For months, as opposition figures have speculated about the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia during the election, Donald Trump diehards have consistently laughed off these stories as "fake news." And they were right that there was no publicly available hard evidence to prove that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 election—sure there were contacts between Russian officials and people on the campaign, but no evidence that those contacts were about cooperating to bring down Hillary Clinton.
Tuesday morning everything changed, when Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out his email exchange with Rob Goldstone, a music publicist working on behalf of the Kremlin, minutes before the New York Times published the correspondence.
"The Crown Prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," Goldstone wrote. "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
"If it's what you say I love it," Trump Jr. responded.
That exchange, some legal experts have opined, is enough to raise the question of whether Trump Jr. had conspired with the Russians to influence the election.
So how are Trump supporters—many of whom were dubious of the existence of these emails mere hours before—responding to this very incriminating new bit of information? By doing what they do best: making justifications like crazy.
The simplest, probably most rational defense of Trump Jr. is that these emails are still not enough to prove that the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia. Breitbart editor Joel B. Pollak mocked the New York Times for not publishing the email correspondence in its initial stories about this meeting. He also posed the question, "Whether Russia wanted Trump to win, If there was 'collusion' w/campaign why would an obscure publicist have to set up a meeting in June '16?" In his story for Breitbart, he reports on the incriminating contents of the emails but claims, "The email does not refer to any cooperation, coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government."
Others turned their attention to Clinton. Alt-right icon Mike Cernovich focused his energies on the misdeeds of Trump's opponent, noting that "Ukrainian government supported Hillary. Saudi government supported Hillary. They lost," and retweeting messages of support:
Cernovich also participated in the most confusing response to the news by claiming that the emails don't actually support the Times story. (They do.) Trump groupie extraordinaire Bill Mitchell didn't seem to find anything incriminating in Donald Jr.'s emails, tweeting, "And just like that, another blockbuster from the NYTimes (Don Jr Story) ends up being pure bullsh*t. It never ends."
(I reached out to Mitchell to see if he'd explain more about this. He didn't respond.)
Charlie Kirk, founder of pro-capitalist student activist network Turning Point USA, also defended Trump's eldest son on Twitter. "I spent 4 months almost non stop campaigning with @DonaldJTrumpJr," he wrote. "Not ONCE did Russia come up. So SICK of seeing his character attacked!!
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress who put their party's future in Trump's hands are conspicuously quiet on the recent developments. "I don't really have a reaction, too busy on healthcare," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told a HuffPost reporter.
Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain seemed pretty casual about the whole situation, telling NBC News, "I've said many times in the past there's another shoe that will drop and there will be other shoes that will drop."
"He has to testify, that email was disturbing," Republican senator Lindsey Graham said to reporters. "What's equally odd to me is that the person they met with knew absolutely nothing, so I don't know why they would pick somebody to meet with that didn't have any information about the Clinton campaign, but on its face, this is very problematic."
Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, is staying out of it. "He was not aware of the meeting," his spokesperson said in a statement. "He is not focused on stories about the campaign—especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign."
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