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Russia, Trump and the moral vacuum of the modern GOP.

Donald Trump and son, Donald Trump Jr.

The Trump-Russia connection has gone nuclear over the past few weeks with his son, Donald Trump Jr., releasing a June 2016 e-mail chain between himself and publicist Rob Goldstone. The e-mails concerned securing compromising information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government to destabilize her campaign. Goldstone presented the young Trump with a Russian government lawyer’s (later revealed to be Natalia Veselnitskaya) offer “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Don Jr. eagerly responded, “if it’s what you say, I love it.”

Keep in mind, Donald Trump Jr. said this in March 2017: “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did. But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly, none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

When Goldstone, a few days later, asked Trump Jr. if he could schedule a meeting between the Russian attorney and Don Jr. (apparently at the behest of Emin Agarolov, Russian pop star, real estate developer and acquaintance of Junior’s), and what time would work best, Trump Jr. responded with a time, thanked Goldstone and noted his appreciation for the publicist “helping set it [the meeting] up.”

“Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did. But none that were set up.”

“Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.”

Oops.

It’s one thing to outright lie about taking a meeting with agents of a foreign power to gain a political advantage. It’s another level of stupidity and incompetence when you use the EXACT SAME verbiage to defend yourself and perpetuate that lie as you did to schedule the aforementioned meeting in the first place.

When the New York Times first reported the meeting (before Donald Jr. divulged his e-mails), Trump Jr. issued a statement asserting it was nothing but an introductory get-together to discuss the Russian government’s termination of a program that helped American parents adopt Russian children. The next day (still prior to his release of the e-mail chain), Junior shifted gears again, claiming the meeting was set up on the pretext of receiving “information helpful to the campaign.”

Yet, in March, Don Jr. had no scheduled meetings with the Russians, “certainly none that [he] was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

Lie after lie after lie—and the falsehoods keep on coming.

Even the number of people at the meeting has changed constantly since this story first broke. First, there were only four people in the meeting–Trump Jr., Veselnitskaya, advisor Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort (Junior forwarded the e-mail thread to both Kushner and Manafort). Then there were six, as Rob Goldstone and Soviet counterintelligence operative turned lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin (who, according to the New York Times “acquired a reputation for obtaining email records, information from spyware and other data that appeared to be drawn from Russian hackers.” But I digress.) were revealed to have been present. Then seven, as Akhmetshin identified Anatoli Samachornov as the previously unnamed translator for Veselnitskaya. As of now, there were eight, the last person an anonymous representative for the Agarolov family.

Kushner has already tried to distance himself from the meeting, maintaining he heard only information pertaining to adoption policies, nothing about Clinton or her campaign and was in and out of the room in ten minutes. Remember though, Don Jr. forwarded Kushner and Manafort the e-mail chain between himself and Goldstone, which had the bombshell subject line of “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

According to an anonymous source close to the situation, “Kushner claims that he did not scan to the bottom of the email thread forwarded by his brother-in-law, therefore completely missing the part about ‘Russia and its government.’” The sheer vacuousness of this defense is superseded only by Manafort’s excuseaccording to another source, one close to the campaign’s manager, he also couldn’t be bothered to read to the end of the thread.

Pardon my French, but what the fuck? How could Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a Harvard-educated real estate developer, and Manafort, a lifelong political animal who has served in a consultative role to multiple presidential campaigns, BOTH not read a potentially campaign-changing e-mail sent to them by another member of Trump’s inner circle? At best, they’re telling the truth and are two incompetent morons incapable of reading a simple chain of e-mails. (Seriously, how do you not even skim over the entirety of correspondence with such a dramatic subject line?) Worst-case scenario, they’re lying–and are still incompetent morons for engineering the exact same defense as each other.

“The Daily Beast” reached out to people close to the two men, and “none could provide a coherent explanation…for why the subject line ‘Russia – Clinton – private and confidential’ did not set off alarm bells for either man.” One of these sources “literally just shrugged, before abruptly changing the subject.” The conspicuous lack of a “coherent explanation” for Kushner and Manafort’s (feigned) ignorance clearly indicates the worst-case scenario is also the most likely one.

Though tidbits of revelatory information keep finding their way into the hands of the press and the public, it feels as if the proverbial other shoe is yet to drop. Nothing has been proven yet, but a report from the Associated Press, in which they interviewed Akhmetshin, seems to refute Junior’s claim that Veselnitskaya  had “no meaningful information” regarding the Clinton campaign. Here’s the full quote from the AP:

“Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats, Akhmetshin said. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he said.

‘This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,’ Akhmetshin recalled her saying.

Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.

“They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he said.

Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.”

So, it seems another Trump Jr. assertion is bogus. Though this doesn’t fundamentally change the situation (collusion is still collusion, no matter if information was provided and whether it was useful), it is just one more falsehood to add to an ever-growing list of lies. And the discrepancies don’t stop thereTrump has also been seen with two key figures in the scandal, Goldstone and Agarolov, on two separate occasions in footage captured by CNN and NBC. The CNN recording shows Trump at a 2013 dinner in Las Vegas talking animatedly to both men, as well as Agarolov’s billionaire father, Aras.

The NBC video reveals Trump as an attendee of the elder Agarolov’s birthday party, held later that same year. Both Junior and his father have gone on the record saying the meeting was just innocent opposition research (according to the President, “That’s politics!”), so why would Don Jr. never attempt to loop his father into a discussion started by two people the then-candidate knew well?  A member of Trump’s legal team, attorney Jay Sekulow, further muddied the waters on the issue when asked by Jon Karl on ABC’s “This Week” if the Trump team should’ve notified the FBI about the contents of Goldstone’s original e-mail. Sekulow offered an odd and unexpected reply to the simple query, wondering “why the Secret Serviceif this was nefarious, why’d the Secret Service allow these people in?”

Hours later, the Secret Service responded by releasing a statement clarifying that “Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time.” Only Trump Sr. had Secret Service protection during the meeting and the days leading up to it. It’s also worth noting that Trump was in the same building when this meeting occurredone of the few things Trump and his team haven’t disputed. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that.

Of course, there is no solid proof that Trump knew about this meeting before he claimed to, but the coincidences continue to pile up. GOP operatives close to the White House have prepared a response, but the optics of that strategy won’t play well either–they plan to try and discredit journalists reporting on the meeting by researching “the reporters’ previous work, in some cases going back years, and to exploit any mistakes or perceived biases. They intend to demand corrections, trumpet errors on social media and feed them to conservative outlets, such as Fox News.” (As if the endless cries of “FAKE NEWS!” weren’t bad enough already). The whole operation, as John Ziegler of Mediaite puts it, “smack[s] of pure desperation and guilt.”

But the real guilty party here isn’t Team Trumpafter all, he’s just being himself. There’s a wealth of evidence, including the Trump University lawsuits, allegedly not paying employees and contractors, trumpeting “MAGA!” while manufacturing many of his products overseas, “draining the swamp” by appointing billionaires and industry executives to lead government agencies, proving that “Don the Con” is a more than apt nickname for the President. That’s why this Russian collusion (and it is collusion, make no mistake), while shocking, treasonous, and despicable, fits right into Trump’s remarkably infantile worldview of “Me first.” But you can’t fault a child for burning down the house with a box of matches. You blame the parents who bought the matchbox, gave it to their thin-skinned orange son, watched him burn down the house, and refuse to discipline him after the fact. Who are the oh-so-prescient progenitors in this carefully constructed metaphor?

Why, they’re the GOP, of course.

While Democrats have been swift in condemning the Trump Jr.-Rob Goldstone e-mail chain and demanding further investigation into Trump (because of that little thing called democracy), there has been nary a harsh word from the other side of the aisle. Prominent congressional Republicans have either flat-out denied the collusion or dodged questions on the matter. Yes, the self-proclaimed “Party of Reagan” the man Republicans idolize at every turn, see as the hero who crushed the villainous communism of the USSR and tore down the Berlin Wall with his bare, All-American hands thinks collusion between the President and Russia is a “nothingburger.”

What a fucking joke. Ronald must be rolling over in his grave.

However, I can’t say I’m surprised. Anyone who’s followed the GOP’s agenda over the past few years knows that hypocrisy is the core ideological tenet of modern Republicanism. The GOP is “pro-life,” until they want to pass a healthcare bill that could cause twenty-two million Americans to lose insurance and over two hundred thousand American deaths by 2026. They’re against big government, but not when it comes to increasing the defense budget or implementing governmental control over a woman’s body by repeatedly attacking abortion. They portray themselves as the party of Middle America, yet their tax cuts to the rich and economic policy of rebranded trickledown economics hurt those Americans the most. The list goes on and on.

That’s why I have little faith the Republican-controlled Congress will take any action against Trump, even if Special Counsel Robert Mueller finds an armory stocked to the brim with “smoking guns.” Even the GOP’s most vocal critics of Trump have quieted down, like Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who remained one of the lone GOP holdouts against Trump during the election. As other Republicans reluctantly united around Trump, Sasse refused to back the party’s nominee, advocating for a third-party alternative to both Trump and Clinton. On a recent high-profile visit to Iowa, Sasse didn’t even mention the President. Why? According to a senior Republican familiar with the Nebraska senator, donors told him “to knock it off.”

Way to stick to your guns, Benji. I’m glad to know campaign donations trump whatever semblance of a moral compass you might have.

Sasse is merely among the latest in a long line of Republicans to nonchalantly trade following their conscience for the sake of toeing the party line.  The Grand Old Party has become a Grand Old Sham, disregarding any pretense of integrity in favor of passing their partisan agenda. See, the congressional Republican leadership secretly loves Trump, not for any of his ideas, but for the simple fact that he is an extremely loud distraction.

While Trump fires off unhinged tweets at Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, attacks the “fake news” or merely says something stupid, the media swarms to the President, ignoring the GOP and allowing them to craft their legislation in secrecy. (They also know the President will sign anything they put in front of him to appease his far-right base.) If Trump is gone, so too go the diversions he so often creates. Republicans hold a tactical advantage with Trump in the White House, so they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep him there.

I fervently hope I am wrong about this situation. The small contingent of Republican senators withdrawing support from the Senate healthcare bill (effectively killing it) provides a faint glimmer of optimism for the future, but not much. That the majority of GOP senators would still vote for it is far more significant (and frightening). Unless there is a radical, unforeseen shift in party values (fat chance of that), the Republicans will continue to preserve the new status quo in the Age of Trump. The President will keep ranting in 140 characters or less, Kellyanne Conway will still hold up her flashcards on Fox News, and the GOP will watch the house burn down around them with a smile on their face, telling everyone that everything is just fine.

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