Imagine the names were different.
Imagine Chelsea Clinton had taken Bill Clinton and campaign chair John Podesta to a meeting set up by a Chinese government intermediary who claimed to have damaging information about Donald Trump’s tax returns and said over email they were willing to share the information in a bid to defeat Trump.
Imagine this information came out mere weeks after stories revealing a major Democratic funder, acting on the behest of prospective National Security Adviser Susan Rice, had been trying to work with Chinese hackers to steal copies of Trump’s tax returns.
Imagine, during all of this, that Hillary Clinton herself had gotten on a stage and begged the Chinese government to release Trump’s tax returns. “China, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the tax returns,” Clinton said in Florida. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Imagine that these stories were not isolated. They came alongside dozens of strange meetings between Clinton campaign aides and Chinese staffers — contacts left off security clearance forms and “forgotten” during sworn congressional testimony — and were buttressed by Clinton herself lurching toward a strangely pro-China policy and an unusual, and repeatedly articulated, affection for China’s leader.
And imagine that, in a crucial stretch of the campaign, hackers backed by the Chinese government really did break into the Trump family’s systems and release a bevy of damaging financial documents in a successful effort to elect Clinton.
To simply write this story out is to strain credulity. It reads like a bad spy novel or a fevered conspiracy. Can you imagine what Fox News would be saying? What Rush Limbaugh would be saying? How deafening the calls for impeachment and investigation would be?
But this is where we are. The best defense of Trump’s associates, at this point, is they were too dumb to know what they’re doing — a defense that doesn’t work when it includes experienced international operators like campaign manager Paul Manafort and ex-Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn. Donald Trump Jr.’s own defense of himself is that he attempted to collude with Russian agents but they didn’t have any useful information and so he didn’t. This is, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp notes, no defense at all — even if it is true, Trump Jr. may well have committed a crime.