Collusioney

  1. Collusioney
  2. Banning hurtful moral distinctions?
  3. Reluctant thanks

1

“[T]here now exists evidence that senior members of the Trump campaign tried unsuccessfully to facilitate Russian government efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton.” (David French)

I’m not going to wade far into the weeds on Russian election assistance to Donald Trump because it clearly could become an obsession. It has done so with Trump foes who are determined to bring him down, and I don’t care to be mistaken for a Trump supporter by obsessively pointing out their errors.

But this seems more than ephemeral if the health and safety of the nation are not ephemera.

What the meeting of Donald Trump Jr. et al with Natalia Veselnitskaya proves is that close Trump confidants were willing to receive dirt dished on Hillary Clinton from our former arch-enemy, now a merely hostile power.

If they are on record as saying “we would never have entertained help from Russia,” then this is a smoking gun. If they merely have said “we are unaware of Russia helping out,” then this incident is not a smoking gun because the offer of help was a ruse.

What this incident does not (yet) show is that Trump confidants were willing to reciprocate with anything at all, nor for that matter that they’d have said “Go to hell” if asked for a quid pro quo. This was framed as the opening gambit in a dangerous game, and nobody plays the long game quite like the Russians.

It could theoretically be illegal even short of any quid pro quo:

Could the meeting also have been against the law? Legal experts said that depends on whether the aid promised by Veselnitskaya could be counted as a “thing of value” for legal purposes and whether Trump Jr. could be said to have “solicited” it by agreeing to the meeting.

It is illegal, under U.S. law, for a campaign to solicit or accept any contributions from foreign nationals or foreign governments.

(Washington Post) Yeah, but then there’s this:

Yes, the left side of the Internet is lighting up with claims that receiving information is the same thing as receiving an unlawful foreign campaign contribution, but the argument (based on current facts) is frivolous. The law is designed to capture contributions of definable value, like money or other assets. What is the definable value of “information”? Defining speech as a reportable or even illegal “thing of value” would raise serious constitutional concerns.

(David French, emphasis added) UPDATE: Eugene Volokh echoes French in greater detail.

More from Washington Post on the sheer, amateurish folly of the meeting as it came down:

Even those who doubted that the meeting posed any legal problems called it unusual.

Gary Maloney, a longtime GOP opposition researcher, said he was surprised that Trump Jr. attended the meeting in person, along with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort.

Maloney said he would have expected a consultant or a researcher to go instead. That way, if the meeting caused political blowback, it would not be connected to the candidate’s family or top campaign officials.

“I do not fault Donald Jr. for wanting to win. He seeks more data, more leads — nothing wrong there,” Maloney wrote in an email. “But where was the campaign team? The manager’s job is to protect the candidate and family from blowback. I worked in Bush ’88 — would [campaign manager] Lee Atwater have allowed George W. at such a sitdown? Inconceivable. Would John Podesta have allowed Chelsea Clinton in this meeting? Impossible.”

(Washington Post)

I’ll accept these summaries from Kathleen Parker

If that’s not collusion, it seems at least “collusioney,” a newly minted term surely destined to erase all memory of Monday’s exhaustively used “nothing-burger.”

and David French

As of now, we should have zero confidence that we know all or even most material facts. We should have zero confidence that Trump’s frustration is entirely due to his feeling like an innocent man caught in the crosshairs of crazed conspiracy theorists. It now appears that his son, son-in-law, and campaign chair met with a lawyer who they were told was part of an official Russian government effort to impact the presidential election. The Russian investigation isn’t a witch hunt anymore, if it ever was. It’s a national necessity.

2

An interesting theory from a law professor who couldn’t even get a good classroom discussion going on Masterpiece Cakeshop because the students were incapable of imagining that Jack Phillips’ objection to creating a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding could be in good faith:

So, this year, I decided to change the hypothetical, to give the students a situation where the objector’s position might seem more plausible.

Suppose, I asked the students, an observant Jew has a florist shop. One day, a customer, who is also Jewish, comes to the shop to say she’s getting married and would like the florist to do the wedding. “That’s wonderful,” the florist says. “Where will you get married?” The customer replies that the wedding will be at a local nondenominational church, because her fiancé is Christian, and she, the customer, isn’t very observant. The florist thinks about it and then says, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t do your wedding. It’s nothing personal; I’m sure your fiancé is a fine person, as are you. It’s just that as an observant Jew I don’t approve of interfaith weddings. For our community to survive, we must avoid intermarriage and assimilation. Please understand. There are many other florists who can do your wedding. I’ll even suggest some. But I can’t, in good conscience, participate, myself.” What result?

In posing this hypothetical, I was not so interested in how the case would come out under current law. Rather, in good law-school fashion, I was trying to show the students that these are complicated questions and that they need to consider both sides. Much to my surprise, the students were uniformly unsympathetic to the florist. There should be no right to decline services in this situation, they told me.

Conservatives often assume that controversies like Masterpiece Cakeshop reflect changing sexual norms and an intolerance of resistance. That’s correct, in part; one definitely senses a “you-lost-get-over-it” sentiment on the other side. And yet, the students’ reaction to my hypothetical case suggests that something else is going on as well, that the dispute is not about sexuality as such. Rather, it’s about not allowing people to draw moral distinctions that exclude others and hurt their feelings, no matter what the justification.

(Mark Movesian)

The students’ incomprehension boggles my mind. When I was in law school, we learned of damnum absque injuria, loosely “wrong without remedy,” and one level deeper, social slights that just don’t rise to legal harm (e.g., dis-invitation to a party one was really looking forward to attending).  Are we too statist now to let a hurt feeling go untreated by a “greenback poultice”?

But I think Movesian has reached too hasty a conclusion. The vendors in Masterpiece Cakeshop case and his hypothetical have in common a judgment that servicing a wedding, the emblem of the customer’s romantic pairing, would violate the vendor’s religious conscience or make him express something he wishes not to express. If one could think of a moral distinction not involving a sort of implied adverse judgment on a customer’s romantic pairing, the outcome might be otherwise.

Movesian thinks that the SCOTUS outcome “will no doubt be a close decision.” I’m unsure. It seems to me, despite lower court hostility to claims like the custom baker’s, that this has “compelled expression” and “Hurley” written all over it, and could well be in Phillips’ favor unanimously.

On the other hand, if I’m right, SCOTUS should not have denied certiorari to Arlene’s Flowers unless there’s some intuition that flower arranging is decisively less creative and expressive than custom cake baking (there’s no “Flower Network” with a show called “Ace of Bouquets”).

3

I did not know this:

Many political observers sneer that they disdain [Sen. Ted] Cruz because he eventually and cynically endorsed Donald Trump, after notoriously making an honorable stand and refusing to do so at the Republican National Convention last July. Well, shoot. He seemed, at least, judiciously miserable about his decision to finally back Trump. And unlike most of the Republicans who thus sold their souls, he successfully convinced Trump to give him something in the deal. Cruz added ten names to Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court picks, and secured his promise to pick only from the list; Neil Gorsuch was one of the jurists Cruz proposed.

(Erica Grieder, Pity Ted Cruz, emphasis added) If that’s true, I owe Cruz a non-trivial debt of gratitude, which I now offer with judicious misery.

I hope President Mike Pence will use that same list.

* * * * *

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.