave 25th floor.
On July 11, Donald Trump, Jr. confirms the authenticity of the emails, that the meeting occurred, and that then candidate Donald Trump’s son-in-law and campaign manager were there.
Comment posted by Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter on July 11, 2017
To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails with Rob Goldstone about the meeting on June 9, 2016.
He later appears with Sean Hannity to insist that, even though the meeting happened, even though it was to receive stolen documents, even though it was with the expectation those prospective documents had been spirited from the Clinton campaign by the Russian government, it was all very innocent.
Walter Shapiro of the Guardian has one of the better reactions:
The best that they can now muster – and it was the underlying theme of Hannity’s fawning interview – is to shout, “Fake Interpretation.”
Somehow that doesn’t have the same ring.
Walter Shapiro, the Guardian, July 12, 2017
Ari Fleischer, White House Press Secretary for President Bush, feels the entire matter is routine campaign activity.
Is it collusion or is it opposition research? And it certainly seems to me to be opposition research.
Ari Fleischer on Fox News, July 11, 2017
Mr. Fleischer had adopted a different approach in 2000, when campaign materials from then candidate for President, Governor George W. Bush, were secretly copied. The copies had been sent to the Gore campaign.
Ari Fleischer did not seem to think that instance was innocent at all.
We are pleased the FBI is digging, and digging deep.
– Ari Fleischer, October 1, 2000
There exists another contrast between those election years. The materials copied from the Bush campaign were not retrieved through a secret deal between Democrats and a hostile foreign government.
Still, the reaction of the Democratic campaign in 2000 to receiving those secret documents was very different from that of the Republican campaign a decade and a half later.
Both sides were not the same.
In September 2000, an important advisor to the Gore campaign, Tom Downey, opened a mysterious envelope that had just arrived by mail. As he began to look over the contents, he realized it was a point-by-point document preparing Governor Bush for an upcoming debate with Al Gore.
It had to have been stolen.
Tom Downey put the materials back in the envelope and called the FBI. Since he had thumbed through the materials before realizing what they were, he and the Gore campaign decided he should no longer have any part, not even any contact, with the Gore campaign until after the election.
In June 2016, 3 important members of the Trump campaign, including the campaign manager himself, the candidate’s son, and the candidate’s son-in-law, shared a message promising to them materials stolen by the Russian government from the Clinton campaign. The three eagerly participated in the meeting. They were disappointed that the stolen materials were not produced.
As it turned out, they were not produced until the following month.
There is now some debate over whether laws were broken. To those of us who rely on cover-ups and efforts to stop investigations as consciousness of guilt, we who must look to the apparent progress of criminal investigations and congressional inquiries, it certainly appears that an entire matrix of laws had to have been broken, and that obstruction clearly followed.
Even if that was not the case, every patriot, anyone with even the slightest love of country, ought to agree that a deliberate effort to engage with a hostile foreign government to subvert an election for United States President is, at very least, UnAmerican.
Anytime you’re in a campaign and you get an offer from a foreign government to help your campaign, the answer is no.
– Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), July 11, 2017
We are left with this summary:
…we have gone to a place where, if the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America.
That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous. And it does undermine our democracy.
History may find it easy to judge who has undermined our democracy, and who has taken America to a dangerous place.
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