Part 3—Soap opera tackles the law: Did Donald Trump Junior break the law through his now-famous Trump Tower meeting?
Tis a conclusion devoutly to be wished! On Monday evening's Last Word TV show, excitable host Lawrence O'Donnell told us credulous liberal viewers what we most want to hear:
LAWRENCE (8/6/18): The legal implications of the president's tweet are gravely threatening to the president's son. [Quoting recent Trump tweet:] "This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics." But it's not done all the time in politics, and it's totally, totally illegal, if it is a meeting with foreign citizens trying to help the Trump campaign.The conduct in question wasn't simply illegal, Lawrence said. It was "totally, totally illegal."
From there, Lawrence proceeded to pretend that he knew what he was talking about:
LAWRENCE (continuing directly): Federal law makes it a crime for a foreign national to, quote, directly or indirectly help an American campaign with financial contributions or, quote, an other thing of value. Federal election law recognizes opposition research as, quote, a thing of value. Federal election law makes it a crime to, quote, solicit, accept or receive a thing of value to a campaign from foreign nationals.Etcetera, and so forth and so on. Do additional penalties obtain if the conduct in question is very, very illegal?
Lawrence, who isn't a legal expert, didn't presume to say.
Was Lawrence right in what he said? We can't tell you that. We can tell you that another non-expert gad sounded off over on CNN just two hours earlier.
In this case, the non-expert was Gloria Borger. She was speaking with Anderson Cooper, who has become a clowning, sardonic propagandist in these years of Trump:
COOPER (8/6/18): Gloria, I mean the fact the president is now admitting, in very clear terms, that this was all about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. How big a deal do you think that really is?Does Borger know what she's talking about? We know of no reason to assume that she does, but she spoke with total conviction.
BORGER: ...There is a legal issue here. If this dirt or so-called dirt on Hillary Clinton was exchanged, it's illegal from a foreign country.
Meanwhile, for whatever it's worth, Borger's proclamation differed from that offered by Lawrence:
Lawrence decried the high illegality of "getting information" from a foreign national. Using a pleasing term of choice, Borger said it's illegal to receive "dirt" from a foreign country.
Those are very different claims. But as a general matter, such differences are close enough for cable news work—and each non-expert spoke with great certainty about his or her pleasing view.
Cooper, meanwhile, was clowning badly, as he now does every night. In the passage posted above, you see him saying that Donald Trump Senior is "now admiting" that the infamous meeting "was all about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton."
Throughout the evening's discussion, Cooper treated this as an exciting change of position on the part of Trump Senior. The problem is, Cooper had already played tape of Trump Senior making the same "admission" in July 2017, more than a year ago:
COOPER: So, now, soliciting government intelligence from a hostile foreign power to get elected president isn't a crime [according to Trump], which keeping them honest is far from clear. But it's the whole framing of it as a hypothetical that's really interesting, because the president actually flirted with admitting this meeting was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton when the story first broke last year.Duh. These was Trump, in July 2017, "admitting" that the meeting was designed to get information about Hillary Clinton.
Listen to him on the 13th of July last year, standing next to the president of France...
TRUMP (videotape): I do think this. I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research, or even research into your opponent. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it's very standard where they have information and you take the information.
But so what? This is cable news. Cooper played last weekend's tweet as a flip on Trump Senior's part all through Monday's discussion. On cable news, the gullible viewer is asked to ignore such glaring contradictions.
Beyond that, note what Cooper said about the legality of the infamous meeting:
According to Cooper, the legal issue involves the question of soliciting information from a hostile foreign power. For the record, Cooper didn't say that such behavior actually is a crime. To his credit, he merely said it "isn't clear" that it isn't a crime.
So it goes on the teen drama shows which pose as "cable news." According to Lawrence, Gloria and Anderson, it either is, or it may be, a crime to receive or solicit information from a foreign national—or possibly from a foreign nation, or from a hostile foreign power.
Lawrence and Gloria said it is a crime to do such a thing; Anderson said it may be. Meanwhile, there's no obvious reason to assume that any of them know what they're talking about. Knowing what you're talking about stopped being part of our national discourse long ago, except for the Hard Pundit Law which holds that you must know prevailing scripts.
Judged by traditional norms, the boys and girls of cable news behaved rather badly this night. Judged by contemporary corporate norms, they were serving the corporate goal; they were feeding their loyal viewers the tribal porridge they like.
Can we talk? The cable stars to whom we've referred were players this night in an exciting new scripted teen drama, "Beverly Hills 30121." That's the number of the federal statute which they were clownishly, perhaps fraudulently, pretending to understand.
What does the statute in question actually say? What does it say about the legality of receiving information, dirt or so-called dirt on a political opponent from a hostile foreign power, or perhaps just from a foreign citizen?
Dies the statute say that such behavior is "very, very illegal?" Does it say that such behavior would be illegal at all? Just for the record, here's what happened when Brian Williams inquired about that provision of federal law on that very same brain-damaged cable news night. He was speaking with Joyce Vance, an actual legal analyst:
WILLIAMS (8/6/18): Let me ask you question about 52 U.S. Code 30121, which you, I have no doubt, have committed to memory years ago.Say what? Did Vance actually say those things? Right there on cable news?
VANCE: I've read it a time or two, yes.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I figured. "It shall be unlawful for a foreign national directly or indirectly to make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value"—we`ll come back to those words—"or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation in connection with a federal, state, or local election."
Joyce, my question to you...has this notion been litigated? Do we know that advice on your opponent from Russians could be construed in federal court as "a thing of value?"
VANCE: It's an interesting question. And under this statute, where there's been relatively little litigation, not a lot of a case law, certainly people will have different opinions.
Unlike Lawrence, Vance is presented by MSNBC as a legal expert. In response to a very sound question from Brian, she said the statute in question—U.S. Code 30121—has led to relatively little litigation. There isn't a lot of case law.
As a result, "people have different opinions" about the legal question involved in the Trump Tower meeting, she said. One hour earlier, on the same channel, Lawrence—loudly blustering, as he's paid to do—said something very, very different.
This past Monday evening, cable presented a new spin-off drama—Beverly Hills 30121. The original program was silly enough.
The dumbness of the exciting new spin-off threatens life all over the planet.
Night after night, our cable stars behave like upper-class gossiping high school kids. According to a range of zoologists, if you're swallowing what you see on these programs, there's a substantial chance that you're the "credulous ape!"
Tomorrow: Let's take a look at the text!