When this report was published yesterday, my BS detector started going off. Not in the sense that there is any reason to doubt this report, but as to its relative importance. First, here is what CNN reported (emphasis mine):
Senate investigators have obtained new information showing Donald Trump Jr.’s mysterious phone calls ahead of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting were not with his father, three sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
Records provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee show the calls were between Trump Jr. and two of his business associates, the sources said, and appear to contradict Democrats’ long-held suspicions that the blocked number was from then-candidate Donald Trump.
While this report is undoubtedly important in that it both introduces new information and pushes back against a false assumption, it doesn’t fundamentally change the narrative around the famed Trump Tower meeting. From a legal perspective, what happened before the meeting to set it up (like maybe Paul Manafort’s “how do we get whole” text to a man trained by Russian military intelligence about his former boss who a 2006 leaked State Department cable said was one of Putin’s most trusted oligarchs) is far more important to establish the intent of its participants, and per Donald Trump Jr.’s own admission, he “loved” an offer from the “Russian government to get dirt on Hillary.” Plus, this does not prove that Trump Jr. didn’t speak to his father immediately before or after the meeting, given that it took place in Trump Tower and Jr. could have just taken the elevator upstairs instead of placing a call.
When this report dropped, I decided to bite my tongue since there could be more going on and it’s never a bad idea to wait for more information. Well, more information arrived last night, and I decided to stop biting my tongue and write this column because of this tweet.
All of a sudden, CNN isn't fake news, and the “big deal” has been debunked by CNN (side note: those of us paying attention to the legal ramifications of this case have not made a big deal out of these phone calls, given the wealth of far more tangible information proving the guilt of the Trump Camp).
How can this not get the attention of your BS detector now that Trump has tweeted about it? (not to mention, some of Trump's biggest sycophants are now pushing a nonsense theory that Hillary put together that Trump Tower meeting)
So let's go back to the report. The story comes from “three sources with knowledge of Senate investigators.” That doesn't give us much to go off of as far as those three sources are concerned, but the fact that this report is coming out of the GOP-controlled Senate is another fishy data point. Senators like Lindsey Graham have proven that they will carry water for Trump, and there is little doubt that if someone like Graham were to learn of this new detail that could be construed as exculpatory (so long as you don't dive into the legal quandary the Trump Camp finds itself in), there is little doubt that they would hand it off to the media.
Again, I'm not doubting the legitimacy of this report. There's no reason to question it. What I am challenging is why this is important. Trump Jr. is literally on record wanting to conspire with a foreign adversary before the meeting. Just because he called some other folks before and after the meeting doesn't mean he couldn't have done so on the elevator up to his father's penthouse. This report doesn't push back against the narrative whatsoever, and it does not prove that Trump Jr. did not talk to his father. It's simply additional detail on one data point.
It's easy for anyone to see the potential conspiracy that this seemingly debunks, given that placing a call to the head honcho while coming out of an important meeting is a very familiar movie trope. The story from the Trump camp goes that Trump Jr. left a meeting where he claims nothing significant transpired (despite an avalanche of evidence to the contrary, like Trump's repeated attempts to lift Russian sanctions despite his own party opposing that move), and a phone call to a blocked number that looks shady on the surface, is actually a phone call to two guys, not his father, therefore, there is no conspiracy around a meeting that they initially said nothing came from.
One problem? One of the folks he called doesn't exactly make Jr. seem innocent (also, again, elevators exist, and Jr. did not need to call his father in Trump Tower to tell him about the meeting that just took place in Trump Tower), as Paste's Roger Sollenberger pointed out.
The bottom line is that this new CNN report does not push back against the overall narrative of the Trump Tower meeting, and it does not prove that Trump Jr. did not speak with the elder Trump right afterwards. Given that it only took Trump a few hours to go from “fake news CNN” to “this CNN report proves my innocence,” it’s fair to question who exactly in the Senate this news came from, and whether they were coordinating with the Trump camp on this report that is more of a red herring than proof that nothing nefarious took place around a meeting that everyone involved with lied about until the facts became impossible to hide.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.