The discovery of an email thread proving the Trump campaign’s eagerness to collude with the Russian government to beat Hillary Clinton has served to underscore what you might call first-order lies that President Donald Trump and his top aides have told over the past year—about meetings with Russians, collusion with Russia, and even, in the past days, about the meeting itself.
But in a way, the most intriguing implication of the email thread—connecting Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort to the subversion campaign—is that it points to a number of under-discussed, second-order lies, which in turn suggest deeper, more nefarious behavior.
It is useful to go back in time and map what we know now onto various key moments in Trump’s campaign and presidency.
After U.S. intelligence agencies concluded with high confidence that the Russian government sponsored the theft and leaking of Democratic Party emails, then-candidate Trump escalated his ongoing feud with the intel community by disputing their conclusions out of hand. At a presidential debate, he said Clinton “has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else … and our country has no idea.” He famously said a 400-pound guy in New Jersey might be the culprit.
Now we know that, all along, Kushner, Junior, and Manafort had emails proving Trump wrong, and proving Clinton and the U.S. intelligence community right.
Trump has remained disputatious on this point, even up until last week, when U.S. intelligence services had been working for him for nearly six months. On Polish soil, he told reporters “nobody really knows for sure” who meddled in the 2016 election, and justified his doubts by comparing the intelligence community’s Russia assessment with the Bush administration’s manipulation of intelligence to claim that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction.
Not only was the proof of Trump’s unfounded doubts sitting in his son and son-in-law’s inboxes, we now know thanks to Michael Isikoff’s reporting that, as he dragged the U.S. intelligence community on the world stage, Trump’s own lawyers knew of the email and the Trump Tower meeting in June of this year.
It’s all very curious, unless Trump has known about the conspiracy all along and has decided to lie about it until the bitter end. Or maybe he just has the worst son and son-in-law in the history of progeny and marriage.