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Michel Euler / AP

A seasoned Republican operative told me that when you're working on a campaign and you get an email that says something like "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," the response is obvious

  • "I'd stop reading right there," the operative said. "I'd print it out and walk it over to the counsel's office."
  • That's why so many Republicans downtown and on Capitol Hill have tried to avert their gaze from "the Russia stuff" by relying on the Keystone Cops Scenario — that this was all incompetence and inexperience: These guys just didn't know what they were doing, and were acting the way they do in business.
  • But the Keystone Cops Scenario fell apart yesterday. Don Jr. had told Fox's Sean Hannity on Tuesday, regarding the Russia meeting at Trump Tower: "This is everything. This is everything."

But it wasn't. As AP and others reported yesterday: "A prominent Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer said he was at [the] meeting between a Russian lawyer and ... Trump's son, son-in-law and campaign chairman last year."

Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist, "said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort ... He said there were others in the room but he didn't know them."

Asked about the meeting on Air Force One on Wednesday night, Trump told reporters he "only heard about it two or three days ago." The N.Y. Times had broken the story the previous Saturday. That's four days.

Remember what may turn out to the be most important two paragraphs of the week, on the front page of Wednesday's Times:

"As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump's advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to The New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated how transparent to be in the statement ...
"Ultimately, the people said, the president signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for The Times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last."

Last night on CNN, Anderson Cooper asked one of President Trump's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, about "the ethical kind of moral argument, is it right to have had this meeting." Sekulow replied: "I think we're making a lot about something that generally is not very significant. Whether there was eight people there or nobody."

Sekulow, who'll be on all five Sunday shows, later made a point we'll probably hear a lot of:

"You know what word I want to go on? Here is what word I want to go on. What statute is being violated here? Because at the end of the day, I keep saying this: This is interesting, and I understand why you're covering it. But the fact is no legal violation for the meeting. The meeting itself is not a violation of the law."

Be smart: The Trumps will try to move the discussion to questions of narrow legality. But when you're running for President or running the country, that's not the only standard.

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Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
24 mins ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."

Justice Department drops insider trading inquiry against Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) walking through the Senate Subway in the U.S. Capitol in December 2020. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Department of Justice told Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Tuesday that it will not move forward with insider trading charges against him.

Why it matters: The decision, first reported by the New York Times, effectively ends the DOJ's investigation into the senator's stock sell-off that occurred after multiple lawmakers were briefed about the coronavirus' potential economic toll. Burr subsequently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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