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Globe and Mail columnist Tabatha Southey.
Globe and Mail columnist Tabatha Southey.

TABATHA SOUTHEY

Donald Trump Jr.’s guide to invoking a witch hunt Add to ...

“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!” U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, should the “Sad!” not give the source away.

“Sad!” is becoming Mr. Trump’s signature sign-off. It is the mirror of Edward R. Murrow’s “Good night and good luck,” in that it reflects the opposite. Mr. Trump’s “Sad!” generally punctuates an ill-considered, insincere, unscripted broadcast hell-bent on putting a lid on the truth. His now-iconic “Sad!” often follows some encouragement to Americans to look away from what their government is up to just now.

For the record, here in Opposite Land, it is no longer ludicrous to assume that many of those in the United States, some with considerable influence, are secretly in bed with the Russians.

Mr. Trump’s Twitter statement came in the aftermath of New York Times reports that his eldest son had met with Natalia Veselnitskaya – a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer – in hopes of obtaining damaging information on his father’s then political opponent, Hillary Clinton. It was further reported that Donald Trump Jr. attended this meeting having already been informed, in an e-mail, that the get-together was part of a Russian government effort to aid the Trump campaign.

More importantly, Mr. Trump’s statement about his son was made in the aftermath of that aftermath. It is seldom a good sign when your aftermath has an aftermath, but following the reports of these long-denied meetings, Mr. Trump Jr., in what appears to have been an attempt to defend himself, tweeted images of the e-mails in question.

As defences go, this is like “I see a bear, I better roll in honey.” In releasing those e-mails, Mr. Trump Jr. took the story from “sources familiar with the e-mails say” to “more than 17,000 people have retweeted your highly damaging e-mails” scenario in the press of a button.

A case could be made that, since The New York Times had the e-mails and they were about to be released anyway, the younger-but-still-pushing-40-so-don’t-give-me-that Mr. Trump Jr. was “getting in front of the story,” but the part he seems to have missed is that “getting in front of a story” generally involves presenting a narrative more favourable to oneself than the one contained in the damaging news about to break.

“Getting in front of a story” is not a “breaking the story a bit earlier while confirming its veracity,” which was done in this case to the point where news outlets could pretty much go with “When approached for comment regarding the allegations, Mr. Trump Jr. said ‘Boy, did I!’”

That is what I would call “Getting under the story,” and, God bless Junior, he just dove right down there, much the same way one might “get under” a moving semi.

What those e-mails Mr. Trump Jr. shared with the world prove is that, having been specifically told that information he was being promised by a publicist named Rob Goldstone “is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he responded with an unequivocal, unpunctuated “if that’s what you say I love it.”

So sure, Mr. Trump, it’s a “Witch Hunt,” a witch hunt in which the accused stood up midway through the trial, lifted his shirt and said “Hey, everyone, check out my third nipple, the one from which I daily nurse my toad familiar!” while pointing at said supernumerary nip, before adding “Don’t hurt yourselves lugging those crushing stones around, I am totally a witch and holy moly did I blight your crops!” as he mounted a broomstick and flew away with a cry of “Tell Mr. Henderson that that stillborn calf was me too!” and “By the by, if you’re looking for someone to burn, my brother-in-law never misses a Black Mass!”

One for the books, really, as witch trials go.

The original e-mail inviting him to the meet and greet and cheat was addressed only to himself, but the documents Mr. Trump Jr. chose to share with the world were from a bit further down the chain he forged. The e-mails were also addressed to Paul Manafort, whom he asked along. Mr. Manafort – a professional Republican political operative since the seventies, not a naif who might wander into a meeting like a lost shepherd – became Mr. Trump’s campaign manager shortly after the meeting took place on June 9, 2016.

The e-mails Junior sent flying around the world on their little Twitter wings were also addressed to Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, who is currently a senior adviser to the President because what is shame anyway?

Both of these men attended the meeting, although a source close to Mr. Manafort told Politico that he had no idea who was going to be at the meeting because he did not read the entire, short e-mail chain which bore the subject line “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

Thank you, Mr. Paul “Too Long; Did Not Collude!” Manafort.

The week’s spectacle was dismissed by Mr. Trump Jr.’s lawyer as “much ado about nothing.” As far as this being a tale of deception, driven by conversations (that may well have been) orchestrated to be overheard, he may be right. Both stories also have significance – the e-mails provide the most conclusive evidence to date that Trump family members and campaign staff were keen to get a boost from the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign – even as they have the audience laughing.

A broader parallel between the Trump family saga and the works of Shakespeare can be found in the Trump family’s liberal use of what can best be described as “asides” to communicate their motivation. An important difference, one apparently entirely lost on the family, from Mr. Trump on down (excepting Melania and Barron, who at this point can be considered as more scenery than cast), is that Shakespearean characters don’t speak their innermost secrets to the other characters in the play.

Studies show the most common reaction to hearing a Trump family member speak is the yelling of “Hey, dude, we can hear you!”

Trumps just keep telling us things they shouldn’t tell us. Whatever else the Trump administration is doing to his country’s science programs, he is bringing us that much closer to isolating the “complete lack of an interior monologue” gene.

“My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” was Mr. Trump’s initial statement on this week’s events, leaving some doubt as to whether he knows he sired his children or thinks he picked them up at the Sharper Image.

I await his statement on Eric Trump’s “Innovative design that slices, shreds and dices at the touch of a button” shortly before the President appoints his beloved fog-free shower mirror and Bluetooth speaker ambassador to Latvia.

At the end of the day, Trump Jr.’s Russian tale is a strange, meandering thing. It started out in the peaceful town of Never Been To a “Set Up” Meeting With Any Russians At All land. Then it took a charming detour through It Was a Short Introductory Meeting About Helping Russian Orphans country. Now we’re in She Wasn’t Technically Employed by the Russian Government and While I Went in the Hopes of Acquiring Free Opposition Research from a Foreign National, She Didn’t Have Anything Useful in the End So We’re Good, Right? territory.

It’s like Rashomon – except the same event is being repeatedly described in contradictory ways from the perspective of one really stupid person.

The Trumps give little indication that they understand the enormity of what they face, legally or otherwise, and glimpses of their crisis-management strategy don’t inspire confidence. “The view in Kushner’s orbit is that the brutal new revelations are more P.R. problems than legal problems. And if he makes progress with his Middle East peace efforts, perceptions would be very different,” Mike Allen of Axios wrote in his early-morning news report this week.

There are so many layers of miscomprehension and hubris contained in that mass, it’s like a Death Star-sized onion of delusion just hove into view.

There have been attempts to spin Mr. Trump Jr. as a hick from out of town who is just not familiar with your high-falutin’ ethics. He just, according to one anonymous White House official speaking to the Washington Post, “wants to hunt, fish and run his family’s real estate business.”

The poor innocent lad, he just yearns to run the old family international real-estate empire and, apart from all those times he literally asked the American people (and, it has been suggested, the Russians) to make his father president, he never asked to get caught up in any of this.

It’s as if the Trumps are the Beverly Hillbillies and, gosh, darn it, we should leave Jethro alone.

What is increasingly apparent is that what we’re witnessing is a transposition problem: All the bluffing, posturing, firing, threatening to storm out, exaggerating, flat-out lying, dabbling with shady characters, name-dropping, spinning, suing to exhaustion, settling just before they’re slaughtered that Mr. Trump dealt in worked in the Trumps’ former New York milieu, where the foibles of a famous real estate family were not exhaustively scrutinized. And the children learned his ways.

Mr. Trump Sr. and his family come from a place where a puff piece in a city magazine can alter public perception at least long enough to affect the outcome at (tiny) hand, where there was nothing a smear and a softball interview (Mr. Trump Jr. did Hannity that same night) couldn’t fix.

Watching them lurch about now, I can’t help thinking that it’s as if the Trumps have landed on a planet with a different gravitational field. They can’t fly any more and they’re angry, confused and angry about being confused, and there may at least be some justice in that.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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