With the “Russian scandal” continuing to roil the nation’s capital, Democrats and the media appear almost giddy with the prospect of inflicting permanent injury on the Trump presidency.
What set off the newest round of speculation about the Trump team’s Putin connection was the leak that Donald Trump, Jr., set up a meeting last June with a Russian lawyer after he had been informed that she had information proving Hillary Clinton had engaged in criminal conduct. Jared Kushner, Trump Sr.’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, then Trump Sr.’s campaign manager, were also in attendance and, as a result, are now in the cross-hairs of the Justice Department’s special counsel and various congressional committees.
But the Democrats and the media aren’t the only folks in high dudgeon. Charles Krauthammer and Andrew McCarthy, major stars in the conservative firmament, have joined in, accusing the Trump forces of having clearly “colluded” with Russian agents in this supposedly nefarious get-together, a word that the relentlessly anti-Trump Washington Post lovingly highlighted when posting their columns.
In my Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third Edition, the main definition says “collusion” is “a secret agreement for fraudulent or illegal purpose, conspiracy.” Similar definitions pop up in a host of major online dictionaries.
Yet Mr. Krauthammer and Mr. McCarthy admit there’s no evidence, none — at least so far — that any of the three engaged in fraud or illegal activity at the meeting or that the effort to gather opposition research — which was never produced — was a crime. So why then did these highly literate wordsmiths feel compelled to use a toxic term that so pleased President Trump’s enemies and instantly invokes evil or criminal conduct? Mr. McCarthy even vaguely hints that if it can be proved that the Trump campaign “covertly” acted with a foreign government “against U.S. interests” — how vague is that phrase? — impeachment might well be in order.
Based on the available evidence — though we never know what shoe is going to drop next — the meeting seemed neither fraudulent nor illegal nor even immoral.
Consider this: If you were a top adviser to a presidential campaign and someone close to President Putin promised to give you documents that showed the main opponent of your candidate had committed criminal conduct, wouldn’t you feel compelled to seek this information out? Even if that person had an unsavory reputation? Or had ties to an unfriendly foreign government? Wouldn’t you be derelict in your duty to spurn the chance to see the incriminating stuff that, if verified, could turn an election around?
Few condemned Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, for securing extremely damaging information contained in that now famous anti-Trump dossier based largely on Russian sources. Mr. McCain has no reason to like Mr. Trump: not only because of his rancid attack against the senator’s war record, but his multiple pro-Putin statements and Mr. Trump’s controversial belief that he has the moxie to carve out various deals with the Russian dictator.
Though Mr. Trump’s reading of the Russian oligarch may have merit, that’s a conceit many folks across the ideological spectrum find not only dubious but dangerous.
Thus Mr. McCain, fueled by his deep distrust of both Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, decided to seek out the nature of this material, not caring where it came from and even though current and ex-Russian intelligence officials and the FSB (formerly the KGB), provided some of the document’s most damning contents.
Mr. McCain also had reason to believe that much of the dossier was accurate. The material, reportedly paid for by an opposition research group linked to both Hillary backers and “Never Trumpers,” was assembled by Christopher Steele, a Russian expert who had long held key positions in MI6 (Britain’s CIA) and was head of the Russian desk from 2004-2009.
Moreover, as Vanity Fair tells us, Mr. McCain and David J. Kramer, who works for a McCain foreign policy institute, were briefed on the dossier by Sir Andrew Wood, the ex-British ambassador to Moscow, while the pair were attending the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.
As a result, Mr. Kramer flew to London, met up with Mr. Steele and returned to Washington, D.C., with Mr. Steele’s report, handing it to Mr. McCain. Mr. McCain, in turn, gave it to FBI director James Comey in December of last year. BuzzFeed then either posted Mr. Steele’s finished document online, or, as some believe, one of its drafts, for all the world to see.
The dossier, some 35 pages, contained dozens of highly inflammatory “findings” from current and ex-Russian intelligence officials alleging shady business dealings by both Mr. Trump and his aides and Mr. Trump’s purported scandalous sexual conduct. Furthermore, according to the dossier, a “former top intelligence official” said that the FSB “has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.”
Surely, this was worth scrutiny, even though the dossier is now viewed as discredited and Mr. Steele himself has walked back his findings, excoriating BuzzFeed for publishing what Mr. Steele concedes are unproven charges.
The president and his team can be sharply criticized for many things, but if John McCain acted in a patriotic manner by securing opposition research on Mr. Trump from Putin-friendly sources, why should Mr. Trump’s people be faulted for attempting to do the same thing when it came to Hillary?
• Allan Ryskind was a longtime editor and owner of Human Events. His latest book is “Hollywood Traitors.”