As the nation soaks in the news that President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr., apparently attempted to collude with the Russians in a bid to boost his father’s 2016 campaign, the implications for Michigan’s 2018 elections quickly became clear.
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette’s loyal alliance with the president could present major roadblocks in his widely anticipated bid to become the successor to Gov. Rick Snyder.
Emails made public today following damaging reports by the New York Times show that Donald Jr., through arrangements made through a clownish Russian intermediary, arranged a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer a year ago in which he was promised “sensitive,” damaging information about Hillary Clinton that would help his father win the 2016 election. The four-page email thread shows that Trump Jr. was delighted by the prospect.
In the short run, this may or may not be the smoking gun that demonstrates collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians but the political fallout, from Washington to state capitals across the nation, is immediately clear.
In a fiery, partisan attack issued this afternoon, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon said Schuette, as Michigan’s chief law enforcement officer, should have quickly issued a rebuke of Trump Jr’s behavior, which seems to indicate that the president’s son — a key campaign official — “colluded with a foreign adversary to undermine American democracy.”
“Continuing to stay silent and tacitly supporting this administration, which was quite possibly borne of treason, shows whose side Bill Schuette is on, and it’s not the people of Michigan, and it’s not the United States of America,” Dillon said.
Perhaps nearly as embarrassing, Schuette has issued no statement about the newest Trump-Russia revelations but he distributed a pre-planned press release, one hour after the controversy erupted, that offered consumers tips about hosting or shopping at a neighborhood garage sale.
In contrast to Schuette, his main GOP gubernatorial opponent, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, disavowed support last October for Trump’s candidacy following the infamous audio that revealed his assaultive “grab them by the p—y” reference to women he meets.
Calley’s 2016 retreat from Trump served as a detriment to his political ambitions among many Michigan Republican circles in recent months, but now it may serve as a shield to protect him from what may happen next. Certainly, no current or potential Democratic candidate for governor would hesitate in the least in hammering Schuette in 2018 over his Trump connection.
It’s important to point out that federal Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, armed with an array of top-notch prosecutors and FBI agents, probably knows far more about alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians than does the New York Times.
Trump supporters should be particularly dismayed that they bought into the idea that the Russia story was either a distraction or fake news or an outright hoax.
This morning, Trump Jr. reacted to the initial New York Times reports over the weekend linking him to a June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer by tweeting that it was just another phony act of “desperation” by the media to keep the Trump-Russia story alive.
Three hours later, after the Times revealed that it would be publishing the four full pages of emails between Trump Jr. and the Russian intermediary, Trump Jr. chose to release the emails on his own accord, claiming that he was acting in good faith to engage in public transparency.
To be fair, the Russian lawyer that met with Trump Jr., along with Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort and trusted Donald Trump adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner, may not have significant Kremlin ties, as some of the newest press reports suggest. But an energized Trump Jr. believed it to be so heading into that Trump Tower session in 2016, according to the emails.
Meanwhile, White House staff members seem to view that angle as a fig leaf they’re not willing to stand behind.
According to The Daily Beast, the email revelations earlier today immediately sent shockwaves through the White House.
“This is sum-of-all-fears stuff. It’s what we’ve all been dreading,” said one White House official who is now exploring the possibility of retaining an attorney, a step described as purely precautionary.
The Daily Beast also reported that, on Capitol Hill, Trump Jr. has long been viewed as an unworthy beneficiary of nepotism bestowed by the president on his son.
Since the campaign, a popular, behind-his-back nickname for Trump Jr. among political insiders has been “Fredo,” referring to Fredo Corleone, the insecure and weak failure of a son in The Godfather film series who ends up causing major damage to the family.
In another development, lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans — are vying to get the first crack questioning Trump Jr. about his meeting where he was promised compromising information on Hillary Clinton.
The Hill reports that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee are all battling to get Trump Jr. to appear before their panels — potentially setting up another jurisdiction fight amid competing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sidestepped weighing in on Trump Jr. during a leadership news conference earlier today, saying the Senate Intelligence Committee has “ball control.” The Kentucky Republican expressed confidence that a bipartisan approach by the committee’s GOP chair and Democratic ranking member would get to the bottom of the revelations about Trump Jr.
“What I have confidence in is Sen. (Richard) Burr and Sen. (Mark) Warner,” he said.
Photo: BBC screenshot