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The Globe and Mail

Credibility of Trump’s White House takes crippling hit

Donald Trump Jr. claims that nothing came of his meeting with a Russian lawyer last June, a meeting that he attended in the hopes of getting damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Little more than a month after that meeting, WikiLeaks published a huge batch of e-mails that had been hacked from the Democratic National Committee. American intelligence agencies concluded that it was highly likely the Russians provided the documents to WikiLeaks.

Were officials on the Trump team aware the e-mail dump was coming? Did they assist the Russians in any way in this operation or in any other activities as part of the Kremlin's campaign of subterfuge to discredit the Clinton campaign and bring Donald Trump to power?

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What the meeting between Natalia Veselnitskaya and Trump senior officials – son-in-law Jared Kushner and then campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended – demonstrated is that there was a clear willingness on the part of the Trump team to work with the Russians.

What remains to be seen and what will determine whether the Trump government can survive this scandal is whether Trump officials took it a step further and assisted a hostile power in a betrayal of the independence of the American electoral process.

Many other meetings between Russian and Trump officials followed the Trump Jr. one. Given the Kremlin's expressed wish to aid the Trump cause, is it likely Trump operatives would have denied them help?

In a tweet this morning, President Trump, who has been unusually quiet the past few days, returned to his defiant posture of denial. Commenting on his son's appearance on Fox News, he wrote, "My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!"

Bravado aside, the President now has to concern himself with the question of survival. If it is shown that he countenanced his campaign team in abetting the Russian meddling, impeachment proceedings against him are well possible. Impeachment is a politically driven procedure and the Republicans hold a majority in the House of Representatives where votes would take place. But that majority could well be lost in the midterm elections in November of next year. With Democrats in control, the collusion story, a game changer so far, could become a game ender.

In the meantime, the White House will be under siege. There are so many questions opened up by the revelations of the Trump Jr. meeting and his e-mail saying he loved the possibility of Russian help against Ms. Clinton that there is little chance this story can be contained.

It will consume Washington, the Trump agenda, the media for a long time. There are three inquiries ongoing, one by the House, one by the Senate, another by special counsel Robert Mueller.

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There is already an attempt by the White House to circle the wagons and claim that the President didn't know what was transpiring. But does anyone really think his most senior campaigners, and family members, would have kept knowledge of this meeting or other meetings with Russian plotters from him?

A possible scenario could see the President denying all knowledge while dismissing senior staff if they are found to have been complicit in the Russian subterfuge. That's what happened in the Watergate scandal with Richard Nixon throwing overboard top aides Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman before the trail eventually led to Mr. Nixon himself.

Over and above the possibility of collusion, Mr. Trump faces serious questions as to possible obstruction of justice on the Russian file, particularly in respect to former FBI director James Comey, whom he fired.

His credibility and that of his administration has taken a crippling hit. Media outlets have found that the president and his associates denied no less than 20 times that their campaign team had any contact with Russians seeking to influence the presidential election.

For those who still believed that it's the media who have have been lying to the American people and not the Trump administration, their faith has to have been profoundly shaken this week.

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