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Point of no return?
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 07 - 2017

Democratic members of Congress and the Senate are angrily responding to the release of bombshell emails by Donald Trump Jr on Twitter, saying that the actions revealed in the emails on a meeting he held with a Russian lawyer who promised to provide damaging information on his father's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in last year's elections were not only illegal, in all likelihood, but potentially treasonous.
The meeting, which took place in Trump Tower in New York City shortly after now US President Donald Trump won the Republican Party nomination, involved Donald Trump Jr, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, publicist Rob Goldstone, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and at least two other people.
The meeting has drawn widespread scrutiny since The New York Times reported on it earlier this month.
In the wake of the Times' reporting, Trump Jr posted a series of emails on Twitter between himself and Goldstone, a publicist for Emin Agalarov, a Russian-Azerbaijani pop star who has previously done business with the Trumps alongside his father, Aras Agalarov, a Russian real estate mogul with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the emails, Goldstone pointed to the Russian attorney as the source of potentially damaging information on Clinton as “part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump”.
Donald Trump Jr's attorney, Alan Futerfas, denied any wrongdoing, and stuck to the official claim made by Trump Jr that nothing related to his father's campaign was discussed during the meeting with the Russian lawyer. He said that in the first couple of minutes during the meeting, there were pleasantries exchanged and then the Russian lawyer discussed the information she allegedly had about Russia donating to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton before moving on to the topic of adoption of Russian children by American families.
However, the email thread released by Trump Jr make clear he was aware of, and willing to support, a Russian government effort to help his father's campaign. It suggests that Kushner and Manafort were also in the loop, and it raises serious questions of how Donald Trump himself could have kept professing to disbelieve claims that Russia was helping him.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who sits on the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been looking into Trump-Russia ties as well as the firing of former FBI director James Comey, released a statement saying: “These emails show there is no longer a question of whether this campaign sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert America's democracy.”
Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the Democratic Party, tweeted that Trump Jr's revelation was “stunning hypocrisy”, and included a tweet from MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin that showed Trump Jr during the Republican National Convention calling claims that the Russians were helping his father “disgusting”.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin took to Twitter to suggest that Trump Jr had violated federal law, which prohibits “a person to solicit, accept or receive a contribution or donation... from a foreign national”. The relevant part is “contribution”, which Durbin quotes as including anything “for the purposes of influencing any election for Federal office”.
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy placed emphasis on the Mueller investigation, saying, “we must learn exactly what happened” despite the “shifting denials, changed stories and cascading lies”.
President Trump, meanwhile, attacked the media for what he calls “fake news” about his son in coverage of the Russia case. “With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!” the president tweeted Sunday.
Nonetheless, it was his own son, Trump Jr, who made public the emails from June 2018 in which he enthusiastically welcomed the idea of getting damaging information about Clinton from the Russian lawyer.
Aside from that, the president tweeted his thanks to one of his campaign advisers, Michael Caputo, for “so powerfully” telling the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee that “there was no Russian collusion in our winning campaign”.
Caputo, former communications adviser during Trump's electoral campaign, testified on Friday as a witness in the investigation about suspected Russian interference in last November's elections, and denied there was any contact with the Kremlin.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Trump said he did not fault his son for meeting with the Russian lawyer. Asked if he knew that his son was meeting with lawyer Veselnitskaya in June last year, the US president said: “No, that I didn't know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this.”
Seated at his Oval Office desk, Trump said he did not fault his son for holding the meeting, writing it off as a decision made in the heat of a non-traditional campaign. “I think many people would have held that meeting,” Trump said.
“It was a 20-minute meeting, I guess, from what I'm hearing,” Trump said. “Many people, and many political pros, said everybody would do that.”
In the White House interview with Reuters, the president said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved in what US intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not.
Trump said he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes of his more than two-hour meeting with Putin last Friday in Germany on the election meddling subject.
While Trump right-wing supporters rushed to spread claims that it was actually the Democratic Party's campaign that sought help from the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington to get damaging information about the Republican candidate, several legal experts did not exclude the possibility that the president might be forced to resign.
Philip Bobbitt, a leading professor of law at Columbia University, wrote in the British daily The Evening Standard that whatever Trump's policy goals, “it has long been clear that creating a dynasty — having destroyed the two reigning political dynasties in the last campaign — is his greatest objective.”
“Resignation, as remote as it seems right now, might well be a choice the president would make to save his children from prison, and himself from future prosecution,” he added.
Professor Bobbitt is a nephew of former president Lyndon B Johnson and a well-respected constitutional theorist. He has acted as special adviser to every US president since his uncle, except Nixon, George W Bush and now Trump.
In the article, Bobbitt also suggests that if Trump were to be impeached rather than resigning of his own accord, this would happen not on the basis of the president receiving a bribe but of him having offered one.
“By determining that the head of the FBI, James Comey, wished to continue in his post, the president came perilously close to violating the constitution when he then stated that he would ‘think about it', and raised the subject of Comey terminating the Russia investigation.”
“Indeed, the offering of such a bribe formed one of the counts in Richard Nixon's impeachment when it was alleged he offered a judicial promotion to a judge for favourable treatment in court,” Bobbitt added.


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