BREAKING! Russkie lawyer Veselnitskaya blows whistle on Cohen-in-Prague! Over the weekend, American pundits continued their lonely group battle concerning foreign dirt.
That said, what exactly are these freedom fighters actually trying to outlaw? We still don't think we've seen a single coherent discussion of this general topic. Nor have we seen any two pundits seem to define their lonely battle in the same way.
Against whom do these freedom fighters stand guard? We've seen different pundits define the enemy thusly:
Those against whom we stand guard:Those foreign entities aren't all the same—but, in truth, they're all foreign! Maybe Trump should build a bigger wall, a wall around the whole country!
Foreign persons, AKA foreigners
Against whom do we stand guard? No two pundits seem to explain it the same way. Nor is it entirely clear what we're standing guard against.
We've seen different accounts of what we're trying to avoid from foreign entities, including "help" and "information." Mainly, though, these intrepid, childish warriors keep saying they're on guard against "dirt."
Last Friday, we were struck by the way Jennifer Rodgers explained the guild's lonely stand. The former federal prosecutor—on so-called cable news, who isn't?—spoke with CNN's routinely unhelpful Don Lemon:
RODGERS (6/14/19): Don. I mean, it's clearly illegal to take any help at all from any foreigner, not just a foreign government but a foreign person, right? The founding fathers didn't want foreigners to interfere in our elections. Congress doesn't want that. Nobody wants that, except for the president.According to Rodgers, we're standing guard against foreigners, meaning foreign persons. It's illegal—no, it's clearly illegal—for a campaign to accept any "help" from any such person! The founding fathers didn't want that!
LEMON: And that includes our president.
RODGERS: It should include our president.
RODGERS: So you know, he knows it's illegal. He knows, if he looked at the Mueller Report, that Don Jr. came pretty close to being indicted for taking help, or trying to take help, from Russians for the election. So he knows that it's wrong.
In some ways, Rodgers is right, of course. It is clearly illegal for a campaign to accept a financial contribution from a foreign person. Everyone understands that.
It's also clearly illegal for a campaign to take an "in-kind contribution" from a foreign person:
A foreign person can't donate a fleet of jets to a White House campaign. A foreign person can't send a fleet of volunteer bookkeepers over here to do a campaign's bookkeeping for it.
A campaign can't take money, or its equivalent, from a foreign person. But what about information? Is it clearly illegal to take something like that from, let's say, a Norwegian?
As an aside, information seems to be the entity from which our celebrity press corps most reliably seems to recoil. Our press corps flees from information in much the way the fictional Dracula recoiled from the sight of the crucifix.
Our press corps runs on narrative and script, not on information! For today, though, let's imagine a counterfactual. It will involve the famous Russkie lawyer—Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Back in 2016, Veselnitskaya met in secret with Donald Trump Junior and a cast of thousands, including a British music promoter and three guys found on the street. She was bearing information so utterly pointless that the Mueller Report seems to say that it was maybe worth less than $2000.
(See the Mueller Report, Volume I, page 188.)
Now, let's imagine a different role for Veselnitskaya. (According to the Mueller Report, she "had previously worked for the Russian government and maintained a relationship with that government throughout this period of time," whatever we think that means.)
Let's suppose that Veselnitskaya had developed a revulsion for certain conduct by the Russian government of which she'd become aware.
Let's imagine that she had learned that Michael Cohen had journeyed to Prague to coordinate with Russkie plans to disseminate material stolen from Candidate Clinton and the DNC.
Let's suppose that Veselnitskaya had documentary proof of this (criminal) conduct by Cohen—conduct we're only imagining. Let's suppose she called the Clinton campaign and told them she wanted to transmit that information and give those documents to them.
Veselnitskaya was a foreigner, a foreign national and a foreign person! Are we saying that, in such a situation, the Clinton campaign should have refused to accept the information she wanted to provide?
Isn't this exactly the sort of information Christopher Steele, himself a foreign national, was trying to elicit at that very time? And by the way, Steele wasn't interviewing the Boise City Council in his quest for such information.
Presumably, Steele was trying to elicit information from various "foreign nationals." Nor is there any obvious reason why he shouldn't have done that!
If Veselnitskaya had flipped on (the imaginary) Cohen in the (imaginary) manner described, why on earth should the Clinton campaign have refused to be so informed? Is Rodgers saying that they should have screeched, "Eek, a mouse!" then telephoned Comey the God to tell him what had happened?
As of July 5, 2016, Comey the God had already thrown Candidate Clinton under the bus in a highly irregular manner. Meanwhile, he was withholding information about the FBI's ongoing probe of the Trump campaign.
If Veselnitskaya (or some suitably-placed Norwegian) had approached the Clinton campaign with the kind of information we have described, are we really saying that they should have passed it on to Comey the God, then said and done nothing further? Why on earth would any sane person come to any such conclusion? Yet there was Rodgers, the former prosecutor, offering such wisdom as this:
RODGERS (6/14/19): I mean, it's clearly illegal to take any help at all from any foreigner, not just a foreign government but a foreign person, right? The founding fathers didn't want foreigners to interfere in our elections. Congress doesn't want that. Nobody wants that, except for the president.Do you see why we say it? By some peculiar instinct, these people flee from information ahead of anything else!
Just for the record, it isn't clear that Mueller's team thought that any such conduct is clearly illegal. But on the fairly obvious merits, why is Rodgers' sweeping idea not insane? Why should a campaign refuse to accept accurate, highly relevant information just because it comes to them from a foreign person? Should they cover their ears and make lots of noise when such people start making accurate statements in their presence?
We leave you with one more counterfactual question. It will be easy to answer:
Rodgers seems like the nicest person on earth. Currently, she serves as a "CNN legal analyst." Having established those points, we offer our question:
If some foreign person had approached CNN with the type of information we've described, would CNN have turned it over to Comey the God, then kept quiet about what they had learned?
Of course they wouldn't have done that! Our big news orgs gamboled and played all summer long with the trivial stolen information they were getting from Julian Assange, an Australian foreign person. Why should a presidential candidate behave in a different way with respect to accurate information which is highly relevant?
One last pitiful question:
Would the offer of that accurate information have been an offer of "dirt?" Would the fact that it was "dirt" mean that good little boys and girls like us shouldn't ever touch it?
On cable, the children keep referring to "dirt" as if that naughty, naughty word settles all possible questions and ends all further discussion. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our species just isn't especially "rational"—or at least, so top anthropologists continue to tell us, shaking their heads as they do.