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EDITORIAL: Trump-Russia allegations mount
There might not be proof yet of a fire, but the smoke is getting pretty darned thick.
In a series of stories this past week, The New York Times and other outlets reported that President Donald Trump’s eldest son met in June 2016 with a lawyer tied to the Russian government after being promised damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It gets worse: Before the meeting, the Times reported, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the alleged dirt was part of a Russian government effort to damage Clinton’s campaign and boost GOP candidate Trump.
At the very least, it appears, members of Team Trump were aware of the existence of Russian efforts to meddle in the campaign. What else they might be aware of is not yet clear, but the future of the current administration could well depend on the answer.
Trump Jr., 39, has not provided a credible explanation for the meeting, which he publicly acknowledged only after the first Times report over the weekend.
His initial response was that he attended the meeting but that the topic was a primarily about Russian adoption policy, which is closely related to sanctions, mentioning nothing about the campaign.
When further details were disclosed, he allowed that the promised campaign dirt was the impetus for the meeting, but he did not know who he would be meeting with.
Additional iterations are no doubt forthcoming.
Consider this: According to the Washington Post, the meeting “was arranged … at the request of Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose family has ties to the Kremlin and has conducted business with President Trump in the past.”
These actors are not shadowy Russian agents, but business partners. (Perhaps both.) The Agalarovs and the Trumps teamed up on the Trump-owned 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Moscow. They reportedly signed a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, but the project has been on hold since Trump launched his presidential campaign.
While there have been nascent efforts to downplay Trump Jr.’s participation in the meeting as political naivete — one unnamed Trump adviser characterized it to the Washington Post as “a rookie mistake” — the rookie wasn’t on the field by himself that day.
Trump son-in-law and trusted adviser Jared Kushner also was at the meeting, as was then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
And what of the man at the top of the ticket? White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said her boss didn’t learn of the meeting until this past week. Despite the fact that his son, son-in-law and campaign manager attended? And that it was held in Trump Tower? And that candidate Trump also was at Trump Tower that day?
If they say so.
That a president who claims to be the smartest guy in the room could have been unaware of the lengthening list of contacts between his campaign and Russian interests is beginning to stretch credulity to the breaking point.
Recall, these latest revelations come after reports of similar undisclosed meetings involving former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kushner and others.
That the Republican-led Congress has continued to largely sit on its hands while the campaign and, now, the administration have downplayed and dismissed allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election is egregious.
As we’ve argued before, securing the very foundation of democracy — free and fair elections — from enemy meddling should be an urgent and bipartisan priority.
Meanwhile, many Trump defenders continue to dismiss the growing seriousness of the ties between Russian interests and his campaign. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller, fortunately, is not likely to be as sanguine.
His office will determine whether, amid the increasing amount of smoke surrounding the White House, there is a smoking gun.