Team Trump’s stumbling defense of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer has unraveled so badly in recent days that even Fox News is hard pressed to find a legal analyst who backs the White House.
The network’s senior judicial analyst, Andrew Napolitano, refuted the White House’s latest legal defense on Monday morning.
“It is a crime to receive something of value when you are a campaign official from a foreign person or foreign government,” Napolitano said. “Is this enough to commence a criminal investigation? Answer: yes. Because it is suspicious that they met with these people, that they didn’t consult a lawyer, that one of these people is former KGB-GRU — that’s the Russian intelligence arm.”
Napolitano went on to ask, “Why didn’t Jared Kushner tell the FBI about it unless he was trying to hide something?”
In recent days, the president has posted multiple Twitter defenses of his son, who along with his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort attended meeting at Trump Tower with Kremlin-linked attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and other associates in an effort to get opposition research on Hillary Clinton.
“That’s politics,” Trump insisted on Monday. Trump argued that “most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr attended in order to get info on an opponent.”
As Ronald Reagan once explained, however, there's an old rule in politics: “If you're explaining, you're losing." Trump’s defense of his campaign’s actions have evolved so quickly — from denial to lying to a norm-debasing rationalization — that it appears that he may fully know he’s losing.
Although the latest polling shows a slight downward shift in approval for Trump from his most loyal supporters, the vast majority of Republican voters still say they simply don’t care about the Russia scandal engulfing his administration. Perhaps that’s why the president feels so emboldened to give up on a strategy of straight denial to move on to a full embrace of his campaign’s dirty dealings — now arguing that colluding with a foreign government to bring down a political opponent is just normal, run of the mill politics.
“Why aren’t the same standards placed on the Democrats. Look what Hillary Clinton may have gotten away with. Disgraceful,” he recently complained.
Aside from attempting to cast his campaign’s improprieties as somehow less concerning than how Clinton handled her personal emails, his team is also arguing that attempting to collude with the Russian government to affect a U.S. election isn’t actually a bad thing because it’s not a criminal offense. Appearing on every major Sunday morning news show, the president’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, argued that Don Jr.’s meeting may have been the Kremlin’s attempt to help his father's campaign, but it “was not a violation of the law.”
So to recap, Trump has gone from celebrating the hacking of Clinton’s campaign chairman’s emails to suggesting that the hacking “could have been other people and other countries” besides Russia to denying allegations of collusion as “fake news” and now to well, at least no laws were broken. In the process, Trump has deflected blame for Russian interference into the election towards everyone from Clinton to Barack Obama to the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
It’s precisely this evolving defense that serves to confuse Trump’s supporters during a time of tumult and allows the president to cast off the growing scandal as more noise from a liberal media hell bent on his destruction. And as another legal analyst on Fox News demonstrated, it seems to be working.
“If the devil called me and said he wanted to set up a meeting to give me opposition research on my opponent I’d be on the first trolley to hell to get it. And any politician who tells you otherwise is a bald-faced liar,” Fox News’ Judge Jeanine Pirro told her viewers over the weekend.