|SAUL LOEB / AFP / GETTY IMAGES|
For something that doesn't even exist in the view of one primary protagonist and is a "witch hunt" in the eyes of the other, the Russia scandal is generating a tremendous amount of heat and the flicker of flames at the feet of President Trump's eldest son in what may become a conflagration.
As non-stories go, the scandal is a lulu.
It has resulted in a special prosecutor and five congressional investigations, dominated coverage of the Trump administration since practically the inauguration, resulted in an epidemic of high-level administration recusals, several Tweeting Hall of Fame entries from the man himself, an ever increasing number of leaks by disgruntled staffers from within the White House, provided steady work for a small army of criminal attorneys, and resulted in a timeline that now has over 230 separate entries.
The much anticipated showdown between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin during a side meeting at the G20 summit conference in Hamburg, Germany last Friday was, of course, not a showdown.§
Happily for us, we have competing versions of what transpired to choose from, and just about the only thing about the sitdown that is not at odds is that everyone who was in the room is a congenital liar.
This account is dramatically at odds with the tepid response Trump had given during a very public press conference only a few minutes earlier when he said "I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries. . . . Nobody really knows for sure." That is except the American intelligence community, who Trump managed to yet again diss during an earlier stop in Poland.
According to the version peddled by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accompanied Putin, Trump accepted Putin's denials of any interference and told the Russian president that some people in the U.S. were spreading "fake news" about the interference.
This account is consistent with Putin's previous comments on the interference, but more importantly, is part of a larger and thus far successful strategy to provoke suspicions among Americans about Trump's relationship with and intentions regarding Putin and Russia. Just because Moscow helped elect the guy doesn't mean it isn't going to try to undermine him.
Trump does not do irony, so it is pretty much a waste of time to note that he saved his choicest invective not for America's historic foe and its global mischief making but for the news media and CNN in particular during his F*ck Everybody Else tour of Europe in what was his boldest effort yet to squander what remans of American credibility. The news media is a pillar of American democracy, for all its faults, while in Russia and its satellites the media is rigidly controlled by Putin, on whose watch nearly 30 journalists have been assassinated.
Viewed in terms of whether Putin and Trump got what they wanted from their meeting, Putin prevailed. Did he have Trump for lunch, as some pundits declared? Maybe not, but he had a mighty tasty snack.
Another day, another previously undisclosed meeting between Team Trump and a close ally of Putin. And this one is a break-out humdinger.§
The meeting took place at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Trump Sr. clinched the Republican presidential nomination. It was arranged by eldest son Donald Trump Jr. with son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort in tow.
Their guest was Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer best known for her attacks on the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers, of which there are a slew in Putin's Russia. Sergei L. Magnitsky was a lawyer and auditor who died in mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing one of the biggest of the several corruption scandals during Putin's rule. Perhaps he slipped on a кусок мыла (bar of soap).
The law so outraged Putin that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of those extra white caucasian Russian orphans, and my guess is that one purpose of the meeting was to see if that unfortunate situation could be leveraged to Trump's advantage during the forthcoming presidential campaign. As in him promising to free up adoptions if he was elected.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with Team Trump meeting with Russians, although that seems to have happened an awful lot. In fact, dozens of times, most of them undisclosed until someone from the Liberal East Coast Media came sniffing around and it's noted a particular meeting was yet another example of the mass amnesia that has afflicted many Trump acolytes when they filed out their security clearance forms and just plum forgot about all their sitdowns with foreigners of the Russian persuasion.
This was the case with the Veselnitskaya meeting with Kushner, whose amnesia seems to run run especially deep. Trump Jr. is not required to fill out a security clearance form because he does not serve in his father's administration, but has repeatedly lied about having any meetings with Russians.
The Russians in these meetings are invariably Putin puppets. They never are opponents of his repressive regime. And, of course, they never reached out to Clinton on the adoption issue or any other, while the ensuing shitstorm from Trump and Republicans should she have met with Putin's pals would have been unrelenting.
But that's not the least of it, reported The New York Times on Sunday in a blockbuster that gives new meaning to the term "deeply-sourced story."
Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Veselnitskaya only after she promised to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The implications of this are simply ginormous.
Not only is Donald Jr. now in legal jeopardy, this is the first documented example of people in the campaign eagerly accepting Russian help, as well as the street running the other way. Instead of the Russians reaching out to Team Trump for info to help it better coordinate its election interference campaign, Team Trump reached out to the Russians for info Daddy could use in his vendetta against "Lock Her Up Hillary."
Anyhow, Trump surely put worried minds at ease on his return from Europe in tweeting that he was prepared to form an "impenetrable Cyber Security unit" with the very people who interfered in the election.§
Which, as many people quickly pointed out, is like George W. Bush forming an anti-terrorism squad with Osama bin Laden in 2002.