This week, The New York Times dropped a potential bombshell: It alleged that Donald Trump Jr., then-Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with a Russian government-linked lawyer in order to hear potential dirt about Hillary Clinton. The media immediately declared victory — this was obviously the first step toward establishing the Trump-Russia collusion about which they have crowed for nearly a year.
Meanwhile, Trump issued a series of tweets implying that he created a relationship of trust with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that he might consider the foundation of a joint cybersecurity “unit” with the regime that allegedly attempted to influence the American election.
All of this looks rather suspicious, unless it turns out that pretty much every Trumpian scandal can be explained through a combination of Trump’s ego and the incompetence of those around him.
Here’s the truth: Even if every allegation surrounding Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner regarding this meeting is true, that’s still not evidence of any working relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. At best, it’s evidence that Trump Jr. and Co. weren’t averse to attempts to feed them information. But as all accounts of the meeting state, no actual information was transferred, which means that there’s still no Trump-Russia collusion.
What of Trump’s bizarre behavior regarding Putin? The most obvious explanation isn’t nefarious manipulation but pure, old-fashioned spite. Trump feels assaulted by the media who have been accusing him of being a Putin puppet since mid-2016. Rather than distancing himself from Putin, Trump’s initial tendency is always to “punch back 10 times harder,” as Melania Trump put it. That means embracing Putin, demonstrating a nonchalant apathy toward rumors and even treating Putin as a potential partner — after all, he has treated Trump more nicely than the media accusing him of corruption. From an egocentric perspective, Trump has more in common with Putin than he does with CNN.
That may be ugly, but it’s also not collusion. It’s not even in the same ballpark as then-President Obama promising “flexibility” to the Russians before the 2012 election.