Sorry, liberals: Donald Trump Jr. didn't commit treason — he's just incompetent

Donald Jr.'s meeting was sleazy and sinister, no doubt — but the available evidence is nowhere close to treason

Published July 18, 2017 5:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump Jr.   (AP/Richard Drew)
Donald Trump Jr. (AP/Richard Drew)

Last week's bombshell report from the New York Times was -- unlike the majority of purported bombshells about the Russia scandal over the past six months -- wholly deserving of the round-the-clock coverage it received from the media. The report provided the most damning evidence yet that members of the Trump campaign were at the very least willing to coordinate with individuals ostensibly associated with the Russian government in order to defeat Hillary Clinton.

More than a year after the fact, the Times revealed last Tuesday that Donald Trump Jr. held a meeting last summer with someone who he was told was a “Russian government attorney” who possessed “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” The meeting, which was attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort — along with a lobbyist and “former Soviet counterintelligence officer," according to NBC News — has the makings of a major scandal.

Even if the various accounts of the meeting are true — i.e., that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had no meaningful information and quickly changed the subject — this doesn't change the fact that the president’s eldest son accepted a meeting with someone who was allegedly part of the Russian government’s effort to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. As conservative writer David French writes in National Review:

Yes, it is a "big deal" when senior representatives of an American presidential campaign meet with a purported representative of a hostile foreign power for the purpose of cooperating in that foreign power’s effort to influence an American presidential campaign.

Though the Trump-Russia collusion narrative still warrants skepticism, anyone who still maintains that Russiagate is “fake news” after this latest report is either deluding themselves or deliberately lying — or perhaps both. The Russia scandal is very real, and it has been clear for some time now that Putin’s government meddled in the presidential election by hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, chair of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

What has long been unclear (and remains doubtful), however, is whether the Trump camp had any kind of involvement with this effort — notwithstanding feverish speculation from Democrats. We still don’t know whether the Trump campaign “colluded” with the Russian government (Veselnitskaya was not, after all, a “Russian government attorney”), the latest revelation about Donald Trump Jr. leaves no doubt that the Trump camp was capable of such a contemptible act.

The implications of the New York Times exposé are clear enough, but it wouldn’t be a Russiagate story without being followed by some hyperbolic allegations of treason. Many liberals seized on the report not only as proof that the Trump campaign acted unethically and maybe unlawfully, but that Trump Jr. had actually betrayed his country. "We are now beyond obstruction of justice," said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s former running mate. “This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason.” Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., meanwhile, tweeted: “If this isn't treasonous, I'm not sure what is.”

Of course, as just about every law expert has pointed out, there is no proof that Trump Jr. actually committed treason, and claiming that he did is going well beyond any available evidence. Although the president’s oldest son potentially violated campaign finance laws, there is still no evidence that he or his father or anyone else within the Trump camp are “traitors” who deliberately aided the Russians.

Indeed, if this incident has proven anything conclusively it is not that Trump and company are collaborators in a vast Russian conspiracy, but that Trump and company are some of the dumbest and most politically incompetent individuals ever to set foot in the White House. As Anthony Fisher observes in The Week: “Far from being cunning uber-villains of Machiavellian genius straight out of a James Bond film, [Trump insiders] are in fact clumsy buffoons, prone to taking meetings under shady pretenses and failing miserably at keeping their stories straight afterward.”

Former undercover KGB agent Jack Barsky had a similar take, noting that watching the Trump presidency “is like watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon with Daffy Duck in charge.” Trump’s advisers, he continued, are “fundamentally unable to tie their own shoelaces.”

On Wednesday, the top buffoon responded to the latest controversy surrounding his son by calling it a “political witch hunt,” and then suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin would actually have preferred Clinton over him as president. “If Hillary had won, our military would be decimated,” said Trump. “That’s why I say, why would he want me? Because from day one I wanted a strong military, he doesn’t want to see that.”

The reason why Putin wanted Trump to win, of course, is because he recognized that the billionaire was an incompetent clown who could be easily manipulated — and that he would likely destroy the United States’ global reputation and turn the country into a pariah state. So far, President Trump has not disappointed. According to a recent Pew survey that spanned 37 countries, America’s global image has plummeted over the past year, and a median of just 22 percent of respondents have “confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs,” compared to 64 percent in the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Trump received significantly lower ratings in every single country except for — surprise — Russia and Israel.

Last week the Australian journalist Chris Uhlmann described Trump at the G20 summit in Hamburg as “isolated and friendless,” noting that he has “managed to isolate his nation, to confuse and alienate his allies and to diminish America.” Our president, Uhlmann continued, has “pressed fast-forward on the decline of the United States as a global leader.”

This is all doubtless true: The Trump administration has done more to diminish America’s standing in the world over the past six months than Putin could have ever hoped for. But all this proves is that Trump is an ignorant and incompetent buffoon whose reactionary agenda is disastrous for America. And the latest revelations about Donald Trump Jr. only prove that he is as clueless, incompetent and ethically challenged as his father.

By Conor Lynch

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

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