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Commentary: In wake of Trump Jr. emails, conservatives are at a crucial crossroads — choose wisely

Justin Haskins argues in wake of the release of Donald Trump Jr.'s emails with Rob Goldstone, the future of conservativism depends on putting principles before politics. (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

Following the release of an email chain showing Donald Trump Jr. was, at the very least, willing to work with an operative who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton that had allegedly been provided by the Russian government, conservatives now find themselves at an important crossroads in history.

In brief, here’s what we know so far about the emails: In June 2016, in the midst of the presidential race, Trump Jr., who was actively working with his father’s campaign at the time, received an email from Rob Goldstone, a publicist who used to work for a British tabloid, suggesting he wanted to set up a meeting to discuss information that could be damaging to Clinton.

According to Goldstone, the information came from Emin Agalarov — a Russian pop star who has deep connections to high-ranking Russians through his father, Aras — who received it directly from the Russian government as part of its “support for Mr. Trump.”

“The crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] 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 — helped along by Aras and Emin.”

Trump Jr. responded, in part, “Thanks Rob I appreciate that. … Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it, especially later in the summer.”

A meeting would eventually occur with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower, one that included Jared Kushner (briefly, according to all accounts) and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort. Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya have said nothing damaging about Clinton was ever discussed and no deal of any kind was made. Trump Jr. has also said he never contacted the lawyer again and hasn’t spoken to Goldstone about the meeting since it occurred.

Is it likely the “bombshell” Trump Jr. emails released Tuesday amount to defrauding the United States, treason or any of the other dire charges that have been leveled by Democrats and the left-leaning media? Based on what we know right now, no. But the big story here is not whether Trump Jr. actually coordinated with the Russian government or a Russian operative to take down Clinton; it’s that he unquestionably was willing to do so, and if he was willing to work with the Russians in this instance, it’s possible he did work with Russian operatives in other situations or that someone else in the Trump camp engaged in similar discussions.

This revelation is incredibly important. Reasonable people don’t meet with Russian operatives to discuss damaging information about a political opponent. Patriotic Americans don’t accept the aid of hostile foreign governments to win elections. Campaigns don’t generally trust people who claim to be getting their information from the Kremlin.

Whether Trump Jr. broke the law or not — and I don’t think he did — his behavior is well beyond the bounds of what Americans should hope to get from a candidate’s campaign. It was wildly inappropriate, and, at minimum, the very definition of carelessness.

Since Donald Trump was nominated to be the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, conservatives have faced many crossroads, not the least of which being whether to vote for Trump. But none of those decisions are quite like the one we face today.

Unlike in the past, when no fair-minded person could blame people for changing their minds about Trump or for being excited when Trump has embraced conservative principles and disappointed when he’s spoken against them, there’s no turning back from the decision now before us: Are we devoted to the ideas of personal freedom, limited government, the security of the United States and free markets, or do our loyalties lie with a political regime, no matter the cost?

If most conservatives decide the latter is the best approach, then the entire pro-liberty movement will be at risk, because millions of independents, the people who decide the fate of nearly every presidential race and many important congressional races, will have no reason to trust conservatives. They’ll have no reason to believe we’re people of principles, not politics. They’ll have no reason to believe us when we say “character counts.”

This isn’t about you or me; this is about the future of this country. If you believe that policies that empower the individual and reject the notion of “the collective” are vital for our future, then we can’t afford to risk endangering that cause to pursue a slavish devotion to the Trump administration.

This is not to say the entire conservative movement should rally on the doorstep of the White House demanding Trump’s removal. He, like every American, deserves to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and right now, there is not a shred of evidence that the president himself even knew about Trump Jr.’s meeting or other, similar meetings — if they even occurred.

There is an investigation currently ongoing, and we should let the investigation play out to its conclusion and then evaluate the evidence once it has been fully disseminated.

If, however, conservatives dismiss the troubling actions of Trump Jr. and refuse to acknowledge the possibility future reports could make the situation much worse, we become no better than those liberals who ignored Benghazi, the tens of thousands of deleted Clinton emails, the tarmac meeting between former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama’s “Fast and Furious” scandal, Bill Clinton’s numerous scandals and lies as president, President Franklin Roosevelt’s internment camps filled with innocent Japanese-Americans and German-Americans or Woodrow Wilson’s history of supporting racism. Is that the sort of movement we want to become?

Conservatives must not be so concerned with Trump’s legacy that they forget they have a much more important legacy to protect.

One last thing…
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