Blow, Kristof, and Collins

In “Scions and Scoundrels” Mr. Blow says Donald Trump’s corruption is a family affair.  Mr. Kristof says “All Roads Now Lead to Kushner” and that the president’s son-in-law has lots of explaining to do.  Ms. Collins has created “A Donald, Jr. Cheat Sheet” for us, and has questions: Who is Worst Trump Child? Will the family stick together? Is Emin a good singer?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

What befalls a country riven by a dynasty of deception and disrepute? What comes of a country being forced by its puerile “president” to retreat from its world leadership, set to a soundtrack of world mockery? What to make of an enterprise of corruption that Trump calls a family when they abandon any semblance of propriety and all things we once found appropriate?

The America that I know and love is hanging by a thread, and Trump’s scandalous camarilla is playing with the shears.

The latest shoe to drop is that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort (campaign chairman at the time) met last summer in Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer because, according to emails released by Trump Jr., he was told that he would receive dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father.

Trump Jr.’s response: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

This is clear evidence of collusion and pushing disturbingly close to the possibility of other crimes including treason, although not quite there yet, from what is publicly known at this point.

This may well be the clearest link so far between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but it is far from the first act of misconduct. The entire Trump political era has been an extended exercise in misconduct.

Trump is president by a combination of the most despicable factors: a Russian cyberattack, voter suppression, racial anxiety and rampant sexism. People will struggle to explain it in other terms, and some will do so with dazzling language that apes the tone and tenor of intellectualism, but at its base an explanation that ignores those factors is a lie. It is a lie that covers a cyst. It is a lie that shields a sickness. It is a lie that excuses the inexcusable.

Donald Trump is president because a multiethnic, forward-thinking coalition twice elected a black man president and in so doing sent pulsing waves of fear down the spine of the traditional power structure in America. Barack Obama represented a fast-approaching future in which whiteness is not synonymous with power, in which power is more widely shared.

Therein lies an inherent insecurity, if you held a legacy claim to security simply by accident of birth and a systematic oppression of people who would compete with you for that security.

Donald Trump is president because American sexism, misogyny and patriarchy know no bounds. All politicians have flaws; Clinton had flaws. I could fill this column enumerating them. But as Bernie Sanders was fond of saying during the campaign, “On her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”

On Trump’s best day, he was worse than the other Republican candidates. And yet, he won the nomination, and that man — the worst of the worst — beat a woman who had more qualifications on the first page of her résumé than he could ever have achieved in his whole pathetic life.

And now that man and his spawn — born into nefariousness and groomed by nepotism — are waging an all-out war on the country he is supposed to lead.

Trump has attacked every traditional institution in this country, from the judiciary to the press. But possibly the most dangerous and destructive has been his assault on the truth itself.

After Trump Jr. hid the meeting with the Russian lawyer, then acknowledged it, then had a rolling list of lies about the purpose of it, then was forced to release emails about the meeting that proved not only him but the entire Trump camp to be liars, he gave an interview to the Trumps’ favorite state propaganda machine, Fox News. His father chimed in on Twitter:

“My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

Everything in that tweet is not only a lie, but it is in diametrical opposition to the truth. But that is Trump’s tactic: Don’t shade the truth with a little lie; destroy the truth with an enormous lie. Consider the truth and then say the exact opposite is true. It is so disconcerting that it must be entertained and investigated because it is so foreign to honest people.

Trump Jr. wasn’t “open, transparent and innocent.” He is devious, knavish and guilty as sin.

I say that we must learn to discard as dishonest everything emanating from this White House. If it’s not a lie (and it often is), it’s a diversion.

Yes, listen to his speeches and read his tweets. Being an informed, engaged citizen demands that you remain aware of what the country’s so-called leader is thinking and doing.

But then shunt it aside. It’s all garbage and a waste of mental bandwidth. You only have to remember this: These people are not to be trusted. Their greatest interest is in their own enrichment. They believe that they exist in a space above the law and outside the rules.

Run everything that you hear from the White House through this filter: The “presidency” is a blasphemy and Trump is not only a disgrace but also an assault on the culture and the country.

And take comfort in this eternal truth: For all things, there comes an end.

Not soon enough, not soon enough…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

For a year, the refrain from the Trump camp has been a defiant mix of “Lock her up,” “but the emails” and “fake news.”

Now it turns out that what was fake wasn’t the news but the Trump denials, that the truly scandalous emails were in the Trumps’ own servers and that the person who may have committed a felony is actually Donald J. Trump Jr.

The writer Stephen King put it this way: “The news is real. The president is fake.”

The question is where this goes next. I suggest two directions.

First, look beyond Donald Trump Jr. to Jared Kushner and to President Trump himself.

Second, explore how Trump Jr.’s attempt at collusion with Russians may relate to the bizarre effort by Kushner to set up a secret communication channel with the Kremlin.

To back up, just in case you’ve been stuck on a desert island, here’s what you missed this week. Donald J. Trump Jr. received an email in June 2016, eight days after his father clinched the Republican nomination for president, that said the Kremlin had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary. … This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

In 1960, the Kremlin made a similar offer to support the candidacy of John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon, but the Kennedy campaign rebuffed it. Likewise, when the Al Gore campaign in 2000 received confidential materials relating to the George W. Bush campaign, it called the F.B.I.

Trump Jr. didn’t call the F.B.I.; instead, he responded, “I love it.” He apparently arranged a phone call to discuss the material (we don’t know that the call happened or, if it did, its content), and then set up a meeting for him, Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to meet with a person described in the emails as a “Russian government attorney.”

In other words, informed of a secret Kremlin effort to use highly sensitive information about a former secretary of state (presumably obtained by espionage, for how else?) to manipulate an American election, Trump Jr. signaled, “We’re in!”

“This was an attempt at collusion,” noted Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. It may or may not have amounted to a felony, for soliciting a foreigner to contribute something “of value” in connection with an American election. The Predict-It betting website now lists gambling odds about whether Trump Jr. will be indicted.

The Trumps’ defense is that the meeting was a “nothingburger” with no follow-up. That would be more compelling if the Trumps hadn’t previously denied at least 20 timesthat such a meeting had ever taken place. Their credibility is in tatters.

Crucially, this is bigger than Donald Trump Jr.

The Trumps insist that the president himself was unaware of the Russian offer. Yet the day after Trump Jr. received the first email and presumably had his phone conversation about the supposedly incriminating material, his father promised to give “a major speech” in which “we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

That speech targeting Hillary Clinton didn’t take place. But on June 15, the first leak of stolen Democratic materials did.

Then there’s Kushner. Trump Jr. forwarded the emails to Kushner, whose response was to attend the meeting, although he apparently left within 10 minutes. Kushner later neglected to report the meeting and others with Russians on his SF-86 forms to receive national security clearance (intentional omission is a felony).

The meeting gave the Kremlin potential blackmail material against the Trumps, and thus possibly leverage over them.

In addition, McClatchy reports that investigators in Congress and the Justice Department are exploring whether the Trump campaign digital operation — supervised by Kushner — helped guide Russia’s remarkably sophisticated efforts to use internet bots to target voters with fake news attacking Hillary Clinton.

Then there was the extraordinary initiative by Kushner in the transition period to set up the secret communications channel. There’s no indication that the channel was actually established, and the assumption has been that the communications would have required visits to Russian consulates — which would be bizarre.

But Barton Gellman, a careful national security writer, has another theory. He notes that James Comey, the ousted F.B.I. director, in testimony to Congress referred to the risk that this channel could “capture all of your conversations.” Gellman suggests that this may mean that Kushner sought mobile Russian scrambling equipment to take to Trump Tower.

Look, this is a murky, complicated issue. But this much we know: Kushner attended a secret meeting whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin effort to interfere in the U.S. election, he then failed to report it, and finally he sought a secret channel to communicate with the Kremlin.

One next step is clear: Take away Jared Kushner’s security clearance immediately.

Not gonna happen.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Nobody can talk about anything but Donald Trump Jr. and his Kremlin connections. You probably have some questions. Fire away.

If Donald Jr. got convicted of a crime, do you think his father would pardon him?

When the latest story about adventures with the Russians first appeared, the president did seem uncharacteristically reserved. He announced, through a spokeswoman, that his son “is a high-quality person,” which sounded as though Junior was a washer-dryer on sale at the mall.

It made you wonder if Dad was trying to distance himself a bit. However, Trump finally took to Twitter and announced: “This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!” That sounded much more sympathetic, unless you want to note that the finale of most witch hunts is not executive clemency.

Who do you think is Worst Trump Child?

Junior has certainly rocketed into the lead. Although frankly, if the president is playing Godfather in this particular drama, all the grown sons are Fredo.

That includes son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was in on the meeting with that Russian attorney who was supposed to be bearing dirt on Hillary Clinton. Which Kushner neglected to mention on disclosure forms he filled out when he went to work at the White House. As senior adviser on Middle East peace, reorganizing government, combating drug abuse, China and Mexico.

Eric gets credit for keeping a low profile. Really, he hasn’t said anything very strange since he compared waterboarding to a fraternity hazing. Except for the time he said nepotism was “a beautiful thing.”

So is the family going to stick together?

The Trumps are acquiring different lawyers now, and cynics might presume that eventually somebody’s going to turn on somebody. If so, my money’s on Jared.

What about Mike Pence?

The vice president, a spokesman said crisply, “is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket.” If Trump originally sounded a bit cool, Pence was Antarctica, pre-global warming.

Who really set up the meeting between Junior and that Kremlin-connected lawyer — the pop singer from Russia or the British P.R. guy who keeps posting pictures of himself in funny hats?

We do like that P.R. guy, Rob Goldstone, who also announced on Facebook when he checked into Trump Tower for the secret meeting. But Emin Agalarov, the singer, seems to be the central figure. His father, Aras, is a billionaire oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. He met the Trumps when the Agalarovs paid almost $20 million to bring the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.

Emin is also the executive vice president of his dad’s business, allegedly in charge of the malls and restaurants. You can see how he and Junior would bond.

Is Emin a good singer?

His website says that his “rock star good looks” have made him “a household name in Russia.” It also brags that he was “the first person ever to persuade Donald Trump to appear in a music video.” That was during the Miss Universe pageant, which seems slated to become the most politically important entertainment event since Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

“EMIN was WOW!” Trump tweeted after the singer performed at the pageant. The woman who was Miss Australia told The Financial Times recently that he was terrible. (“Us girls all knew he had zero talent.”)

So somewhere in between those two things.

Junior certainly appears to have agreed to accept political help from a close connection of the Russian government. Is there any possible explanation that doesn’t involve collusion?

Well, the Trump family apparently had a deal with the Agalarov family to bring a Trump Tower to Moscow. It was put on hold when Donald ran for president. But it’s possible that Junior was trying to keep Emin happy because he was hoping to eventually get the plan back on track.

So you could certainly argue that the president’s son was only pretending he was working with a foreign power trying to manipulate the results of the American election. When his real motives were just making a profit off the presidency. Be fair.

What ever happened to the other Russian all the Trump people were talking to during the campaign — the jolly ambassador?

Ah, Sergey Kislyak. Great guy for a party. So much fun that national security adviser Michael Flynn couldn’t stop chatting him up. So easy to be with that Jeff Sessions didn’t even remember they’d met.

He’s going home. The Russians are reportedly replacing him with a guy who helped plan an invasion of Ukraine.

How are we supposed to feel about the way the Don Jr. crisis has brought the administration to a standstill?

If the question comes up at a party, feel free to choose one of the following responses:

A) Fine by me.

B) Is this going to require a discussion of that health care bill?

C) Damn, we’re never going to get an ambassador to Norway.

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