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Campaign Dirt And Collusion? Deciphering The Difference Between Al Gore And Trump Jr.'s Roles And Reactions

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Campaign Dirt And Collusion? Deciphering The Difference Between Al Gore And Trump Jr.'s Roles And Reactions
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Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of President Donald Trump, tweeted the contents of his emails with Russian contacts regarding information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign on Tuesday, ahead of the New York Times publishing an expose, of which he was aware prior to his release of information.

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It’s some of the first public and solid proof of efforts by the Trump campaign to cooperate with the Russians and the Russian government's intent to aid the Republican nominee's team ahead of the election.

While government officials, journalists and commentators argue back and forth on the potential consequences of the news, a look back at some relatively recent history can help frame the gravity of the situation.

In 2000, Al Gore was campaigning against then-future President George W. Bush — who like Trump lost the popular vote but won the electoral college — when one of Gore’s close advisors, former Rep. Tom Downey, received an anonymously mailed package containing materials to help Gore against Bush, reported the New York Times.

The Goods

The contents of the package included a videotape and papers documenting Bush’s preparations for their upcoming debate.

The methods being used by the Bush campaign were nothing extraordinary: practice debates with a staffer standing in for Gore, research on past political actions, talking points, etc.

In the case of Donald Trump Jr., he claims that there were no merits to his contacts’ claims — which involved evidence of Russia funding the Clinton campaign — and was lied to in order to arrange a meeting on other policy issues regarding Russia.

The Sources

The package Downey received was addressed from Austin, Texas, where the Bush campaign was headquartered.

Karen P. Hughes, the Bush campaign’s chief spokesperson, said at the time that only a few senior advisors and Bush himself had “legitimate access” to the materials in question.

It was later revealed that Juanita Yvette Lozano, an employee of the media firm consulting the Bush campaign, had leaked the materials. She was sentenced to one year in prison.

Trump Jr.’s source, on the other hand, was a foreign agent, presumably acting under the direction of the Russian government, in a stated attempt to support the Trump campaign.

The Responses

Downey spent little time examining the contents of the package before quickly delivering it to his lawyer and the FBI, which promptly began investigating the leak.

The campaign claimed to be unsure if they truly had been stolen or were actually a trick by Bush’s team to tap Gore. Regardless, Downey recused himself from any further debate preparation and Gore never saw the tape or documents.

“I looked at it, and I said, 'I shouldn't have this and shouldn't be looking at this. I knew that it was serious stuff. I know what ours looks like,” Downey told the Times.

The campaign had feared negative public perception due to the unfairly obtained advantage, noting Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, which is criticized after obtaining strategy documents used by President Jimmy Carter.

For its part, the Bush campaign responded cordially. Hughes said the lack of details available at the time did not warrant a heavy response and that “it was right for [Gore’s staff] to send [the materials] over to authorities

In contrast, Trump Jr. never alerted the authorities and only released his emails with the Russians to subvert the press.

That, despite the Russian threat to the United States’ national interests and the severity of the information against Clinton supposedly being given.

Instead, he responded “If it’s what you say I love it” and got other senior campaign staff involved.

“If the future president’s eldest son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication,” wrote the Times.

Clinton’s camp has not responded, with the obvious reason being that the election concluded nine months ago and any comment would hold next to no significance.

The Takeaway

The differences between these two leaks are stark beyond the basic facts of what was delivered and by whom.

While both sides back in 2000 expressed suspicion and accusations — the Democrats of theft, the Republicans of trickery, both of lying — neither seemed to be as nasty and outraged as they are now regarding Trump Jr.’s actions.

The Gore and Bush campaigns also did not jump to attack their opponents, whereas Trump Jr. quickly followed up his email dump with harsh criticism of “fake news” and the “liberal media.”

Campaign opposition research is an old tactic, but the way it’s enacted and handled is proving once again to be all new. The implications of this latest reveal have yet to be even remotely realized.

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Image Credit: Screengrab, By Office of the President-elect of the United States (www.greatagain.gov) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

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