Political Animal

No, Trump Didn’t Admit His Son Told Him About the Trump Tower Meeting

There is a discussion on pages 185-188 of the Mueller Report on the factors that led the Office of Special Counsel to conclude that they should not prosecute anyone for setting up or attending the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

They begin by acknowledging that the meeting could be construed to violate 52U.S.C.§3012l(a)(l)(A), a federal statute that bans political contributions and donations by foreign nationals. However, a variety a factors make it a hard case to prove. One is that it’s difficult to assess the value of information, and there’s a threshold of value that must be met for an exchange to constitute a violation. Another is that the violation must be willful in the sense that people knew what they were doing was a crime. The Special Counsel’s office was unable to determine (using admissible evidence) that any of the participants were cognizant of the law when they took the meeting with the Russians.

There was plenty of evidence that they understood they may have committed a crime a year after the fact when news of the meeting was reported in the New York Times. But that implicates different statutes dealing with perjury and obstruction of justice.

In one sense, anyone who is familiar with the facts surrounding the Trump Tower meeting understands that it was inappropriate. The president certainly understood this, which is why he and Vladimir Putin sat down together in Munich and concocted a cover story about adoptions. I don’t think any fair-minded person believes that the participants have been exonerated in any moral sense. But we do have to accept that the Office of Special Counsel declined to bring any charges.

Having said that, many people still think it’s important to know if Trump was aware of the meeting prior to it taking place. They think it’s important to know the precise period in time when he became aware of the meeting because he has denied knowing about it until shortly before the story broke in the press. If you look at page 118 of the Mueller Report, you’ll see that Trump submitted a written answer under oath to Robert Mueller in which he repeated these denials. On page 429, you can read this answer for yourself.

For a long time there was speculation that some blocked numbers in Donald Trump Jr.’s call records might have been to or from his father, which would have strongly indicated that he had told his father in real time that he had set the meeting for June 9th. It turned out that the calls were with other people, and so there hasn’t been any strong evidence to date that Trump lied about his knowledge of the meeting either before or after the fact.

Michael Cohen told Mueller’s investigators that he believes Trump Jr. informed his father of the meeting in his presence, but he’s not certain. Rick Gates testified that Don Jr. talked openly about the meeting in a staff meeting, but Trump Sr. did not attend that staff meeting. Several people, including Cohen in sworn testimony and Steve Bannon, have stated that it’s unthinkable that Don Jr. would set up such a meeting without getting permission from his father ahead of time. None of this was enough to establish that the president lied to Mueller.

Now some people are saying that Trump inadvertently admitted that he knew about the meeting while speaking extemporaneously in the Rose Garden on Wednesday.

Here is what he said:

“You heard so much talk about phone calls made that my son made to me from this meeting…For a year I heard about phone calls…Of the three calls, that were so horrible, that he had a meeting and he called me, and then he had the meeting after and he made two more calls…”

To be clear, Trump is denying that any of these three calls were actually made, and the records at the relevant time would back up the claim that he Don Jr. did not call him at the time of maximum suspicion. Trump’s wording is jumbled so its hard to match what he said to a strict timeline, but he’s not saying that he was called from the meeting itself. He’s responding to what was alleged.

There were accusations that Donald Jr. called him before and after the meeting. A report Senator Feinstein put out last year highlighted a call Don Jr. had with a blocked number two hours after the meeting ended. We now know that call was not with his father.

If you want Trump held accountable for conspiring with the Russians, you won’t help the cause by spreading debunked disinformation. No one who knows both Trump and his namesake believes that the president told the truth to the Special Counsel, but Trump’s awkward statement in the Rose Garden is not proof of this.

Maybe the proof will emerge someday, but the fact that they went to such great lengths to deny the nature of this meeting shows that they understood they were in the wrong and guilty of something. Maybe the meeting itself was hard to charge as a crime. Maybe obstruction of justice was hard to prove. Maybe the president’s lies are difficult to establish beyond a reasonable doubt. Maybe the president cannot be charged with a crime so he cannot even be accused of a crime.

We all know what happened, though. We know that they eagerly accepted help from the Russians. We know that they tried to cover it up and called it a hoax. We don’t need to make unsupportable allegations when the plain facts are damning enough by themselves.

In India, Right-Wing Nationalism Continues Its Winning Streak

The polls were wrong. The exit polls were wrong. The analysts were wrong. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expected to win reelection, but not in a landslide. His Bharatiya Janta Party was expected to need coalition partners to form a government, not increase its majority.

But, as has so often been the case over the last half-decade, traditional signals underestimated right-wing support. British voters really did want to leave the European Union. Americans really did want a President Donald Trump—or enough of them in the right places, anyway. Benjamin Netanyahu overperformed his polling average in both 2015 and 2019.

And Indians wanted an emboldened Modi.

If there’s a theme, it’s that majoritarian nationalism is incredibly difficult to defeat. Trump and Brexiteers ran campaigns suggesting that immigrants posed an existential threat to their respective national identities. In the lead-up to one of his electoral victories, Netanyahu warned Israelis that Arab voters were “heading to the polling stations in droves.”

But nowhere is this trend more apparent than in India, where the Hindu-nationalist BJP returned to power despite high unemployment and a slowing economy. The party’s campaign routinely demonized immigrants from Muslim-majority Bangladesh, referring to them as “infiltrators” and “termites” who “enter here, throw bombs, and kill innocent citizens.” It promised to take one state’s controversial citizens register—designed to track down these immigrants and evict them from the country—to the neighboring state of West Bengal.

West Bengal is traditionally a left-leaning state. But the BJP’s message appears to have resonated. In the 2014 elections, when the BJP became the first party in thirty years to win an outright parliamentary majority nationwide, it only won two of West Bengal’s forty-two seats. This year, as votes continue to be counted, it is on track to win eighteen.

The party’s confrontational rhetoric isn’t limited to just one part of the country, or even just to India. Two months before Indians began voting, Modi ordered airstrikes against Pakistan, its Muslim-majority neighbor and geopolitical rival. The strikes came in the wake of a suicide attack that killed forty Indian paramilitary soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir. The prime minister routinely referenced Pakistan and the attacks in his messaging. “Can your first vote be dedicated to the valiant soldiers who carried out the airstrike in Pakistan?” Modi asked young Indians. “Can your first vote be dedicated to the brave martyrs of Pulwama?” (Pulwama is the site of the suicide attack).

War between the two states is unlikely. But increasing conflict within India is not. Religious hate crimes increased more than fivefold after Modi and the BJP first came to power five years ago. Analysts worry that Modi’s latest win could make matters worse.

“The marginalization from representative politics of minorities will lead to other forms of expression,” said Sunil Khilnani, the director of the India Institute at King’s College London. “It might be violence.”

That would be devastating for Indian democracy—and might only further strengthen the BJP. Modi won his first major election, to lead the state of Gujarat, after a series of deadly riots killed as many as 2,000 people, most of whom were Muslims. The party employed imagery from the pogrom during the campaign. Modi was subsequently banned from entering the United States.

For many Modi supporters, the emphasis on violence and division is entirely misplaced. His reelection is instead a vindication of the BJP’s economic program, which aimed to cut red tape and digitize India’s economy. “Over the span of his first term Modi tried to reach every section of society through a range of schemes and programs,” said Swadesh Singh, a political scientist at Delhi University.” The result, he added, was a pro-BJP coalition that cut through India’s myriad ethnic lines.

But critics say that for the BJP, intolerance is both a means and an ends. They worry that its win will further weaken the country’s democratic institutions, including its press and increasingly politicized Supreme Court.

“The BJP ran on a platform of hate and intolerance, and they won not in spite of, but because of that platform,” said Audrey Truschke, a professor of Indian history at Rutgers University. “Going forward, we should expect an acceleration of the BJP’s favorite tactics of intimidation, violence, and lies weaponized against their chief targets, including Indian religious minorities, patriotic dissenters, and journalists.”

Democrats Legislate, While Republicans Demonize, Disrupt, and Delay

Trump’s little temper tantrum at the White House yesterday was designed to give him the opportunity to say things like this.

In his twisted little mind, telling congress that he won’t work with them until they stop their investigations is a set-up to accuse them of doing nothing. Philip Bump took that one head on and documented that House Democrats can both legislate and investigate at the same time. I’d like to zero in on one example of how they are doing just that. It not only comes from the House, but from the committee that is at the center of the investigations.

On Wednesday, while the president was having his little temper tantrum, the House Judiciary Committee marked up two immigration-related bills that have been referred to as the “Dream and Promise Act.” Together, they would provide a pathway to citizenship for more than 1 million immigrants who were either protected under Obama’s DACA program or have qualified for temporary protected status.

While both bills were ultimately approved by the committee and now head to the floor for a vote, the process, which started at about 9:00 a.m., took eleven hours. That is because the Republicans on the committee did everything they could to disrupt and delay the process with one poison pill amendment after another. For example, Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH) introduced one about immigrants with felony DUI’s. But all felons were already barred from the provisions in the bill.

Contrary to Trump’s lies, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee stuck it out for eleven hours and got the job done—something we all know the president would never do. But at one point in the hearing, Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX) made a point about what all of the Republican amendments had in common.

What she made clear is that the poison pill amendments offered by Republicans (which were all rejected by the committee) were not simply designed to disrupt or delay the process. They had an additional goal in mind. All of them allowed Republican members to demonize immigrants by focusing on exclusions that cast them as criminals and gang members. As Escobar noted, “this is about the way that we see people.”

While Democrats demonstrated that they can legislate and investigate at the same time, Republicans demonized immigrants in an attempt to disrupt and delay the process of governing.

Trump’s Lawyers Lose Another One

The New York Times recently documented that between 1985 and 1994, Donald Trump’s businesses lost over $1 billion dollars. His reputation was in such tatters that banks refused to lend any more money to the so-called “king of debt.” The one exception was Deutsche Bank, which has loaned him more than $2 billion since 1998. It also happens to be the bank that has been accused of laundering Russian money and failed to report suspicious activity taking place in accounts belonging to both Trump and Kushner.

Those are some of the reasons why two House committees have subpoenaed Trump’s financial records at Deutsche Bank. The president and his children sued to stop the bank from turning their records over to the committee and on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled against their request for an injunction to stop the bank from complying.

The argument Trump’s lawyers made in this case is the same one they’ve used in all of their attempts to stonewall the investigations: that the subpoenas were “politically motivated and had no legitimate legislative purpose.” It didn’t fare well with Judge Ramos.

“The court concludes that the plaintiffs have not raised any serious questions,” Ramos said. He added that, “even if the questions were sufficiently serious, injunctive relief would be unwarranted.”…

The judge drew special attention to the question of timing during his ruling, saying that “any delay in the proceedings may result in irreparable harm to the Committees.”

He added that the law in the matter was “well-settled.” “Courts have long recognized a clear public interest in maximizing Congress’s power to investigate,” Ramos intoned.

I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect that a judge declaring that your arguments are not serious and that the law in the matter is “well-settled” would be akin to taking a sledge-hammer to your case. Judge Ramos went on to say that he was not providing injunctive relief because “he thought it was unlikely that Mr. Trump and his family would win in a trial.”

This ruling comes on the heels of a similar finding from Judge Amit Mehta about subpoenas to Trump’s accounting firm. Judge Ramos referred to that one during his remarks, calling it “thorough.”

Trump has already submitted an appeal in the case concerning his accounting firm and will likely do so on this latest ruling. But Margaret Taylor notes that “the legal reasoning in Mehta’s opinion is not surprising and breaks no new ground, so it is difficult to see the appeals court reversing the decision.”

At this point, Trump’s lawyers are zero for two in the courts on the argument that congressional subpoenas are invalid because they encroach on executive authority and don’t serve a legislative purpose. But it isn’t just the losses that are important. These judges have firmly stated that congress has the constitutional authority to investigate the president, that arguments against that authority aren’t serious, and that case law on these issues in well-settled. If those rulings continue to hold, Attorney General Barr’s extremist views on executive power will take a major blow.