How could Donald Trump Jr. be this stupid?
That’s what countless people are wondering on Tuesday after Trump Jr. attempted to get ahead of a New York Times scoop by publishing his own potentially incriminating emails.
This objectively baffling tale has an almost infinite amount of backstory, but it basically boils down to this: Trump Jr. apparently attempted to get dirt on Hillary Clinton by meeting with a person identified in the emails as a “Russian government lawyer” who offered to provide “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia,” according to the emails.
Trump Jr. forwarded the emails to Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump‘s former campaign manager, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both of whom attended the meeting with the attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The emails between Trump Jr. and British publicist Rod Goldstone, which the president’s son tweeted on Tuesday, represent evidence of efforts to collude, at least through intermediaries, with the Russian government during the 2016 election—an election the U.S. intelligence community overwhelmingly concluded the Kremlin attempted to influence in Trump’s favor.
In other words, the emails Trump Jr. released add fire to the smoke of scandal engulfing President Trump and his team.
Some conservative voices have come to Trump Jr.’s defense, asserting that he did nothing wrong—or at least nothing more nefarious than what people supporting Clinton did. (This is in reference to a consultant for the Democratic National Committee reportedly attempting to get dirt on Manafort’s relationships in Russia from Ukrainian sources. The efforts were successful in helping hasten Manafort’s ouster. This remains an extremely valid point of criticism, but it negates nothing Trump Jr. did.)
Trump Jr. retweeted these responses to his release of the emails as evidence of his support:
The media is attacking @DonaldJTrumpJr because he is one of the most effective voices defending the President. They see him as a threat!
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) July 11, 2017
.@limbaugh – Don't you get it – It's okay for DEM'S to get oppo research from any source but not Republicans.
— Median Politics (@MedianPolitics) July 11, 2017
Liberal media in a frenzy because Donald Trump Jr released all his emails. Should've just deleted them. We know that's fine with them!
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) July 11, 2017
Trump, Jr. smart to release emails. Tabloid guy set him up w Russian lawyer who promised Hillary dirt. She didn't deliver. That's the story.
— Bill O'Reilly (@BillOReilly) July 11, 2017
Trump also defended his son, calling him a “high-quality person.” For his part, Trump Jr. said he released the emails “in order to be totally transparent.”
These defenses of Trump Jr. are, however, few and far between compared to the outpouring of disbelief and derision levied against him.
— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) July 11, 2017
I have worked on campaigns and as an election lawyer for decades; NEVER seen anything like this, &EVERY other campaign would have called FBI https://t.co/pS5WVH7PRL
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) July 11, 2017
BRO. Do you even lawyer? https://t.co/geW3O13Aeu
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) July 11, 2017
Wait. The email here shows the woman was described as a "Russian government attorney." How does this help the case? https://t.co/YaIwBTx2zG
— Kristen Soltis Anderson (@KSoltisAnderson) July 11, 2017
I….don't know what to…[searches for emoji that combines jaw-on-floor, laugh-crying, rage & feeling of being super high]…say… https://t.co/p0N6foL4ni
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) July 11, 2017
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) July 11, 2017
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) July 11, 2017
BUT HIS EMAILS https://t.co/GRg9M7CQNq
— Mx. Cori D (They/them/theirs) (@feeling_is_1st) July 11, 2017
Maybe if we wait a few more minutes, Don Jr. will tweet the pee tape?
— Randi Blue No Matter Fucking Who Singer (@rmayemsinger) July 11, 2017
"So, you're pitching this as a comedy, right? Adam Sandler as the son?"
"No, this is a serious political drama. But yes to Adam Sandler."
— Jeffrey Vagle (@jvagle) July 11, 2017
Don Jr., reading the replies… pic.twitter.com/Dn5gjGzXHT
— Robyn Urback (@RobynUrback) July 11, 2017
Jokes aside, Trump Jr.’s attempts to obtain opposition research on his father’s political opponent from a person identified as an agent of a foreign government may have serious legal ramifications—to say nothing of the political fallout.
Both Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya said she had no dirt on Clinton. However, the fact that this meeting was, presumably, unsuccessful from Trump Jr.’s apparent standpoint is irrelevant to the law in question.
As campaign finance law expert Rick Hasen wrote on Election Law Blog, “it is illegal for a person to solicit a contribution to a campaign from a foreign individual or entity,” which includes valuable opposition research.
“Hard to see how there is not a serious case here of solicitation,” Hasen continues. “Trump Jr. appears to have knowledge of the foreign source and is asking to see it.”
Beyond Trump Jr., the president and other members of his team are also part of an investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election and potential roles Trump’s team played in those efforts.
That probe remains ongoing—but it is likely the Trump Jr. emails will find a place in Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s folder.