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An ethical blemish

The Trump team’s Russia meeting raises concerns, even if it wasn’t illegal

An ethical blemish

Donald Trump Jr. (Richard Drew/AP)

In the 1997 movie Conspiracy Theory, Mel Gibson plays cab driver and conspiracy nut Jerry Fletcher, who weaves together wild theories on everything from the United Nations to the Vietnam War—and then one of his theories turns out to be true, and very dangerous.

The media in the first months of the Donald Trump presidency have been Jerry Fletcher, obsessed to the point of derangement with Trump and especially with the idea that he “colluded” with the Russian government in its attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. The Trump administration strongly denied the charges, and reporters produced very little evidence. It seemed like a “nothingburger” that served only to boost ratings, as a hidden camera caught CNN’s leftist commentator Van Jones saying.

That calculation changed this week, as the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., released emails showing he responded with great interest last year to a proposed meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who claimed to have documents from the Russian government that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and be “very useful to your father.” Trump Jr. told an intermediary, “… [I]f it’s what you say I love it” and arranged for a secret meeting on June 9, 2016, with Veselnitskaya that included Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

In other words, the Jerry Fletcher media may have stumbled onto a real scandal. So far, no evidence suggests the meeting comes anywhere near the definition of treason, as some Democrats have argued, or was likely even illegal, but it’s more than a nothingburger. The question of legality turns on a federal statute that prohibits foreign nationals from “making any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value” to a U.S. political campaign. But many legal experts say that interpreting information as a “thing of value” would probably render the statute unconstitutional.

The real concern here is most likely ethics. The Russian government has its own purposes in everything it does, and those purposes do not involve the best interests of the United States. It is a hostile power that attacked Ukraine and annexed Crimea, spies on the United States, and launches hundreds of jet fighters into NATO airspace. Americans have a right to know whether Trump aides discussed offering policy concessions (such as a lifting or softening of sanctions) to this adversary of America in return for campaign help.

Even if they didn’t do so, the secret meeting may have put the Trump team in a position to have this hostile foreign government politically blackmail the administration later, as National Review columnist David French points out. (No evidence suggests such blackmail happened, but the meeting opened up the possibility.) And while it may not be illegal for a candidate to go to an American adversary for help in defeating a domestic political opponent, it certainly should concern us. Members of the Trump administration know this, given their previous denials that any such meetings took place, including denials from Trump Jr. himself, before he finally released the emails.

Have Democrats made similar errors? Certainly. Democratic Party officials reportedly met with Ukrainian officials to help the Clinton campaign, including in the area of opposition research. The Clinton Foundation, meanwhile, was a vehicle for foreign interests to try to buy influence in what they thought would be a future Clinton administration. But those ethical breaches don’t excuse the Trump team, which is now in the White House, from showing a dangerous lapse in judgment.

Donald Trump as president has done some excellent things. A person can be enthusiastic about the Neil Gorsuch appointment to the Supreme Court, the repeal of the contraceptive/abortifacient mandate, and Trump’s defense of Western civilization during his July 6 speech in Poland, and still be concerned that some of his top advisers seemed eager to meet secretly with Russian officials hoping to influence the U.S. election.

The meeting, even in its best possible light, is an ethical blemish on the administration. It’s not Watergate or Whitewater, but we need to know more about what happened on that June day in Trump Tower.

Comments

  • Leewood28
    Posted: Thu, 07/13/2017 07:34 pm

    "Have Democrats made similar errors? Certainly...."

    Seriously? World Mag is getting the vapors over Don Jr? Where were all the stories about Obama and Hillary. C'mon now -- there weren't that many stories you ran about their "ethical lapses..."

    Just blows my mind how many Christian leaders have it in for Trump. Not sure if it's jealously or what? I wonder if Christian leaders underestimate the rank and file Christians, thinking that we think he is a role model? We're not that dumb. But we do know that he's changing policy for the better. Sure do wish they'd stop coming after Trump.

    Things would be horrible under Hillary. Just horrible. I thank God every day for allowing America a leader who will bring in God-fearing judges and administrative officials (some).  These judges will influence life for Christians for decades.  

  • JULIE DAVENPORT
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 09:15 am

    Amen!

  • fatherof5
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 09:31 am

    Yes - and to be specific, I wonder if WORLD underestimate the rank and file Christians, thinking that we think he is a role model? We're not that dumb. But we do know that he's changing policy for the better. Sure do wish WORLD would stop coming after Trump.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 07/15/2017 12:28 am

    I remember when Christians used to have better arguments than "Everybody else is doing it."

    Seriously, WORLD ran plenty of articles on Obamas and Hilary's crimes.  Neither of them are currently in the White House now. They're not even relevant.  Hillary's not suddenly going to become president if Trump Jr. gets fired, or indicted.  Hillary doesn't even become president if Trump gets impeached, or Pence gets impeached.  There's no democratic threat here.

    We said we'd keep our rulers in check.  Let's follow through on that.

  • E Cole
    Posted: Thu, 07/13/2017 08:22 pm

    I think WORLD has gone above and beyond in their duty to treat President Trump with respect, and have given him the benefit of a doubt to the point it sometimes felt a little biased. I am glad WORLD has the courage to report on this evidence that Donald Jr. used very bad judgment and involved top people in the campaign in his mistake.

  • Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Thu, 07/13/2017 08:51 pm

    "real scandal"?  Nope. And not a Trump supporter.  Didn't vote for him.  Yet I am actually enjoying the opposition self destruct as they turn over every grain of sand.  The same media folks who fell all over themselves supporting social liberal politicians.  I think there is something bigger behind this.  God uses the likes of Nebuchadnezzar's, Aheseurus' and other blatant sinner leaders in mysterious ways.  And he often turns them against each other.  God Rules in heaven on high.  

  • Terry in Calgar...
    Posted: Thu, 07/13/2017 09:35 pm

    I recall when the infamous videotape came out toward the end of the 2016 election campaign. World called for Trump to resign at the time, as you recall!!  Thank the Lord, that did not happen!!

    To me, this comment by Mr. Lather of World magazine, is almost as bad!!!  Give me a break, World...  Are we all that "ethical" as you say to say no to an offer of "scuttlebut" about an opponent in an election campaign, where our father is running for President of the US (and Free World, quite frankly)??

    I am quite annoyed when we Christians (does not World represent us??) cave based on the most ridiculous claims of our opponents, Satan being #1, and the wold following close behind.

    We CAN NOT forget that Satan and the world are trying to destroy us, by destroying President Trump, no ifs and or buts about it!!  He stand for us Christians, remember that!!!

    And on behalf of us Canadian Christians, we love our neighbours (excuse my Canadian english) to the south and are praying for you all continuously!!  God bless America!!!

    Terry Hyde in Calgary, Alberta, CANADA!!  Happy 150th birthday to Canada!!

  • TWH
    Posted: Thu, 07/13/2017 10:19 pm

    Some of the comments here display the poisonous atmosphere that has developed in which any criticism of Trump is called an "attack". The surest way for Christians to be taken for granted by a political leader is to praise him no matter what he does and says. I try to remember that God doesn't need Donald Trump, me, or anyone else to fulfill his purposes. 

  • E Cole
    Posted: Thu, 07/13/2017 10:43 pm

    Well said, TWH

  • MamaC
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 10:37 am

    Amen!!

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 07/15/2017 12:32 am

    Dead on.  I have never been so disgusted by the GOP as when I see them bending over backwards to accomodate Trump's dealings, going from "He's a great leader!" to "He hasn't actually done anything illegal," to "okay, he's new at this."  I used to think we were the party of integrity.  I find that we're just as bad at making excuses for behavior as the Democrats are.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Thu, 07/13/2017 11:50 pm

    Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. ​Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.  Prov 9:7-8 (ESV2011)

  • T Austin
    Posted: Thu, 07/13/2017 11:57 pm

    I'm sorry, but I don't see any ethical blemish here on the part of Donald Trump, Jr.  There is nothing unthical or untoward in anything he did.  But I see World is going to assist the Main Stream Media and the progressives in putting under a microscope every breath Trump or his family take in theiri ongoing effort to take him down.  I think World Magazine strains at a gnat and swallows a fly, as you did in your infamous arttack on Trump just prior to the election.   I see you are still at it. 

  • T Austin
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 12:04 am

    Why doesn't World report on some real news?  Like how did the Russian lawyer get into the US?  That's a much better question.

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 01:01 am

    I'm sure more will come out about that, and why she got a special waiver from Loretta Lynch's DOJ after being denied for a visa.  Stay tuned!

  • Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 07:20 am

    Yeah, what Don Jr. did may look bad, yet nothing untoward happened. Isn't that key? However, what the Obama administration has done: Fast and Furious, Benghazi, Hillary Clinton's private email server and the illegal destruction of evidence, Loretta Lynch's collusion with the Clinton campaign on a tarmac just prior to James Comey's failure to recommend Mrs. Clinton for indictment, the Obama administration's unconstitutional unmasking of and spying on American citizens for political gain, the DNC failing to cooperate with the FBI after being hacked--to name just SOME of the Obama era scandals--is where more of World's ink should be spilled. 

  • JULIE DAVENPORT
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 09:19 am

    Agree wholeheartedly!  Amen!

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 07/15/2017 12:37 am

    "Yet nothing untoward happened."

    And we know that how?  This whole meeting has been covered up by lie after lie after lie.  WORLD is calling for transparency here--if nothing untoward happened, then excellent, let it be shown.  Until then, all the cover-ups and lies make it impossible to tell whether we can trust our leaders.

    Also, arguably, nothing untoward happening wasn't for lack of trying. Trump Jr. only refrained from colluding because it turned out they didn't have anything.  That's like not buying drugs because the seller is sold out.

  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 09:02 am

    Lets face it, Trump will be criticized no matter what, e.g. either for engaging with folks in other places or being unengaged. This does not translate into unequivocal support but let's get realistic about the differences between communicating with others and unethical, even criminal, behavior as has been documented with folks like the Clintons. Just because the Clintons haven't been prosecuted doesn't mean they didn't go beyond questionable ethical lines.   

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 07/15/2017 12:38 am

    Clintons aren't in the White House.  And if the GOP won't prosecute our own, how can we expect the Democrats to be any better?

  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 09:14 am

    Besides, I'm thinking there are greater ethical problems demonstrated by folks trying to undermine the Government's legitimate responsibility to limit voter fraud and illegal aliens.

  • Tfarr
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 09:32 am

    It concerns me that Christians are so adamant in their defense of President Trump.  We have what the book of Proverbs would call a fool as our leader.  The fool in Proverbs is arrogant, unable to control his tongue, quick-tempered, greedy, and sexually immoral.  I believe this is a description of Mr. Trump.  I am certainly thankful for appointments and executive orders Mr. Trump has made so far.  A sovereign God can use even fools.  I fear that we as Evangelical Christians have damaged our witness for the future by selling our souls to Mr. Trump to save us rather than Jesus.  It is no defense for ill-advised decisions to say that democrats have done worse.

  • Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 10:52 am

    Tfarr:

    I am not sure to whom you are referring, but I haven't read any comments here (and certainly not my own) that suggests Christians are trusting President Trump for salvation or anything remotely close to that. Jesus is King. Period. However, the hyprocrisy shown by the major television and newspaper media (World excepted in most cases) in trying to find scandal with Mr. Trump while ignoring or barely reporting on Obama and Clinton scandals is ludicrous. One doesn't have to be a Christian or a forgotton man or woman to be sick of it. Whenever something apparently sensational is reported on (especially when it fits into a one-sided narrative), something of substance and value is not reported on: for example, the improving economy, Justice Gorsuch's written opinions, how the Democrats are obstructing many of President's Trump's nominees, the recent congressional legislation fighting child trafficking (this should headline the news every night because it is a serious problem in America and we finally have a congress and a president who want to eradicate it), et cetera.

    President Trump is a flawed man, I haven't heard anyone say he isn't; however, so is everyone, and some--I am thinking of significant politicians of times just past--have commited much larger sins, not only against individuals (as Trump has and each one of us have) but against the nation as a whole. Shouldn't those sins be exposed and reported on much more than citizen Trump's or candidate Trump's or now President Trump's insensitive comments toward another, or his son's attendance at an ill-advised meeting?

    Christians stand for truth not tabloid fodder.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 07/15/2017 12:42 am

    Oh, we've definitely damaged our witness.  Ministers calling on a triple adulturer who says he "doesn't need forgiveness" as "God's President."  Dismissing any and all charges as "works of the devil."  Broadcasting political messages in worship services and having church services sing "Make America Great Again."

    Evangelical Christians have made themselves a laughingstock, and worse, made themselves out to be people who are Republican before they are Christian.  I can't tell you how many young people I know who are disgusted with the church's actions--something else WORLD reported on.

    We'll be paying for this for years to come.

  • MamaC
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 10:49 am

    I applaud WORLD for its clarity of vision in this whole murky, muddy mess. What astounds me are the Christians who have subscribed to "the end justifies the means" mentality. We are called to be people "who walk by faith, not by sight," and yet some were so focused on their fear of Clinton that they forgot we can trust God to fulfill His plan no matter who is president. That, I remind myself, includes Trump.

  • Cosmo
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 11:09 am

    Well, I think some of the comments are a little harsh toward World.  When I read this I got a balanced view of what we already understand about Trump.  Is he perfect, not by a mile.  Is he unethical?  Who knows. 

    The corporate world that he came from is unethical in general.  The top management only cares about their own bonuses, which are rediculously high.  Ehtics have taken on a much different meaning to most people today. We see it every day in our life.  On TV, on the streets, even in church.  Only us devoted Christians have any sense of ethics. 

    Now, was Trump Jr unethical?  Who knows, only God.  I don'l like the arogance he displays when ever he is interviewed on TV.  After watching the Hannity (Fox) interview, I came to the conclusion that he is naive.  I think his arogance makes him think he knows more than he does.  He handled that interview very well, even though I didn't like his body language.

    I think this has been blown completely out of proporsion.  I think it was a naive move that cause no harm.  Let's get over it.

  • Tfarr
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 12:29 pm

    In response to Greg M. I think my reference to Trump as savior was misunderstood.  I don't believe any Christian is trusting Trump for eternal salvation.  I do feel that fear of a Clinton administration lead many to trust Trump as a temporal savior.  I believe a Clinton administration would have been a terrible challenge for believers.  But it may have been better in the long run for the witness of the church.  With Bill Clinton we said character matters.  Is that no longer the case?  I have two daughters who would have felt that I was a hypocrite for voting for a man who treats women so shamefully.  This is the concern I have:  that the church has lost its ability to speak out for truth and values.  In no way am I defending media bias.  But I am thankful for World's objectivity in calling out the Trump administration when it is wrong.  Again there is much that we can praise in a Trump administration.  That should not mean we should defend everything he says or does.

  • Bill in Michigan's picture
    Bill in Michigan
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 12:55 pm

    World Magazine--is this journalism? I didn't see much about ties the Russian lawyer had with the Democratic Party?  Was this a set up?  Ethical lapse?  Speaking with a Russian lawyer is an ethical lapse?  Good thing journalists never speak with "Russians" or other such people or their ethics could be called into question?  This sounds like the nonsense of the MSM.

  • twmiller's picture
    twmiller
    Posted: Fri, 07/14/2017 01:28 pm

     A Flashback...  Your October 29 Cover Story, WORLD magazine:  "Unfit for power.  It's time for Donald Trump to step aside and make room for another candidate." 

    I still love WORLD magazine, but you remain tainted by my memory of your bad judgment in October.  Most of the time, you stand out refreshingly as a sweet Macintosh in a barrelful of rotten journalistic apples.  You are as you say "reporting worth supporting".  But WORLD is also quick to jump on the never-Trump bandwagon saying "ah-haah! You better come clean on (whatever media-manufactured scandal of the week)".  Please resist the urge to pile on.  99% of the mainstream media world is already doing that.  

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Sat, 07/15/2017 12:45 am

    I am glad, in a world where so many people overlook political corruption or misdoings by members of their own party, to read a magazine that still demands integrity and truth from its rulers.

  • Janet B
    Posted: Sat, 07/15/2017 07:17 am

    Disclosure: I did not really read the article, though I scanned parts.

    The subtitle was enough for me:  Even if it is not illegal, it raises concerns. 

    My emphasis is it wasn't illegal.

    It seems as if the press is so obsessed on watching this President and everyone around him, looking, waiting like vultures for some wrongdoing, that they are willing to indicate, if not outright say, that every meeting with anyone that does not take place in a public forum is an indication that someone in this administration did something wrong.

    Can't you guys let the man do his job, and wait for something wrong before demanding a look in to it? I am so tired of being asked to get concerned where little to none is warranted.  I have better things to do with my adrenelin. I only read half of what I used to -- and I read almost exclusively  conservative forms of media. 

    National Review and Weekly Standard are bad enough.  I had hoped I'd get a break from WORLD.   *sigh*  

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Mon, 07/17/2017 10:04 pm

    Behavior does not have to be illegal in order to be wrong.