News that Donald Trump Jr. was made aware of the Russian government's assistance to his father's presidential campaign made waves Tuesday, but it remains unclear what consequences such actions would have for the embattled Trump administration. While analysts agree that the revelations are significant, there's still no actionable evidence of criminality, they say.
Previously, only the Trump administration's business ties to Russia and Moscow's intent to sway the election in President Donald Trump's favor were widely known and reported; it had been unknown whether the Trump campaign staff was aware of Russia's objectives.
But early Tuesday, the New York Times offered another, even more salacious revelation on Trump Jr.'s interaction with Russian government counterparts: According to the Times, Trump Jr. responded to an email connecting him to a Russian official who offered incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, saying "I love it."
"The latest revelation as reported in the New York Times has particular legs because it is the first episode to really link in any way the Trump campaign with the combination of Russian connections and claims to disadvantage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton," says Mark Peterson, a political science professor at the University of California–Los Angeles. "This is a story that will clearly be developing through twists and turns over the coming months, a kind of slow burn that will keep drawing attention but it is far too soon to know where it will actually lead."
As in many apparent turning points in the Trump-Russia saga, the underlying question now is whether the nation is on the precipice of a Nixonian moment.
"We don't have anything on Trump senior, and it's a Republican Congress."
Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University, has been dubbed the "prediction professor." He has successfully predicted every presidential win since 1984, including Trump's surprise election. He has also, more recently, predicted Trump's impeachment.
"The new revelations about Donald Trump Jr. are very serious," Lichtman tells Pacific Standard. "It may well be that he committed a federal crime by seeking out something of value, in this case opposition research from a foreign power. It is also clear that he knew very early ... that the Russians were meddling in this election to help his father. His responses fit the pattern of a classic Nixon-style cover up: Conceal, deny, deflect, lie."
Lichtman did not comment on whether the nation was approaching impeachment.
There's still an absence of any actionable evidence of criminal misconduct by the Trump administration, top legal scholars say.
"I think we're very far from impeachment," says Susan Bloch, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University widely regarded as an authority on impeachment. "I think it's very significant news, but I'm not sure that from what we know so far that there's anything criminal."
Even if the revelations on Trump Jr. met a threshold of criminality, that wouldn't mean much for Trump Sr., Bloch adds. "We don't have anything on Trump Sr., and it's a Republican Congress. We'll keep talking about it but we're quite far."
Not only do the facts on the ground safeguard the administration, but Trump Jr. is unlikely to face harsh reprimand—Bloch notes that Trump has the executive power to pardon his own children.
In a system that touts the forethought America's founding fathers put into its checks and balances, there are also overwhelming protections for the Executive Branch, it seems.