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Trump's real trouble
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 09 - 08 - 2018

US President Donald Trump's acknowledgement on Sunday that his son had met with the Russians in 2016 to get harmful information on his US presidential elections opponent Hillary Clinton renewed pressures over his alleged collusion with Moscow in violation of US election laws despite his claim that the action was “totally legal” and “done all the time in politics”.
The Republican Party president had previously said that the meeting attended by Donald Trump Jr and his son-in-law Jared Kushner at Trump Tower in New York had been about the adoption of Russian children by Americans. Trump's Twitter post on Sunday was his most direct statement yet on the real purpose of the meeting, though his son and others had conceded earlier that it was to gather damaging information on the Democratic Party candidate.
In a post on Twitter Trump also denied reports in the Washington Post and on CNN that he was concerned that his eldest son could be in legal trouble because of the meeting with the Russians, including a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties. However, he continued to insist that he had had no advance knowledge of the meeting and had not approved it.
“Fake news reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!” Trump wrote.
Political campaigns in the US routinely carry out research on their opponents, but not with representatives from a country viewed as an adversary by many Americans, including senior Republican Senate and House members. Russian officials were also under US sanctions at the time.
According to US election laws, it is illegal for a campaign to accept help from a foreign individual or government. The president and his son have maintained that the campaign did not ultimately receive any damaging materials about Clinton as a result of the meeting. But some legal experts contend that simply by sitting in the meeting Donald Trump Jr broke the law.
US special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller has been examining whether Trump campaign members coordinated with Russia to sway the White House race in his favour. One part of the inquiry has focused on a 9 June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Jr, other campaign aides, and a group of Russians.
Emails released by Donald Jr himself showed he had been keen on the meeting because his father's campaign was being offered potentially damaging information on Clinton. He said later that he had realised that the meeting was primarily aimed at lobbying against the 2012 Magnitsky Sanctions Law, which had led to Moscow's denying Americans the right to adopt Russian orphans.
President Trump has repeatedly denied that his campaign worked with Moscow, saying “no collusion!” Last week, however, he adopted his lawyers' tactics and insisted instead that “collusion is not a crime”.
While collusion is not a technical legal charge under US law, several US legal experts have said Mueller could bring conspiracy charges if he finds that any Trump campaign member worked with Russia to break US law. Working with a foreign national with the intention of influencing a US election could violate multiple laws, according to experts.
CNN reported last month that Michael Cohen, the president's long-time personal lawyer, was willing to tell Mueller that Trump had known about the Trump Tower meeting in advance. Cohen claimed he had recordings confirming such claims, leading to Trump's lashing out at his lawyer, saying recording dealings with clients was “unheard off.”
Trump's lawyers and the White House have given conflicting accounts about whether Trump was involved in crafting Donald Jr's response to a New York Times article last summer revealing the Trump Tower meeting and the adoptions rationale. Trump's lawyers acknowledged in a letter to Mueller's team in January 2018 that Trump had dictated the response, according to the Times.
Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow said on Sunday that his original erroneous denial of Trump's involvement had been a mistake based on “bad information”. However, Sekulow claimed in a television interview that it was not clear what laws the president's son and the other campaign officials at the Trump Tower meeting might have violated when they met with the Kremlin-connected lawyer.
“Well, the question is: how would it be illegal,” Sekulow asked. “What law, statute or rule or regulation's been violated? Nobody's pointed to one.”
Trump has stepped up his public attacks on the Mueller probe since the first trial to arise from it began last week in Alexandria, Virginia, involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The federal tax and bank fraud charges Manafort faces are not related to the Trump campaign, but Manafort's close relations with Russians and a Kremlin-backed Ukrainian politician are under scrutiny in the trial.
One of the president's personal lawyers said on Sunday that if Trump was subpoenaed by the special counsel, his lawyers would attempt to quash it in court. Any legal battle over whether the president can be compelled to testify could go all the way to the US Supreme Court, the lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said on ABC's This Week programme.
US intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential elections on Trump's behalf. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that his government was involved. American intelligence officials also say Russia is targeting the November Congressional elections in the US, which will determine whether the Republicans keep control of both chambers of Congress.
Meanwhile, CNN has reported that Trump's lawyers have urged him to stop tweeting about the Trump Tower meeting. The president was advised that his tweeting only provides oxygen for the topic, even if those around Trump do not believe there has been any truly new developments.
This is hardly the first time that Trump has reacted to a news story on Twitter and as a result helped to give that story more attention. There appears to be less concern among associates about other recent Trump tweets in which he has gone after special counsel Mueller's investigation, which, along with his legal team, he has long sought to discredit. The New York Times reported in July that Mueller had been reviewing Trump's tweets as part of his probe into whether the president obstructed justice.
However, a tweet Trump sent last week in which he appeared to ask US attorney general Jeff Sessions to stop the Mueller investigation was quickly downplayed by Trump's lawyers as the president's opinion and not an order. Asked recently about Mueller's reported review of Trump's tweets, Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, appeared to dismiss the idea. Giuliani said that “obstruction by tweet is not something that I think works well.”
Trump's tweet on Sunday was one in a series in which he renewed his attacks on Mueller, saying his inquiry was riddled with “lies and corruption.” It came as Trump's lawyers were continuing to try to come to terms on a presidential interview with the special counsel. While his lawyers, who believe that an interview would be a trap leading to allegations of perjury, have argued against granting one, Trump wants to answer questions and has pushed his lawyers in recent days to continue negotiating an interview, the Times reported on Tuesday.
Mueller's investigators have told Trump's lawyers that they want to ask the president what he knew about the Trump Tower meeting at the time. Trump believes that by answering the investigators' questions he can explain to Mueller that he and his campaign did nothing wrong and bring an end to the investigation.

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