Don Jr. “Smoking Gun” Emails New Test for Conservative Politicians: Choose Country Over Party Now?

Will conservative politicians’ hypocrisy on election integrity endure through the latest revelations that Donald Trump Jr. sought campaign help from a source he understood to be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”?

While the Trump administration ramps up its attacks on Americans’ freedom to vote, new evidence points to actual election law violations and a brazen openness to colluding with Russia—now from inside the Trump family.

In late June, the Pence-Kobach illegal voting fishing expedition (disguised as a “presidential advisory commission”) sent letters to the nation’s chief elections officials seeking reams of voter information—a request that has been largely mocked and rejected, most colorfully by Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who reacted by saying the commission “can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”

On the same day, the Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice sent letters to 44 states requesting information on their voter purging practices. As Demos’ Brenda Wright noted in this NPR piece, the combination suggests a drive to weaken the National Voter Registration Act (known as “Motor Voter”), one of the most important federal laws for engaging and protecting voters.

Conservatives who claim to be up in arms about possible illegal voting by non-citizens, of course, have shown no similar concern about the actual threat of a hostile authoritarian regime seeking to manipulate our elections.

After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey during the Bureau’s investigation of possible campaign collusion with Russia, attention turned to potential obstruction of justice. Trump and his associates insisted that there were no crimes or bad behavior to hide—no actual or attempted cooperation with Russia to sway the 2016 election.

As damaging revelations about undisclosed contacts with Russian nationals piled up, many wondered: if there’s nothing illegal or untoward going on, why didn’t the Trump administration simply lay out everything in the open and let the public decide? One possible explanation is that Trump saw the prospect of Russian help as undercutting his election victory—so he couldn’t bring himself to admit what the intelligence community knows with certainty: that the Russians did intervene on his behalf. He was even raising doubts about this on foreign soil as he traveled in Europe and met with Putin.

But this week’s revelations point to a more likely explanation—there’s actually plenty to hide.

Today’s blockbuster New York Times article reports on an email chain that makes perfectly clear that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer he thought had damaging information on Hillary Clinton—and who he understood to be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”  Don Jr.’s reaction when told about the prospect of dirt on Clinton from a non-U.S. source connected to a hostile authoritarian regime? “If it’s what you say, I love it...”

At a minimum, even seeking out this information from foreign sources is likely a violation of campaign finance laws meant to ensure we maintain control over our own elections—and the good government group Common Cause has filed a complaint making this case with the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice.

Beyond that, it looks like Don Jr. may be the “missing link,” providing the most concrete evidence yet of high-level attempts to collude with and actively benefit from Russian interference with our election. In fact, legal experts are calling the emails “smoking gun” evidence and “a shocking admission of a criminal conspiracy.”

And this all comes on top of the Wall Street Journal’s reporting that a well-connected GOP fundraiser was seeking missing Clinton State Department emails from potential Russian sources, while holding himself out as working with Michael Flynn—who was serving as a Trump campaign official at the time—and citing other campaign officials as being involved.

To recap: conservative Trump apologists continue their drive to keep Americans from the polls for political gain, all while evidence piles up of Russian interference and the Trump campaign’s attempt to benefit from it.

What does this all mean?

First, Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation absolutely must continue unimpeded, and with the resources and independence to get to the bottom of any possible collusion, campaign finance violations, or other malfeasance. Any attempts by Trump to fire Mueller or otherwise impede the investigation must not be tolerated.

Second, there’s a greater need than ever for credible, independent congressional investigations to provide a true public reckoning of what happened in 2016 and how we can prevent it in the future. That includes an independent commission that can rise above the divided partisan loyalties of Trump supporters in Congress.

Finally, the Trump administration should immediately shut down the Pence-Kobach commission and turn the commission’s entire budget over to Mueller’s team so our nation’s tax dollars are spent probing real challenges to the security of our democracy, not chasing phantom problems to justify a partisan voter suppression agenda.

At each stage in the Russia drama, one key question remains: when will conservative politicians choose country over party, and democracy over power? 

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