Via Mediaite, he goes too far in making his point but there’s truth to what he says. Point one: You don’t need Michael Cohen’s word (which is worth nothing) to believe that Trump knew about Don Jr’s meeting with the Russian lawyer when it happened. It’s absurd to think he wouldn’t have been informed that someone with ties to the Russian government was promising dirt on the Democratic nominee in the middle of the campaign. It’s not like the people who attended the meeting on the campaign’s behalf were no-name functionaries who never would have received an audience with Trump himself. It was Don Jr, Manafort, and Kushner. Not one of them mentioned it to Trump? Don Jr never brought it up beforehand, even in an “oh, by the way” way, in the course of dinner-table conversation with dad knowing how it might impress him to hear how hard Junior was working for victory? Preposterous. Of course he knew, as Wallace suggests.
Point two, the crux of the matter: The degree of malfeasance depends heavily on what sort of dirt on Clinton was sought and offered. Wallace:
“It seems to me the worst that you could say, assuming that Cohen is telling the truth now, is that Donald Trump lied back in 2017. But so what? It’s not admirable, you would hope he wouldn’t, but it is not breaking the law: lying to the media. He certainly wouldn’t be the first president, if he did, who had done so. And even the meeting itself – while it certainly doesn’t seem praise-worthy that American political candidates or their team would be meeting with a Russian lawyer to try to get dirt on Hillary Clinton that was being offered to them – that falls a long way from any hint of collusion between Trump and the Kremlin.”
Yeah, I … wouldn’t say it’s a “long way” from collusion if top-ranking members of the campaign were meeting with friends of the Kremlin to discuss ways to damage Clinton. That sounds like the same zip code as collusion to me, if not the same block. But Ross Douthat’s point is well taken:
If it was random dirt, like something on Clinton Foundation misbehavior, doesn’t seem that different. If it was emails that were hacked/stolen then you’re the accessory to a Watergate-style campaign theft, no?
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) July 27, 2018
Andy McCarthy made the same argument elsewhere. There’s a difference between collusion and criminal conspiracy. Both are sleazy but one is an order of magnitude more alarming than the other. Thought experiment: Imagine a Chinese official had contacted the Clinton campaign in 2016 and told them that Trump had bribed all manner of Chinese bureaucrats years ago in hopes of getting a Trump Tower built in Beijing. Palms greased, all over town. Should Team Hillary have investigated that and used it against Trump if it turned out to be true? You might argue that yes, of course she should have because it’s evidence of corruption and voters should have known that the Republican nominee had a propensity for that before investing him with immense executive power.
But that would be a form of collusion with the Chinese government, would it not? A Chinese official, possibly fearing that Trump would launch a trade war with Beijing if elected president (ahem), would be seeking to thwart Trump’s election for China’s own selfish nationalist reasons by assisting the Clinton campaign. It’d be sleazy for Hillary to let them do so. But if they had the goods on legitimately troubling behavior by Trump, wouldn’t American voters deserve to know?
It’d be more than sleazy, though, if the “dirt” offered by that Chinese official had been obtained by breaking American law. Thought experiment: Imagine if the official had contacted the Clinton campaign and offered them copies of Trump’s tax returns. “How will you get them?” Team Hillary might ask. “By hacking into his accountant’s computer,” the official might reply. That’s not just collusion anymore, that’s criminal conspiracy. And Team Hillary, by accepting those tax returns, would be complicit in it, condoning a crime against Americans for the purpose of obtaining useful oppo research. That’s what Wallace means to say, I think, when he claims that the Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr and the Russian “falls a long way from any hint of collusion.” Not so — not with respect to collusion. But a long way from criminal conspiracy? Yeah, that’s possible. It all depends on what Trump Sr and Jr thought they would be getting at the meeting. If the Russian lawyer led them to believe that they were getting material, like emails, that had been obtained illegally by hackers and Team Trump had no problem with that, that would show criminal intent. Big, big deal. If they thought they were getting standard oppo that had been obtained through normal channels, that’s sleazy. But not something Trump’s going to get impeached over.