Newsletter: Trump’s team can’t lie about Russia much longer

Donald Trump Jr. and President Trump are seen during the 2016 campaign after a Sept. 26 presidential debate in New York.
Donald Trump Jr. and President Trump are seen during the 2016 campaign after a Sept. 26 presidential debate in New York.
(Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, The Times’ letters editor, and it is Saturday, July 15, 2017. For those feeling nostalgic for a stable, relatively quiet presidency, here’s what was on then President Obama’s schedule one year ago today (scroll to July 15). Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

One of the more curious aspects of the latest revelations regarding the investigation of President Trump’s campaign and Russian government meddling in the 2016 election — that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met that June with a Russian lawyer who was said to have had dirt on Hillary Clinton obtained by the Kremlin — is that much of this explosive, potentially presidency-ending information came from inside the White House.

Why might that be? Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney and deputy attorney general, believes the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III has significantly restricted the legal room for members of the Trump administration to continue being less than forthright about their contacts with Russian officials and their associates. Litman wrote in a Times op-ed article this week:

Why has the truth emerged now? A careful parsing of the events of the last few days points to the importance of the federal criminal investigation overseen by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. His behind-the-scenes work already has changed the rules of the game for the White House and contributed to a more accurate public accounting.

The New York Times, which broke the story, reports that it was Kushner’s legal team that recently discovered the now-infamous email chain in which Trump Jr. was told that a senior Russian government official had documents that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” to which Trump Jr. quickly replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.”

And here is where Mueller’s investigation has rewritten the rule book for senior White House officials. To receive a security clearance, Kushner had to complete a form — the SF-86 — detailing, under penalty of perjury, every contact he had with foreign government officials in the last seven years....

Absent the special counsel investigation and the potential legal jeopardy for Kushner, the email chain very possibly would never have seen the light of day. Indeed, President Trump and Trump Jr. at first decided to provide a dishonest account of the June 2016 meeting, omitting the offer of dirt on the Clinton campaign. It was only after further reporting in the New York Times and finally its plan to publish the actual emails that Trump Jr. fessed up.

The threats represented by the Mueller investigation are having additional consequences within the White House, familiar to veterans of previous scandals. Multiple accounts suggest that the Trump Jr. emails have given rise to a circular firing squad in the West Wing that we are told features widespread suspicions of Kushner. These kinds of effects will only get worse as Mueller’s work advances.

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At long last, we have a smoking gun. There’s still plenty we don’t know, writes columnist Doyle McManus, but the Trump Jr. emails are irrefutable evidence that the president’s campaign eagerly sought Russia’s help. That, along with ample circumstantial evidence and statements, newly revealed to be lies, that no one in the campaign had any contact with the Russians, make it much more likely that if the Trump campaign did anything wrong, Mueller’s investigation will find out about it. L.A. Times

It should be clear to Trump now: This isn’t a witch hunt, much less the worst one in political history, as the president has claimed. The Times Editorial Board encourages Trump to “take a vow of silence on this subject and let the investigations take their course,” and as editorial writer Michael McGough notes, even the president’s own nominee to head the FBI declared in his Senate confirmation hearing that it would be improper for the White House to intervene in a Russia investigation. Firing ex-FBI Director James Comey might have relieved Trump of “great pressure,” McGough writes, but not for long.

Meet the new Democrats, just as boring as the old ones. Melissa Batchelor Warnke went to a “Resistance Summer” rally in Los Angeles put on by the Democratic National Committee, an event she says shows how ill-prepared party leaders are to do anything but oppose the president. Many in attendance wanted the party to articulate supportive positions on single-payer healthcare and immigration reform — but what the Democrats were there to offer was little more than Republican-bashing. L.A. Times

Jerry Brown has a complicated relationship with the left on cap and trade. “I am really tired of these people peddling their propaganda” — and Brown wasn’t talking about big polluters, some of whom are on board with the governor ahead of Monday’s vote in the state Legislature on renewing California’s cap-and-trade program. Environmental activists decry Brown’s plan as a giveaway to Big Oil, but the governor appears intent on showing the rest of the country that a state as blue as California can forge a political consensus on something as divisive in Washington as climate change. Pacific Standard

Hold your outrage over the big raises for L.A. school board members. Yes, a 174% increase for some members may seem obscene, but their jobs are incredibly more demanding than when their salaries were set years ago. “This is the biggest district in the country with an elected board,” The Times Editorial Board writes. “And its job stretches beyond the students to their families, the employers who will or won’t find the graduates worthy of hiring, and the larger regional economy that depends on having a well-educated workforce to attract good jobs to the area.” L.A. Times

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