Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: It was attempted collusion. Period.

It's pretty basic: The only reason to schedule or attend a meeting about getting secret campaign assistance from the Russian government is because you are willing, even eager, to accept secret campaign assistance from the Russian government.

A lot of Trump supporters may still attempt to deny or evade that obvious conclusion. They may claim, as some do, that having the meeting doesn't prove that the Trump campaign would have accepted secret campaign assistance from the Russian government. However, they rather quickly run into a major problem. When Donald Trump Jr., confronted with the offer of secret campaign assistance from the Russian government, responds in an email by saying "I love it," you can't credibly make that argument any longer.

As a Trump supporter, you might then attempt to compartmentalize the damage, to dismiss what the junior Trump did as the behavior of a kid who didn't know what he was doing.

That "kid" is 39 years old; he's the father of five and served a top role in the Trump campaign. In addition, Paul Manafort knew what he was doing. Jared Kushner, Trump's closest adviser, presumably knew what he was doing. They were in that meeting because they too were willing to accept secret campaign assistance from the Russian government.

A Trump supporter looking for yet another fallback position might then argue that sure, the top three officials in the Trump campaign were in that room hoping to get secret campaign assistance from the Russian government. But Trump himself was not there. According to the White House, Trump only learned about the meeting and the emails a few days ago.

First, I don't think that's true. The degree of professionalism and discipline needed to keep information of this sort from the candidate did not exist in the Trump campaign and does not exist to this day in the Trump White House. I have a hard time believing that Donald Jr. didn't go running to Daddy immediately on being told that the Russian government had dirt on Hillary Clinton that it wanted to share.

But let's leave that for Robert Mueller to figure out, as he undoubtedly will. Let's limit ourselves to what we know for a fact, and we don't yet know for a fact whether Trump was told in June 2016 about the offer of Russian assistance. We do know this: Today, Trump thinks the meeting was fine. Today, the president of the United States believes that it was perfectly acceptable, even standard, to try to get secret campaign assistance from the Russian government.

We know this because he has told us so, this week:

"I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research, or even research into your opponent. I've had many people -- I have only been in politics for two years, but I've had many people call up -- "Oh, gee, we have information on this factor or this person, or, frankly, Hillary." That's very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it's very standard where they have information and you take the information."

Of course it is not standard. Not when the source of the dangled information is the government of an American adversary, and when the information itself was probably culled through espionage against American targets. Top officials in every presidential campaign going back 20 years, Republican and Democratic, have been asked and have said to a person that they never would have considered taking such a meeting, not for a second.

So where are we? We have top campaign officials of the president of the United States actively seeking campaign assistance from the Russian government. We have the president himself endorsing that behavior. And we have this, a few weeks after that meeting at Trump Tower:

That's bad. By any standard, that's bad. Unable to frame a cogent defense or response to this clear evidence of attempted collusion, the instinct of the Trump crowd is to lie, deceive, invent and fabricate conspiracy theories to shift the blame. In this case, it doesn't matter that the son, son-in-law and campaign manager of the Trump campaign at the very least proved themselves willing to take assistance from the government of a U.S. adversary.

What matters is Loretta Lynch.

Seriously, the narrative now taking shape on the right goes like this:

The U.S. Justice Department, under President Obama, allowed that Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, into the country. Lynch, as attorney general, ran the Justice Department. Therefore Lynch herself  allowed Veselnitskaya into the country.

Therefore, as Rush Limbaugh puts it:

"The whole thing's a setup."

Earlier this week, President Trump fed the theory in his remarks in Paris.

"Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch," Trump said. "Now, maybe that's wrong. I just heard that a little while ago. But a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch."

No, she wasn't here because of Lynch. There is no evidence linking her to Lynch in any way. It is pure invention. Veselnitskaya was allowed into the country by the State Department because she was serving as an attorney for a Russian accused by the U.S. attorney in New York of money laundering. There was no legitimate reason to keep her out.

Yet this is the lead story, supposedly the most important story in the news cycle, dominating the website of FoxNews.com as of 10:50 a.m. on Friday:

Somehow, someway, this whole thing is the Obama administration's fault. The Trump campaign at the highest levels solicits the help of the Russian government, and once again, the black guy, the magic Negro, made them do it. Stripped of all reasonable, fact-based defenses and explanations, this is the kind of rabbit-hole malarkey that the Trump apologists are reduced to feeding their crowd, and this is the kind of rabbit-hole malarkey that the crowd will now gladly chew upon and regurgitate.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, of course, but what's new is how mainstream they have become on the right.¹ As we've seen, the president himself is publicly feeding and encouraging it. A major cable news operation has signed onto it. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tells Fox & Friends that he wants an investigation into how Veselnitskaya got into the country. Alex Jones at InfoWars declares that Veselnitskaya is a mole planted by George Soros, and the Bannonites at Breitbart are in full-throated baying. A host at Fox Business News tweets out her theory that Hillary, working with John McCain, arranged the meeting so that Veselnitskaya could get entry to Trump Tower to bug his offices....

It is so nonsensical, so obviously contrived and implausible, that only those desperate for a distraction from the truth can allow themselves to believe it.

¹Buzzfeed of all places has performed a heroic, detailed dissection of this nonsense.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.