Legal eagles co-headline CNN's late show: You had to stay up late to see them. But we thought Toobin and Turley provided some needed perspective on CNN's late show last night.
Jake Tapper hosted an 11 PM special on the embattled network. That put him on the air opposite Brian Williams, who no longer mentions Al Gore's disturbing polo shirts or all the dead bodies which floated through his hotel room in New Orleans, but still manages to play the peacock concerning everything else.
Tapper provided a welcome alternative to Williams. When he threw to Toobin and Turley, his discussion with the legal eagles started off like this:
TAPPER (7/12/17): Let's dig deeper on these questions, legal and political. Jeffrey Toobin let me start with you.Toobin and others have said this before. Still, it was a welcome corrective to a night of fevered claims.
Has anything that has been revealed so far that show that anyone—Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, any of them—violated any law?
TOOBIN: Not clear, and this is an unfolding investigation. It is not a crime under federal law to collude. "Collusion" is a big word, but that is not a crime.
TAPPER: More of a political term than a legal term.
TOOBIN: Right, but it is important—a lot of people talk about collusion as if it's a crime and it's not.
Toobin is thoroughly anti-Trump on matters of politics and policy. On questions of legality, he continued with his cool calm talk, expertly saying this:
TOOBIN (continuing directly): The only possible crime I see coming out of this particular event involving Donald Jr. is possibly a campaign finance violation where it's unlawful to solicit anything of value from a foreign government and perhaps, depending on what happened in this meeting—and frankly, I don't necessarily credit Don Jr.'s description of this meeting since he is lies about so much already—whether he solicited some sort of aid from the government.We don't know if that is right. But he'd partially stopped the stampeding.
That is a long shot. But to answer your question simply, no, I don't think there is any crime that has been uncovered specifically regarding this meeting.
At this point, Tapper turned to Turley. Disdain for the mob only grew:
TAPPER (continuing directly): Jonathan Turley, you think that the media and some Democrats on Capitol Hill are a little breathless compared to the facts.Oof. Turley said the claim of treason, which had been bruited around all night, is "facially ridiculous," presumably at this point in time.
TURLEY: I think, instead of analysis, we're seeing rage. People are willing to take criminal codes and twist them to bag a Trump, and that is a dangerous game to play. People suggesting this might be treason, which is facially ridiculous.
Politically, Turley isn't a Trumpist. As a legal analyst, he said he thought pundits were twisting criminal codes so they could play "bag-a-Trump."
It looks that way to us too. Below, you see the way the CNN transcript continues, though we think there may be errors here:
TAPPER: I agree with that. And to be clear, Senator Tim Kane said possibly this could be treason.We think it was Toobin, not Tapper, who made those two remarks. But we can't find videotape of the segment, and so we can't check to be sure.
TURLEY: And that destroys his credibility and the credibility of his party.
TAPPER: Well, I think that is ridiculous.
(From watching the program last night, we think it was Toobin who made that last remark, and we think he meant that Turley's remark about the Democratic Party was ridiculous. Absent tape, though, we can't be sure. Key point: you can't assume that TV transcripts are accurate!)
Whatever! Turley finished up like this, according to the transcript:
TURLEY (continuing directly): To keep the definition of treason narrow because they don't want it to be used as a political tool, they don't want it to be used in this willy-nilly way.In that passage, Turley said there was no way the courts would treat the receipt of information as "something of value" under criminal codes. We're inclined to hope that he's right.
I disagree with Jeff. I don't see a viable federal election claim here, and Jeff is right about that. But no court has taken information and said that is effectively a substitute for contributions and if they did, it would present a huge threat to the First Amendment. It would encompass an enormous amount of political speech. It would allow the federal government to investigate a campaign just because they're receiving information from foreign sources like NGOs individuals. I don't think a court would sign off on that, but that would be a particularly dangerous interpretation.
In the cool of the evening, the boys were throwing a damper on a lot of overheated excitement. We thought they offered a welcome corrective to a lot of cable posturing, given the point at which the known facts currently stand.
"Cable news" has really gone wild in the wake of this latest event. That said, what else is new?