Roundtable – The Donald Junior Emails

The Roundtable is a conversation about the news among Torchlight’s writers and editors. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity, and some citations and links were added after the fact. The conversation happened July 16.

Tom Rich

Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussion of news and events. With us this week are Senior Managing Editor Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Junior Managing Editor David Schmitz, Politics Editor Christopher Dahlin, Trump supporter Sam Dieffenwierth, and myself, Editor-in-Chief Tom Rich. It’s been an eventful week in national news, with Donald Trump Junior releasing emails that reveal that he did, in fact, have contact with probably agents of the Russian government in order to get intelligence harmful to the Clinton campaign. First question for the group: is this actually the smoking gun that some people are calling it, or is it just another small piece in the case?

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz

Both. This is proof that the campaign wanted to and attempted to collude (and for my money, they did)… but as with everything Trump related, in two months there will have been yet more staggering revelations that will make this meeting look like peanuts.

 

David Schmitz

I’m calling it a large piece of an ever increasing size of case. Means, motive, action are all right here and Donald Sr is awfully close to this one. He was in the building at the time of the meeting and suddenly started talking about the contents of said meeting immediately after. So, the case is widening.

 

Christopher Dahlin

I guess the question has two parts: the first is that if this is the catalyst the begins prosecutions: probably not.  Mueller is not going to go forward until he is ready.  He wants his case more than airtight, he wants it utterly impenetrable.  So this is just another piece in that. A fairly significant piece, I think, but still just a piece. I think he’s going to wait until he can go after the president, if possible.

 

However, it’s also just a blatant and explicit example of what previously was just rumor, implication, and inference.  There is no getting around what this meeting meant, especially as it turns out that possibly the whole Duma was in attendance. Kushner’s increasingly changing story of meeting with Russians (and Sessions’ just utterly offensive blank pages) are going to give this thing even more legs.

 

Sam Dieffenwierth

I’d say it’s a small piece of a larger effort. The President might be called “Teflon Don” for his Reagan-like way of deflecting negative news stories and this latest revelation is no exception. It’s big, but I seriously doubt that it’s big -enough-.

 

Josh

Nothing’s big enough when the Republican party is determined to let him slide on anything. He could pull a Smiler on national television and they’d just mumble concern and sit on their hands.

 

(Josh is referencing a lewd act performed on an American flag in the graphic novel Transmetropolitan. The fairly not-safe-for-work origin can be found here. – Tom)

 

Chris

The thing about that is that he’s not actually doing anything.  He has the White House, but he isn’t accomplishing anything, and his basic purpose of sitting in that chair, tax cuts, is actually in jeopardy.  If those don’t happen, can’t happen, the Republicans are going to look a lot less kindly on him.  We have to remember that this stuff doesn’t actually move that fast. The fact that we are where we are after _only 6 months_ is basically lightspeed.  And it is clear that some Republicans are getting sick of him, even if they aren’t sick of the erosion of constitutional norms etc.

 

Josh

The cosmic irony is that what they should be doing is, like, HUAC 2.0.

 

Tom

Rather than beating their heads against ACA repeal/replace measures?

 

Chris

They are letting the DoJ to that HUAC stuff. That’s basically what the travel ban and the wall, etc. are.

 

Josh

I’m speaking from a moral duty standpoint, rather than a strategic one.

 

Josh

Literally enemies of the state have infiltrated the government. This is everything the Republican party has spent decades training for! And they’re not up for it. Hypocrites, cowards, and traitors, the lot of them.

 

Tom

The question I keep coming back to is whether or not the Trumps, junior and senior, are “enemies of the state” or just morons. I can envision a scenario where they take that meeting not out of malice toward the state or other treasonous impulses, but rather because they’re ignorant of norms and have no idea that reaching for that particular advantage isn’t acceptable in the arena they’ve entered. Are they stupid or evil? And does it make a difference?

 

Josh

Por que no los dos?

 

David

The campaign officials that they had around them sure as hell knew the difference and ought to have screamed it in their faces. As it is now, no one told them not to take the meeting and instead hurried on up to get in that meeting. There is no excuse or reasoning beyond “Yes we’d like to purchase your bottle of Vodka and can we get a weekly supply?”

 

Chris

Yes, even if they didn’t know what they were doing was illegal, the people around them should have.  That’s why you have a campaign manager.  Who was at the damn meeting, so there’s no excuse even if the Trumps were that heinously stupid

 

Josh

Also, they covered it up. That’s reason enough to suggest they knew what they were doing was wrong. It’s not like they were tweeting “Just had a meeting with the Russians and got some great oppo on Crooked Hillary, she’s done for! #MAGA.” They lied about it and then they lied about it and then they lied about it.

 

Chris

The coverup is worse than the crime, which is already pretty bad (edited)

 

Josh

It’s worth noting by the way that the only reason this meeting’s importance is somewhat limited in scope is that Trump, who lies constantly, says he didn’t know about it, and because Don Jr., who also lies constantly, says they didn’t get anything or give anything. This despite circumstantial evidence suggesting Trump did know about it (soon after this meeting takes place he’s promising a speech on Clinton’s “crimes”) and statements from meeting participants that the quo was discussed (the Magnitsky Act) and the quid (documents about DNC money) was brought to the meeting, left there and who knows where it went.

 

It’s entirely consistent with the facts that this meeting was where the deal was hatched and they’re still just lying about it.

 

David

I am amazed that they haven’t done the usual attorney request of “shut the fuck up about everything”. So, since they haven’t, I’m assuming there is something even bigger that they are preemptively attempting to deflect. It’s fascinating to be living right in the middle of such happenings.

 

Tom

It’s another standard practice being violated. You expect a politician to clam up at some point and start issuing “no comment” statements as fast as humanly possible. You don’t expect their kids to randomly release stuff.

 

Chris

I think it’s pretty clear that they don’t listen to lawyers.  I cannot imagine how exhausting it is to represent them, especially since payment is not guaranteed. I mean, it’s clear their lawyers are not good at their jobs, but let’s not blame them for the Trumps being so Trumpy.

 

Also, we haven’t even got into the Don Jr being completely separated from his father in order to keep the “blind trust” and so on and so forth. They aren’t supposed to be talking to each other at all!

 

Sam

This is going to be an unpopular opinion, but I’d have to chalk the meetings down to ignorance- specifically, ignorance that this sort of reaching-out wasn’t allowed. There already was a whole lot of shadiness about foreign intelligence during the election, from Hillary Clinton’s campaign hiring foreign ex-spy Christopher Steele (creator of the infamous “dossier” from January) to the Republican National Committee working with a private intelligence firm that included a mix of retired CIA and Russian intelligence officers. Ten bucks says Trump went “hey, why not go right to the best people? They’ll do it for free, I help them out after I’m elected, relations improve, it’s a win-win,” not knowing that while it’s perfectly legal to hire foreign spies after they retire it’s definitely illegal to hire ones actively on the job.

 

Everything went fine then Jr. messed up and blabbed about it.

 

Chris

Technically, Jeb! hired Steele first, and then Steele went on to be employed by the Hillary campaign.

 

Josh

Sam, if they didn’t know it was wrong, why did they keep it a secret? Days after this meeting Don Jr was on television saying “nope, we’ve never had any contact with any Russians”

 

Sam

If I had to guess probably because their lawyers told them it was wrong after the fact. Also, the news media has been shouting russians russians russians since the DNC leaks so they definitely didn’t want to admit to any contact, legal or otherwise. I agree that it’s blatantly illegal, but I’m surprised that it’s taken half a year’s worth of smoke to find an actual fire.

 

Chris

The problem with that is that Manafort was at the meeting.  They had enough people there that should have known things were not right that even if the Trumps were ignorant, someone should have told them soon enough that the meeting shouldn’t have taken place beforehand.

 

And I don’t think it’s taken six months for the right people to find the fire, just the civilian U.S.

 

Tom

Just about out of time, everyone. There seems to be some room for skepticism on whether they acted out of ignorance or malice, but not much skepticism that taking the meeting was a really bad idea. Any final thoughts before we sign off?

 

David

I remain dumbfounded that the Republican Party has suddenly gone soft on Russia. And for what? Just so a populist candidate that took over their party could sit at golf courses and not provide leadership to get their agenda passed? It all is such a waste with only downsides for as far as the eye can see.

 

Josh

Nobody could possibly be that ignorant. That email was like, “Would you like to commit treason? Y/N” At the very least it’s difficult for me to give the benefit of the doubt to these duplicitous, unpatriotic assholes. They knew what they were doing was wrong, they just didn’t care, because they thought there’d be no consequences. So far they’re correct.

 

Chris

I think this is just a leveraging of the automatic gainsay of Democrats (and vilification of Clintons in particular) that has been going on for the last 8 (or 20 or 30) years or so.  Eventually, the republicans will want to actually do something, they will want a leader. If that happens before Trump is out of office, then he is in trouble, because that’s the only thing keeping the republicans turning on him.  They are pretty clearly not intimidated by him, and they have zero respect for him either.  Rich may get you privileges, but there are a lot of rich guys for the Republicans, and Trump is not one that is good for them.

 

Sam

Two things- one, it’s going to be quite hard to get the American public on board with wrongdoing. “Outrage fatigue” exists. The media and the Democrats have cried wolf over Russia ties for half a year. Now there’s actual proof, actual plans, actual ties, but how are you going to convince Joe Public not to change the channel? Two, this should be a clear wake-up call to the Washington establishment to rid ourselves of foreign involvement in our elections, not only of countries we don’t like, such as Russia, but countries that we’re allied with, such as Britain and Israel. If we’re to make our elections as transparent and fair as possible we cannot rail against interference by one state only to turn a blind eye to interference by another.

 

Josh

The moral of “the boy who cried wolf” is that eventually a wolf showed up, so stop leaving children in charge.

 

Chris

I think there’s a difference between lobbying, especially by allies that presumably want us to succeed because our relationship is mutually beneficial while looking out for their own interests, and the interference of a hostile nation.

Also, the wolf has been there the whole time.  That’s what we’ve learned this week

 

Tom

And we’ll have to leave it there for this week. Thanks as always, everyone, for a lively conversation!

 

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