The Media Rorschach Test And The Russian Meeting

Rorschach_blot_01Below is my most recent column in the Hill Newspaper on the latest round of predictions of possible criminal charges against the Trump family.


Washington began its week again with its collective Rorschach test: another Russian-related meeting that was immediately declared to be the “smoking gun” of criminal collusion or even “treason.” In the 1960s when Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach created his projective test, he found that people could reveal their motivations and perceptions in describing what they saw in amorphous inkblots.

In the continuing Russia Rorschach test, it turns out that every amorphous blob looks like a crime to media and many legal experts.

The latest is the disclosure of a meeting by Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then-Trump campaign aide Paul Manafort on June 9, 2016. Trump Jr. was told by a business acquaintance that a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had information implicating Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee in illegal foreign campaign contributions from Russia.

While the participants have said that the meeting lasted only about 20 minutes and that the lawyer offered nothing in terms of such evidence — and instead pivoted to a discussion of rescinding a ban on Russian adoptions — the media went into a frenzy as experts spotted images of crimes from treason to defrauding the United States to campaign finance violations.

Yesterday, The New York Times added to this frenzy by reporting that “Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy.” While I remain skeptical of the basis for a crime based on “collusion,” that would clearly be a significant development in supporting allegations of a knowing coordination with the Russians.

Today, Trump Jr. released his emails on Twitter. One states, “the crown prosecutor of Russia” had 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.” Rod Goldstone, a publicist, stated, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

That would clearly constitute at least initial communications and possible coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign. However, the article raises more questions than answers. If the Russians were making such a play to influence the election in favor of Trump, this is a curious way of going about it. The most obvious question is why the Russians would call such a meeting but not actually produce any evidence or even substantive allegations.

One obvious explanation is that Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort fell for a classic bait-and-switch. Veselnitskaya was representing people seeking to lift the adoption ban, and it was certainly amateur hour in Trump Tower. If this is the best the Russians can do as their big play, we have little to worry about.

They question is whether the Trump team is a bunch of click-bait chumps or criminals. In other words, does any of this constitute a clear crime or even a vague inkblot image of a crime?

No, at least not on these facts.

Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush, has declared that the meeting “borders on treason.” Article III defines treason as “levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Trump Jr. went to a meeting on the belief that a lawyer had evidence of criminal collusion by Clinton with a foreign power. That is a rather curious basis for a charge of treason and would make traitors of countless campaign operatives.

On CNN, viewers were told that this is the long-sought “smoking gun” on collusion. Norm Eisen, a White House ethics czar under former President Obama, reportedly has invoked the Logan Act — a law from 1799 that makes it a crime for citizens to intervene in disputes or controversies between the United States and foreign governments. It has never been used to convict a single U.S. citizen and is widely viewed as facially unconstitutional. Yet, when Eisen looks at this inkblot he reportedly sees a Logan Act case.

For Vermont Law professor Jennifer Taub, the inkblot looks like a conspiracy to defraud the United States. She believes that prosecutors could charge the participants with seeking to defraud the United States under 18 U.S.C. 371 by going to a meeting to hear evidence that another party may have committed a crime … against the United States. No such evidence was offered, and no further actions are known to have occurred. There has never been a case under 18 U.S.C. 371 that even remotely resembles such a distortive claim.

One image that a lot of experts see in these stories is a possible violation of the federal law banning foreign contributions to federal campaigns — ironically the very claim that the meeting was called to discuss with regard to Hillary Clinton. The relevant law is 36 U.S.C. 510, which bars direct or indirect contributions or other things of value from a foreign national. MSNBC justice and security analyst Matthew Miller said Trump Jr. could now go to jail because “it doesn’t have to be money … it can be, potentially, accepting information. So he’s potentially confessing in his statement to committing a crime.”

Of course, the crux is “other thing of value.” Under this approach, a court would have to include information as a thing of value like money and then declare that Trump Jr. solicited the information by agreeing to go to the meeting. If that were the case, the wide array of meetings by politicians and their aides with foreign nationals would suddenly become possible criminal violations.

It is common for foreign governments to withhold or take actions to influence elections in other countries. Information is often shared through various channels during elections from lobbyists, non-government organizations, and government officials. This includes former Clinton aide Alexandra Chalupa, who allegedly worked with Ukrainian government officials and journalists to come up with dirt on Trump and Manafort.

Consider the implications of such an unprecedented extension of the criminal code. The sharing of information — even possible criminal conduct by a leading political figure — would be treated the same as accepting cash. It would constitute a major threat to free speech, the free press and the right of association. It would also expose a broad spectrum of political speech to possible criminal prosecution.

Executive branch officials could then investigate campaigns on any meetings where information or tips might have originated from a foreign source. Such an expansion would likely hit challengers the hardest, since sitting presidents not only control the Justice Department, but the government has a myriad of back channels in communicating with foreign officials.

While those contacts could be dismissed as “official communications,” a challenger could be viewed as consorting with foreigners. Under this interpretation, the act of a foreign non-government organization or foreign academic feeding an American damaging information on Trump’s foreign investments or business activities could be viewed as a federal crime.

This is why Rorschach tests are so interesting. The inkblot really does not look like your ex-wife or a badger wearing a hat on unicycle. It is what you are projecting. That same is true of crimes. We have to be careful that we do not allow our projections of crimes to distort our criminal code. This is not a game of how creative we can be in twisting statutory language to allow for a prosecution of the Trumps because those interpretations will continue long after the Trumps are gone. That is when bizarre projections can become dangerous realities.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.

93 thoughts on “The Media Rorschach Test And The Russian Meeting”

  1. The Hill is now reporting Loretta Lynch gave this Russian A SPECIAL waiver to enter our country w/o a visa.

    1. Nick,…
      The nature and the full extent of her ties to the Obama Administration are unknown at this point.
      State Departmen officials attended an “anti-sanctions” film she arrainged for them to see.
      It’s not clear if she was present at the movie, and/ or interacted with the officials.
      She was also present ( seated next to) Obama’s Ambassador to Russia when he testified before Congress.

    1. LOL, no. The meeting was setup by their BFF PR bro they met through the Miss Universe competition. Try to keep up.

  2. Reviewing Buchanan’s presidency, already The Donald is worse.

    1. There’s what you don’t agree with. There’s sleaze. There’s corruption. But now we have something that far outstrips all conventional disgusting political behavior, Trump.

  3. It’s all about establishing a new level of low for the government. The Trump strategy is to continue to sink lower and lower regarding arrogance, buffoonery, and incompetence. This way even more chaotic and incompetent behavior will be gotten away with. It’s the same with Trump’s lies. Once the public is used to Trump’s lies, they become acceptable to those who mindlessly support him. The Congress and Senate work on it. But nobody does it like Trump and his mob. We can look forward to more incompetence and choreographed chaos as it seems to be working for them. Oh wait, Crooked Hillary.

    1. Issac-
      That’s why many Russians wanted Trump in the Whitehouse – to take the US down without firing a shot.

        1. You have it backwards. Trump’s mentor was Roy Cohn. Roy Cohn’s mentor was Joe McCarthy.

          Trump et al are the living embodiment of their playbook.

      1. OMG!

        “…to take the US down without firing a shot.”

        $20 trillion in unpayable debt, achieved by the empty suit Obongo,

        which has put America at the mercy of China and other lenders.

        $22 trillion redistributed to welfare, affirmative action and Obongocare beneficiaries

        since the very communist “Great Society” of the 1965 hippie era.


  4. New collusion evidence. Bush & Putin are in a Texas school. Kids want to go to Russia.

  5. Well in my opinion, NOT coming away with anything, from the meeting with the Russian Lawyer, means nothing. It’s the act of actually going that speaks volumes.!! Especially, in light of what the guy initiating the meeting says…when he makes reference to Russia…helping Trump. I don’t have access to the emails…but there is a reference in the first email, to that.
    Why didn’t Donny ask….” RUSSIA HELPING US” SINCE WHEN.??? But he said nothing.!! Sorry, but to me, that phrase is ….”all telling”. There must have been DISCUSSIONS with regard to Russia helping Trump.!!
    In my opinion, that IS COLLUSION. One doesn’t need to come away with ANYTHING….it’s the ACT…OF GOING TO THE MEETING.

    The Trump presidency, is now the biggest Circus ever to be seen.!! Unless he starts to get things accomplished…he’s toast. Are ratings as low as he now has, really going to get him elected again.???
    What’s that old adage….FOOL ME ONCE………?? FOOL ME TWICE…..????

  6. So, let me get this straight. A Mosad agent meets with a CIA agent to inform him of a pending ISIS attack in the U.S. Under Professor Taub’s reading of the law, the CIA agent would be guilty of defrauding the U.S.

    Treason is what Jane Fonda did in Hanoi. Collusion is accepting aid from Soviet financed groups in order to seek an end to the Vietnam War. I do not recall many Democrats calling for prosecutions in either case.

  7. The is a JT article which is postured in the correct direction.

    One of the dorks on CNN was a former CIA guy. He was stating firmly that the Russian security forces will always use someone like the so called journalist to approach an American and then try to do something sinister. If this is true then no American can ever talk to any Russian. It is not just a rule that we not speak to security agents or government agents. We cannot talk to any Russians. So if you run into one on the subway and they ask when to get off for the Macy’s Department Store in downtown NYC you cannot respond.

  8. The House will either vote it down immediately or table it using their majority to do so and embarass the left. who little by little are running out of reasons to exist. Besides the claim that to be a leftist requires rejecting USA citizenship so why are they involved in US politics. – which has a lot of merit.

    In discussing it with my acquaintances in the military/retired military/former military circuit the latest move by the left has cast them in the ‘enemies domestic’ but as we did these many years ago with Guevera letting them play the fool and look ridiculous will make them self-marginalizing and that perhaps is their best legacy. if these political criminals were actually prosecuted the left has far more to fear than the right and the moderate centrists nothing to fear at all.

    Funny the largest voting block is still not represented except as self-governing citizens, still has the controlling vote, and is never reckoned with in most discussions or polls. It is also growing. The current discussion is what target to replace Hillary with and RINOs seem to be the odds on favorites. That will mean working at the grass roots primary level and change the odds and methods. Probably by targeting key individuals and the left as a target will remain as the other on going goal.

    We will not prevail in the larger cities but will take advantage of their inability to coalesce and their continued movement towards fractionalizing. Next breakaway will be the Black Caucus Party unless either they or more likely the millennials or the Latino Americans take over the remnants of the Democrat Sociaists.

    i would expect one of those scenarios to play out in that direction ….with something on the order of the Constitutional Republic Party forming in the other direction as the older versions GOP and Demos with their RINOs and DINOs fall by the wayside.

    Still having the Terminator in office to be a reset button followed by people like Pence and Gowdy possibly Chaffetz with the aforementioned advantages and changes AND the continued support of the self governing citizen group’ s large block of votes (and there is another one to the left just sure as cactus spines) and a new type of Supreme Court which is now almost a cerainty with for sure two more selections….the biggest items

    Say what chance of President Trump, Pence or Gowdy promoting Gorsuch to Chief Justice should that slot come open? (throwing gas on the fire here you understand.) As for NK and Iran? They will do like always and retrench and start the cycle over again acting like it was their plan all along – and life will go on.

    Currently. I look at this medical plan and see the biggest danger as the now 200 billion dollar pay off to the insurance industry as the biggest danger and for what purpose? They have plenty of money to dig their own way out and like any good well run business recover and continue. If not they will be replaced. Such is the way of commerce. Give them six months of a nation wide market with some changes and options and for the citizens choices the only real change will be some type of coverage other than automatic treatment at emergency rooms which looks now to be what they had before so?

    Straightening out the VA will provide more coverage to more people and do more good than any other single category. The 22 million minus the ones who will opt out just like before will shrink to half and that amount is easily covered IF it is recognized for what it is and controlled to keep the moochers on a mandatory no work no food stamp minimum medical coverage level.

    After all even the fed has recognized worker availability is getting very low the next step is those who can work but won’t and then the inevitable work/green card expansion to the ‘controlled’ million and a quarter workers readily available and adding them to that list the ‘non violent’ illegals already here.

    There is no lack of workers and without that resource there is no infrastructure expansion which is needed to fuel the next economic increase . Like Freeways and UPS. Can’t expand without a market and the means to deliver to the market and you can’t expand with a work force who only studied underwater basket weaving.

    As for DT2? There is no ‘intent’ and in this case it does apply AND there is no crime. It’s just another obstructionest tactic by the anti-American foreign ideology movement. to be replaced by something else until the nation gets sick of them and tosses their cookies at the polls in retaliation.

    1. Michael, that was certainly one of your more coherent posts. I was especially struck by the names of the two new parties – Democrat Socialists, and Constitutional Republic. Perfect. And then we will all align with one or the other accordingly, and see which philosophy works better for the whole country.

      Thanks for posting this.

    2. Trump Jr. likely had as much intent for criminal action or collusion as Podesta had in providing hackers his email credentials.

  9. What you are seeing from the Democrats is the overwhelming amount of hate and rage that they usually keep inside. Much of what motivates them are self-defenses of their own ego thru means such as projection, denial, and distortion. What is troubling is that these are the most primitive of defense mechanisms, the psychotic ones. From wiki:

    Level 1: “Psychotic”

    When predominant, the mechanisms on this level are almost always severely pathological. These six defences, in conjunction, permit one effectively to rearrange external experiences to eliminate the need to cope with reality. Pathological users of these mechanisms frequently appear irrational or insane to others. These are the “psychotic” defences, common in overt psychosis. However, they are normally found in dreams and throughout childhood as well.[22] They include:

    Delusional projection: Delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.

    Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.

    Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.

    This is how SJWs can violently prevent other people from exercising their Free Speech rights, while denying they are fascist-like. Denial. “Oh no, we aren’t neo-fascists because we are really good people!”

    This is how the various dumbasses on the Left can go on TV and make absolutely delusional claims. For example, this Muslim Chick who lives in Chicago, on the South Side, and is worried about white extremists.

    The absolutely best example of “distortion” is the Left’s racial theories. Like the “black lives matter” craziness, where a few shootings by whites gets them marching and rioting, while they simply ignore black on black crime. Or, the Left swan-diving into Horst Wessel-Land over Trayvon Martin, a mugger who was banging Poor George Zimmerman’s head into the concrete. My goodness, but moronic whites were putting on hoodies and eating Skittles in sympathy.

    So yeah, projection fits right in there!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. The contempt and hate on the faces of democrats is laughsble ! I have not seen such low lives getting elected by certain states

    2. The unbridled hate and rage of the left is due to the fact that for them, politics is their religion. They have no other faith structure or system to lean on. So they lash out in anger, like the vicious comments we see here from Louise, Silver, Isaac, Ken, Natacha, etc.

      1. You’re exactly right. Being a Liberal Democrat is a faith-based undertaking. Because the things that you advocate for don’t work, and don’t make anything better. In fact, they often make things worse. Like I have said multiple times, people are Liberal Democrats for the same reason some goober in West Virginia dances around with rattlesnakes while speaking in tongues.

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

        1. Yes, Medicare and Social Security are abysmal failures. I’m sure you won’t be needing yours then, Squeeky. But not to fear, you won’t be left entirely in the lurch! Here, have these GOP healthcare coupons, good for $5 off your next emergency room visit!

          1. I am 33 years old, sooo I doubt that I will ever collect either social security or medicare. I suspect the fund will be depleted paying in large part for illegitimate children, crazy checks, and illegal aliens.

            Squeeky Fromm
            Girl Reporter

  10. I think Professor Turley has said about 600 times in 6 months (paraphrasing), “While it’s ethically or morally questionable, technically it’s not illegal…”

    [ It = the myriad abysmal idiocies of Trump, of his pining minions, and of his slimy sons ]

    1. Dave 137,…
      It’s unlikely that a President can be impeached for “ethically or morally questionable” behavior.
      Talk of impeachment started on November 9th, and accelerated on Jan. 21st.
      I think that’s why the distinction between “questionable” and “illegal is important.
      Those advocating impeachment will need to rely on more than questioning his character; Trump (and Hillary) were both “as is” candidates, with well-known character flaws.
      All of the questioning of Trump’s character/ integrity is just “white noise”, absent findings of an illegal and impeachable offense.

  11. “Russian meddling” is a witch hunt, just as Trump described it. Israeli meddling is fact. If Dems want to take down Trump for colluding with a foreign government, they need to focus on Israeli collusion.

    1. “Russian meddling is a witch hunt”.
      Doglover, there may still be laws on the books against sorcery.
      Those engaging in the farfetched talk of “violations of the Logan Act”…THE LOGAN ACT😄😃😂…. probably have a better chance of nailing their targets if they go after them with actual charges of witchcraft.

  12. They are twisting the law to their own needs. Anything to get Trump.

  13. Let’s get one thing straight. Hillary Clinton is not synonymous with America or the US government. During the election she was and still is a private citizen.

  14. When freedom of the press

    becomes incitement to riot,

    it is time to arrest the publishers.

      1. There are riots everywhere in America.

        To riot is a crime.

        “Fake news” is incitement to riot.

        Liberals love that crime, huh?

        1. Those awful liberals! We should round them up and throw them in concentration camps! That’ll teach them!

  15. The man who mistook his hat for his wife.

    Or, “This is not a pipe”.

        1. No, it was a serious surprise. A lot of people know about Rene Magritte’s painting, but The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat – – – that book is fairly unknown. If he comes out with an intelligent comment about Puer Aeturnus and its impact on the Left, I swear I will keel over in a dead faint!

          Just FWIW, I thought about writing a book called The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Door Mat, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. But I do think it would apply to a larger audience.

          Squeeky Fromm
          Girl Reporter

          1. Puer is not a prototype for The Donald. He has other problems.

          2. Really? I thought Oliver Sacks was well-known. Maybe cause I used to read The New Yorker. Only book I read was “Uncle Tungsten” though.

            Hey, OT – do you watch “Scandal”?

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