Donald Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting may have been legal. But that’s a low bar

Asha Rangappa writes: Like all new FBI agents at Quantico, I got to know one particular individual very well when I was in the academy there. Her name was Carla F. Bad. Strictly speaking, she was not actually a person, but an acronym, whose name was a mnemonic device for all the ways the bureau taught agents to measure people seeking positions of public trust: character, associates, reputation, loyalty, ability, finances, bias, alcohol and drugs. Carla F. Bad is the touchstone against which FBI agents learn to assess a person’s honesty, integrity and trustworthiness in the course of checking their background. And she — rather than the criminal code — might be precisely what best reveals the shortcomings of the Trump administration.

The revelation that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to obtain incriminating information about Hillary Clinton has sparked another round of analysis on the technicalities of criminal law. Specifically, legal experts are focused on whether White House adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also attended the meeting, violated the law by failing to disclose this meeting on his SF-86 government background form. But focusing on bright-line rules of criminality misses the point. The deeper question is whether members of Trump’s administration can uphold the trust that has been placed in them as stewards of the government they have been chosen to lead. On this front, the criminal code shouldn’t be the only yardstick. Even if Trump’s aides and family have managed to toe the line of the law, the news out of the Russia investigation so far leaves little reason to have faith in their judgment.

For the record, the SF-86 isn’t easy to fill out. The form, more than 100 pages long, asks an individual seeking a national security position — meaning a position requiring a security clearance — for every place they’ve ever lived, every country they’ve ever visited, background information on every close relative, and almost every possible variation on their contacts with foreign officials. Even knowing that a false statement can carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, it’s not uncommon for even the most honest person filling out the form to inadvertently omit a piece of information. On my own SF-86, which I completed when I was 27 to become a special agent for the FBI, I failed to disclose a speeding ticket I got when traveling home from college for Thanksgiving when I was 19. I got a grilling from the FBI: Why, they wanted to know, did I not mention this? “I forgot” wasn’t the answer they wanted, but to my relief, they did accept it. [Continue reading…]

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