President Donald Trump took to Twitter Sunday to finally acknowledge the obvious about his son’s 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian in Trump Tower: that the intention was to gather dirt on his campaign opponent from America’s most powerful geopolitical foe. He added, ludicrously, that it is “totally legal and done all the time in politics.” It is emphatically neither.
With the president now openly admitting his campaign attempted to garner assistance from a foreign government — and implicitly admitting his previous lies to the country about this — Republicans like Missouri’s Sen. Roy Blunt and Senate candidate Josh Hawley can no longer get away with changing the subject and mumbling about the great economy. They and every other Republican who draws support from this increasingly rogue president’s loyal following must answer a simple question, yes or no: Is collusion with Russia acceptable?
To review: On June 9, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a group that included a Russian lawyer with close Kremlin ties. Trump Jr. initially claimed the meeting was about Russian adoptions. He later admitted this was false, and Trump’s attorney admitted the president himself dictated this lie. As emails from the meeting’s organizer confirmed, the meeting was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
That alone was confirmation aplenty of campaign collusion with a foreign government, but the president has now provided more. “Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”
To be clear: 52 U.S. Code 30121 makes it a federal crime for any American political campaign to accept or even ask for a “thing of value” — which would certainly include opposition research — from a foreign national. As a legal matter, Trump’s assertion that “it went nowhere” is irrelevant; consider the bank robber caught breaking into a vault that turns out to be empty.
Blunt is a ranking senator who maintained notorious silence in the face of Trump’s various outrages. Hawley continues to sing Trump’s praises, even after Trump’s shameful groveling before Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. Hawley let his campaign issue an alternate-universe statement that “the president should keep on being forceful with Russia.”
Now that the president himself has admitted his campaign’s attempted collusion with Russia, Blunt and other elected Republican leaders deserve to be pressed relentlessly until they answer: Is this acceptable? As for Hawley, if he won’t answer the question, that alone should be sufficient grounds for Missouri voters to resoundingly reject his U.S. Senate bid.