This is not the very best week for political sons.
First we have Cameron Collins, the 25-year-old offspring of Representative Chris Collins of New York, indicted with Dad on an insider-trading scheme. It is possible that they’re the first pair ever to be accused of conspiring during a congressional picnic.
Meanwhile Donald Trump Jr. is twisting slowly in the wind while the president denies he’s worried that his kid will wind up in the clink.
Oh, memories. Just two years ago, Donald Jr. and Collins, a super-enthusiastic Trump evangelist, spoke on the same night of the Republican convention. “Under Barack Obama we have been losing,” Collins told the crowd. It wasn’t exactly a highlight of the evening, but as it turned out, few people in the room had a keener understanding of the importance — and profitability — of spotting a loser.
Collins was on the board of directors of an Australian biotech company, and its largest shareholder. (We will not be diverted into a discussion of the fact that he also sat on a House committee that oversaw medical business issues. If the Republican convention didn’t care, why should you?) Anyhow, the next year — at the Congressional Picnic! — he got a confidential email reporting that the firm’s big new drug was going to be a washout.
And urgently passed the information to young Cameron, who dumped a ton of shares.
Back to the Republican convention: After Representative Collins finished complaining about Barack Obama, Donald Jr. took the stage and rocked the audience with his prediction that Dad was going to run an administration for average Americans — “not a special class of crony elites at the top of the heap.”
To be fair, you couldn’t expect Junior to realize that one of his fellow speakers was going to be accused of insider trading, which is sort of the definition of “special class of crony elites.” Or to foresee that his father’s future cabinet would boast an E.P.A. head who tried to use his job to help get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise. Or that campaign chairman Paul Manafort had been spending a rather mysterious flood of money to treat himself to ostrich-skin outerwear.
Anyway, at the time, Don Jr.’s anti-cronyism speech went over big. Politico announced that “a political star may have been born.” Now here we are, speculating about whether yesterday’s star is on a trajectory to the slammer.
It certainly sounds as if Dad is plenty worried, although the president denied it in a recent tweet: “Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere. I did not know about it.”
We’ve been around this president too long to buy the “I did not know” line. However, he could very possibly win some converts if he tried “If I knew, I forgot almost instantly.”
Do you find this secret meeting story a little … oblique? It really is hard to get straight. And if you’re confused, imagine how Junior must feel. Try thinking about it in steps:
Step 1 — Donald Jr. gets invited to meet a “Russian government attorney” who would give him super-good dirt on Hillary Clinton. Perhaps he remembered his father’s history of, um, doing stuff in Russia and imagined he was going to get something sexy.
Step 2 — Whatever. Our boy bites. (“If it’s what you say I love it.”)
Step 3 — When The Times reveals the meeting took place, Dad dictates his son’s response, which is that they mainly talked about “adoption.”
Step 4 — Eventually Junior is called to testify before a Senate committee, where he swears his father didn’t know anything about the meeting. Which, yeah, was actually not about adoption. The adoption story lasted approximately as long as Dad’s career as the enemy of crony elites.
So here we are. As things stand, the best argument for Don Jr.’s side is that everything he did was a total failure. Incompetence is, unfortunately, not a legal defense.
Meanwhile, Chris Collins’s lawyer noted that “even the government does not allege that Congressman Collins traded a single share. …” Yeah, just his kid. Finally, we’ve found someone who might make the Trump family saga seem heartwarming.
Don Jr.’s mounting legal troubles do seem to bring out his father’s affections. At the time the first news of the Russian meeting erupted, Trump affirmed, through a spokeswoman, that his boy was “a high-quality person.” This is the sort of thing you’d say about someone you were recommending to a neighbor who needed his yard mowed. But this week, Junior’s been promoted to “wonderful son.”
By the time the indictments come down, the younger Trump will probably be “the best child ever.” And he can trade stories with Cameron Collins in the courthouse.