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July 2017

OpenThe Books Oversight Report – National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities

Today, we released our OpenTheBooks investigation of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities.

With editorial coverage at the Wall Street Journal, we ask whether or not nonprofits have a right to public funding no matter how strong their balance sheet?

In 2016, nonprofit and higher education organizations across America received grants of $183 million. Recipients of $20.5 million included 71 financially rich entities – each with assets exceeding $1 billion. Those entities were awarded $120 million in taxpayer funds since 2009.

In the arts community, there is a stark contrast between the haves and have-nots. There were the “starving artist” organizations – 1,027 organizations with assets under $1 million – that received just $41 million in federal grants (FY2016).

This report raises several questions:

Why are taxpayers funding nonprofits that have assets of at least $1 billion? Do charities have a right to public funding no matter how strong their balance sheet?
If the public purpose is to fund the starving artist, then why are small organizations (less than $1 million in assets) receiving just $1 of every $4 in NFA-H nonprofit grant-making?
Should prestigious universities receive arts and humanities funding despite their billion-dollar endowments?
Who can explain the public purpose in forcing working-class taxpayers to fund arts organizations that obviously don’t need the money?

Read our investigation of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities.

Join the Transparency Revolution! Join Us.

After all, it’s your money.

Trouble among America’s Gulf Allies by John R. Bolton

The State Department should declare both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), thus triggering the penalties and sanctions required by law when such a declaration is made.

Those “affiliates” of the Muslim Brotherhood that, in whole or part, meet the statutory FTO definition should be designated; those that do not can be spared, at least in the absence of new information.

Qatar can legitimately complain that it is being unfairly singled out. The proper response is not to let Qatar off the hook but to put every other country whose governments or citizens are financing terrorism on the hook.

In recent weeks, governments on the Arabian Peninsula have been having a diplomatic brawl. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (together with Egypt and other Muslim countries) have put considerable economic and political pressure on Qatar, suspending diplomatic relations and embargoing trade with their fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member. Kuwait and Oman, also GCC members, have been mediating the dispute or remaining publicly silent.

The Saudis and their supporters are demanding sweeping changes in Qatari policies, including suspending all financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist groups; joining the other GCC members in taking a much harder line against the nuclear and terrorist threat from Shia Iran and its proxies; and closing Al Jazeera, the irritating, radical-supporting television and media empire funded by Qatar’s royal family.

The United States’ response so far has been confused. President Trump has vocally supported the Saudi campaign, but the State Department has publicly taken a different view, urging that GCC members resolve their differences quietly.

As with so many Middle East disputes, the issues are complex, and there is considerable underlying history. Of course, if they were easy, Saudi Arabia and Qatar would not be nearly at daggers drawn seemingly overnight.

Washington has palpable interests at stake in this dispute and can make several critical moves to help restore unity among the Arabian governments, even though the issues may seem as exotic to the average American as the Saudi sword dance Trump joined during his recent Middle East trip.

Twin issues to confront

Confronting the twin issues of radical Islamic terrorism and the ayatollahs’ malign regime in Iraq are central not only to the Arab disputants but to the United States as well. In addition to providing our good offices to the GCC members, the Trump administration should take two critical steps to restore unity and stability among these key allies.

First, the State Department should declare both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), thus triggering the penalties and sanctions required by law when such a declaration is made. Both groups meet the statutory definition because of their violence and continuing threats against Americans. The Obama administration’s failure to make the FTO designation has weakened our global anti-terrorist efforts.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s defenders argue that it is far from monolithic; that many of its “affiliates” are in fact entirely harmless; and that a blanket declaration would actually harm our anti-jihadi efforts. Even taking these objections as true for the sake of argument, they counsel a careful delineation among elements of the Brotherhood. Those that, in whole or part, meet the statutory FTO definition should be designated; those that do not can be spared, at least in the absence of new information. The Brotherhood’s alleged complexity is an argument for being precise in the FTO designations, not for avoiding any designations whatever.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab governments already target the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization but Qatar does not. That may sound suspicious, but as of now, of course, the United States hasn’t found the resolve to do it either. Once Washington acts, however, it will be much harder for Qatar or anyone else to argue that the Brotherhood is just a collection of charitable souls performing humanitarian missions.
A direct terrorist threat

Similarly, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is a direct terrorist threat that has been killing Americans ever since the IRGC-directed attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in October 1983. The only real argument against naming the IRGC is that so doing would endanger Obama’s 2015 nuclear agreement, given Tehran’s expected response to an FTO determination.

Second, Trump should follow up his successful Riyadh summit by insisting on rapid and comprehensive implementation of the summit’s principal outcome, the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (GCCEI). This center can provide governments across the Muslim world a face-saving mechanism to do what should have been done long ago, namely taking individual and collective steps to dry up terrorist financing.

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump join King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in the inaugural opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, May 21, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

One could write books on the intricate financing that supports international terrorism, and finger-pointing at those responsible could take years. But whether terrorists are financed by governments, directly or indirectly, or by individuals or groups, with or without government knowledge or encouragement, it must all stop. Qatar can legitimately complain that it is being unfairly singled out. The proper response is not to let Qatar off the hook but to put every other country whose governments or citizens are financing terrorism on the hook.

Comey’s Leaked Memos: Who Will Guard the Guardians? by Alan M. Dershowitz

President Trump has accused former FBI director James Comey of illegality in leaking memos that may have contained classified information. If it is true that the leaked Comey memos – laundered through a law professor in an effort to pressure Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein into appointing a special counsel – contained classified information, who will investigate Comey? Surely the Special Counsel, Comey’s friend who he helped get appointed, could not conduct a credible investigation. Nor could Rod Rosenstein, who made the appointment. Will yet another special counsel have to be appointed to conduct an investigation of Comey’s leaking?

Then-Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, May 3, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

On the basis of what we now know, it does not appear that Comey committed a crime. What he did, if the allegation turns out to be true, is remarkably similar to what he investigated with regard to Hillary Clinton’s improper use of a private email server. Both Clinton and Comey were sloppy in their handling of classified material and both deserve to be criticized for their negligence. But neither crossed the line into willful criminality. Of course, Hillary’s enemies argue that she did cross the line. And Comey’s enemies will argue the same as to his conduct. But judged by a uniform standard, neither should be prosecuted for what appear to be honest mistakes.

We don’t know at this point whether the Comey memos actually contained information that is classified, and even if so, was it so designated before or after Comey disclosed it? We also don’t know the level of classification, if any. What we do know is that Comey’s claim that he was entitled to leak the memos because he was a “private citizen” is bogus. The memos contained information he obtained as a government employees and the memos were the property of the government. If they contained classified information, he was not entitled to leak them without prior approval.

President Trump was quick to Tweet that Comey’s actions were “so illegal.” That is, of course, what Trump’s critics are saying about his actions, and those of his family, his campaign aids and his transition team members. Both sides are rushing to judgment when it comes to criminalizing the political acts of their opponents. Both sides seem to believe that if something done by their opponents is wrong, it should be criminal. But that’s not how our system of justice works. For something to be criminal, it must be explicitly prohibited by an existing criminal statute. There must be a criminal act, accompanied by a criminal intent. Moreover, the law must be clear and unambiguous. These salutary rules are designed to protect Democrats and Republicans alike. But they are being abused by Republicans and Democrats alike in the short term interest of partisan advantage.

Perhaps the most extreme example of stretching the law to target an individual for a political sin is the recent statement by Richard Painter directed against Donald Trump’s son, who attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer who suggested that she might provide him with negative information about Hillary Clinton. This is what Painter said: “This was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians, who were known to be engaged in spying inside the United States.” He suggested that Trump’s son might be guilty of treason and should be in custody. But the Constitution specifically defines treason, providing that its definition is exclusive and limited. Here is what it says: “Treason against the United States shall consist only levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” (Emphasis added) This definition clearly does not cover “an effort to get opposition research” from the Russians. But the Constitution doesn’t seem to matter to those who are convinced that any wrongful action must also be criminal.

Linda Sarsour’s All-Star Team of Radical Theologians

Linda Sarsour knows how to attract attention. She may be the most visible Islamist activist in the United States today, and her use of the word “jihad” during a speech to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) July 1 generated a predictable response from opponents, followed by an even more predictable wave of sympathetic media coverage.

The Huffington Post and Time magazine published op-eds defending Sarsour, who until recently directed the Arab American Association of New York, and accepting that she did not use to word to incite violence. The Washington Post went further, giving Sarsour her own op-ed to cast herself as “a target of the Islamophobia industry.”

It might be easier to give her the benefit of the doubt if she didn’t have such a deep history of hatred and extremism, especially against everyone who supports Israel’s right to exist. It also might help if she didn’t make a point of lauding radical Islamists and at least one terrorist.

In addition to mentioning jihad, Sarsour used her ISNA remarks to praise Imam Siraj Wahhaj as “my favorite person in this room,” calling him “a mentor, a motivator an encourager of mine. Someone who has taught me to speak truth to power and not worry about the consequences.”

Muslims shouldn’t become politically active because it is “the American thing to do,” Wahhaj said in 1991. Muslims who do get involved should “be very careful [to remember] that your leader is for Allah … You get involved in politics because politics can be a weapon to use in the cause of Islam.”

In 1995, Wahhaj also described America as “a garbage can … filthy and sick.”

Does Sarsour agree with her mentor? She should say so publicly and with the same conviction that she uses to attack her critics.

Wahhaj was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the prosecution of the first World Trade Center bombing mastermind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. He defended Abdel-Rahman as a “respected scholar,” and a “bold, as a strong preacher of Islam.”

Years later, Wahhaj spoke at a fundraiser for Aafia Siddiqui, known as “Lady al-Qaida,” following her conviction on terrorism charges. “I studied the case a little bit,” he said in 2011. “I think that she innocent. And I think at least there is grounds, there’s reasonable doubt. And by law, if there’s reasonable doubt, you have to acquit.”

Iran Raises the Stakes By Lawrence J. Haas

With America’s global attention largely focused elsewhere, Iran continues to expand its military capabilities – legally and otherwise – forcing the question of what Washington and its regional allies plan to do about it.

Iran’s military expansionism of late encompasses a host of activities: pursuing illegal means to expand its nuclear and ballistic missile technology and expertise; continuing to test its longer range and increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile; and building underground facilities in Lebanon to manufacture missiles and other weapons for its most powerful terrorist client Hezbollah.

This expansionism is boosting the capacity of Iran, a Shiite nation, to threaten Israel and the region’s U.S.-backed Sunni states – most notably Saudi Arabia – raising the stakes for a U.S. administration that has wisely discarded President Barack Obama’s efforts at U.S.-Iranian rapprochement but not yet enunciated a comprehensive alternative.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently articulated the broad elements of a strategy: “Our policy towards Iran,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in response to a question, “is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.”

The question now is whether Tillerson was speaking for an administration that agrees on those elements and, if so, whether it is serious enough to put the building blocks of a comprehensive strategy in place – e.g., a close monitoring of Iranian compliance with the 2015 global nuclear agreement; greater U.S. economic sanctions in response to both Iran’s violations as well as its continuing terror-related efforts; closer U.S. military cooperation with its regional allies to counter Iran’s hegemonic ambitions; and a serious effort to engage with an Iranian populace that, to a great extent, finds the regime repugnant and yearns for more freedom and democracy.

In three recent reports, German intelligence and other authorities have revealed that Tehran is working to illegally acquire technology and expertise to advance both its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The reports revealed, for instance, that three German citizens were charged in connection with “the deliveries of 51 special valves to an Iranian company” that Iran could use for its Arak heavy water reactor – a reactor that can develop plutonium for nuclear weapons and that Iran was supposed to dismantle under the nuclear agreement. They also revealed that Iran was seeking the “products and scientific know-how” to develop “weapons of mass destruction as well [as] missile technology.”

Meanwhile, Tehran dismissed Friday’s call by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that it stop its ballistic missile testing that he said violates the spirit of the nuclear agreement. That’s because Iran is testing missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead, reinforcing concerns that – despite its statements to the contrary – it plans to pursue nuclear weapons either by violating the agreement or waiting until it expires over the next decade or so.

U.S. Soldier Arrested for Supporting the Islamic State By Patrick Poole

A U.S. Army soldier stationed in Hawaii pledged allegiance to ISIS and offered the terror group documents and training according to the FBI.Ikaika Erik Kang was arrested this past weekend for alleged ties to the Islamic State after a year-long investigation.

Hawaii News reports:

An active duty Hawaii soldier who was arrested for allegedly trying to provide material support and training to the Islamic State terrorist group told an undercover federal agent Saturday that he wanted to “kill a bunch of people.”

A criminal complaint alleges that Ikaika Erik Kang, 34, was arrested at his Waipahu apartment Saturday, shortly after pledging his loyalty to ISIS and making the threatening statement.

“A probable cause arrest was made in the interest of public safety,” Honolulu FBI Special Agent in Charge Paul D. Delacourt said Monday, after Kang’s first appearance in federal court. He added, “We believe that Kang was a lone actor and was not associated with others who present a threat to Hawaii.”

Delacourt said Kang’s arrest came after an investigation that lasted for more than a year, and involved multiple agencies.

Kang, who has two registered firearms and extensive “combatives training,” is assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks.

A criminal complaint alleges that he “attempted to provide material support to ISIS by providing both classified military documents, and other sensitive but unclassified military documents, to persons he believed would pass the documents to ISIS.”

Kang has reportedly served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Top Republican Demands Investigation into Comey and Purging of Obama Holdovers for Intel Leaks By Debra Heine

A powerful House Republican is calling on the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into former FBI Director James Comey’s alleged leaks of classified information, the Washington Free Beacon reported Tuesday.

Comey admitted in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last month that he leaked information from one memo to the news media to spur the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and chair of its National Security subcommittee, also called on President Trump to purge Obama holdovers still working in the federal government.

In an exclusive interview with the Beacon, DeSantis claimed that “the holdovers and their allies outside the White House are responsible for an unprecedented series of national security leaks aimed at damaging the Trump administration’s national security apparatus.” And he singled out none other than Ben Rhodes, the creator of the Obama White House echo chamber (which is still operational), as the person responsible for most of the leaks. DeSantis said he wants to get Rhodes under oath to testify before Congress about his nefarious activities since he left the White House.

Via the Washington Free Beacon:

DeSantis named Ben Rhodes—the former National Security Council official responsible for creating an in-house “echo chamber” meant to mislead reporters and the public about the landmark nuclear deal with Iran—as a primary source of these leaks and urged the House Intelligence Committee to call Rhodes and other former Obama officials to testify publicly about any role they may be playing in spreading classified information to reporters.

Comey’s behavior warrants a DOJ investigation due to the former FBI director’s admittance that he disclosed private information to the public in order to damage the Trump administration, according to DeSantis.

“Congress needs to press Sessions and other people to make sure they are investigating this because the American people need the truth,” DeSantis told the Free Beacon in a wide-ranging interview. “If he did violate any laws, he needs to be held accountable. If you’re violating laws in service of doing political warfare, that is just absolutely unacceptable, particularly for someone who held such a high position in the government.”

Comey has gone on record stating that he “leaked in order to trigger a special counsel, which in some ways is pretty extraordinary,” DeSantis noted.

Comey’s actions raise further questions about his ethics, DeSantis said.

“Not only is he leaking this stuff, not only were the memos done in the course of his employment and likely government property, he may have disclosed classified information in this quest to basically wage a vendetta against the president because the president fired him and to try and create a special counsel,” DeSantis said.

“This guy is really a creature of the swamp. He maneuvers around D.C. in ways that are very similar to how D.C. insiders operate,” DeSantis said of Comey. “He’s one of the best in those regards.”

DeSantis and other lawmakers are now seeking copies of Comey’s complete memos in order to review whether classified information may have been leaked to the press in violation of U.S. law.

“Comey has made a concerted effort to not disclose these memos,” DeSantis revealed. “I think Congress obviously has a right to get them.”

DeSantis is pushing his colleagues on the House Oversight Committee to subpoena Comey in order to obtain the memos. CONTINUE AT SITE

Mahmoud Abbas’s Legacy Blows Up in His Face The Palestinian leader’s efforts to secure a place in history appear likely to backfire in disastrous fashion. By Elliot Kaufman

Recently, Palestinian politics have presented more questions than answers.

For instance: Why has the Palestinian Authority (PA) urged Israel to send less electricity to the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip? Why is Egypt helping Hamas? Who is Mohammed Dahlan, and why is Hamas meeting with him? And why did one of the most astute observers of Palestinian politics just declare “the end of the so-called two-state solution”?

As we shall see, this drama has more to do with Palestinian and Egyptian strategic interests than with Israel’s actions.

The story begins with Mahmoud Abbas’s legacy, or lack thereof. Abbas, the President of the PA, is now 82 years old and in poor health. He is on the way out and he knows it. Worse, he knows that his people, the Palestinians, are no closer to a state of their own than they were when he became President in 2005. Worse still, they remain poor and divided between his Fatah party, which runs the West Bank, and Hamas, the terrorist group in control of Gaza. Deeply unpopular, Abbas most likely realizes that he will be remembered as the leader who crushed Palestinian democracy in its infancy, entrenched corruption, and left the movement with no clear successor.

So what is he to do? At this point, he has lost the legitimacy to make any meaningful deal with Israel. His last hope for a positive legacy is to reunite Fatah and Hamas, giving the cause of Palestinian statehood new life.

There’s just one problem: Hamas violently kicked Fatah out of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and it has no plan to relinquish power. The last attempt at a Palestinian unity government, in 2015, failed. So this year, Abbas decided he had to pressure Hamas to let Fatah back into Gaza. Accordingly, he set about refusing to pay for Gazan electricity and urging Israel to reduce its electricity shipments to Gaza. The PA began cutting off the salaries it paid to Gazan civil servants and former Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails. It also halted shipments of medicine from the West Bank to Gaza and refused permits to sick Gazans who needed to leave for treatment.

Keystone Kops Collusion Did Don Jr., a Russian pop star and a lawyer steal the 2016 election?

President Trump’s critics claim to have uncovered proof, finally, of 2016 collusion between the campaign and the Kremlin. Another reading of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a well-connected Russian lawyer is, well, political farce.

In June 2016, Mr. Trump Jr. arranged an appointment in Trump Tower with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. He said in a statement that he hoped to acquire opposition research about Hillary Clinton, and he even pulled in Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then campaign manager Paul Manafort. By Mr. Trump Jr.’s account, Ms. Veselnitskaya relayed nothing to compromise Mrs. Clinton and then lobbied him about the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law that sanctions Russian human-rights abusers.

According to the emails that Mr. Trump Jr. released Tuesday, Mr. Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Ms. Veselnitskaya after he was approached by Rob Goldstone, a publicist who offered to pass along “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” He wrote that this information “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The appropriate response from a political competent would have been to alert the FBI if a cut-out promised material supplied by a foreign government. Mr. Trump Jr. instead replied that “if it’s what you say I love it.”

Then again, the Trumps knew Mr. Goldstone through the Russian pop star Emin, aka Emin Agalarov, whose father partnered with Donald Trump Sr. in bringing the Miss Universe beauty pageant to Moscow in 2013. Mr. Trump Sr. appeared in a music video with Emin the same year. Mr. Goldstone said that “Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting”—info his father got from the “Crown prosecutor of Russia.” Russia’s “Crown prosecutor” doesn’t exist.

Mr. Trump Jr. responded that “perhaps I just speak to Emin first.” Mr. Goldstone brokered the call, reporting that “Ok he’s on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 Minutes so I am sure can call.” Subsequent messages show Emin asked Mr. Trump Jr. to meet with Ms. Veselnitskaya, who was well-known as an anti-Magnitsky operative at the time. Mr. Goldstone publicly checked into Trump Tower on Facebook during the meeting, which isn’t how a KGB man would normally conceal the handoff of state secrets.

In the daisy chain from Russian oligarch to singer to PR go-between to lawyer to Trump scion, which is more plausible? That Don Jr. was canny enough to coordinate a global plot to rig the election but not canny enough to notice that this plot was detailed in his personal emails? Or that some Russians took advantage of a political naif named Trump in an unsuccessful bid to undermine the Magnitsky law they hated?

The problem is that President Trump has too often made the implausible plausible by undermining his own credibility on Russia. He’s stocked his cabinet with Russia hawks but dallied with characters like the legendary Beltway bandit Mr. Manafort or the conspiratorialist Roger Stone. His Syrian bombing and energy policy are tough on Russia, but Mr. Trump thinks that if he says Russia interfered in 2016 he will play into the Democratic narrative that his victory is illegitimate.

Thus in retrospect the John Podesta and Democratic National Committee hacks—still so far the tangible extent of Russian meddling—did less damage to U.S. democracy than it has done to the Trump Presidency. The person who should be maddest about the Russian hacks is Mr. Trump.

The media’s mass hysteria over ‘collusion’ is out of control By Ed Rogers

“For many in the media and elsewhere, the collective grievances that they have against Trump personally, the White House as a whole and Trump’s policies somehow justify their zealous promotion of the “collusion scandal.” But not because the story is valid. Rather, the media know that they are not getting to Trump with anything else. Today, much of the “news coverage” of Trump and Co. is about payback. The media thinks they aren’t getting the truth and so they don’t have to deliver it either. It is a bad cycle that is not working for the White House or the media. With this much intensity, it is hard to see how this ends well.”

Hysteria among the media and Trump opponents over the prospect of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin may have hit its crescendo this week. That’s right: The wailing from the media and their allies about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with some “Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer” (whatever that means) may be the last gasp of this faux scandal. Good riddance.

Predictably, the New York Times started the ball rolling with front-page coverage, going so far as to argue, “The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.” As if this were some breakthrough moment. The Times followed up with a headline yesterday that the meeting request and subject matter discussed in the prior story were transmitted to Trump Jr. via an email. Holy cow. The Times is so desperate to move the story that the meeting’s arrangement over email is being made into Page 1 news. You would have thought it had come through a dead drop under a bridge somewhere.

And, of course, CNN has been apoplectic in its breathless coverage, running one story after another about this “development” on the air and online. But Politico takes the prize for the most over-the-top, made-up news, claiming that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting could amount to a crime.

As I have written before, there are always people hovering around campaigns trying to peddle information and traffic in supposed silver bullets. There should be nothing to report on when a private citizen who works at a campaign takes a meeting with a friend of a friend offering information about an opponent. And yet, the media wants to make it a smoking gun.

If taking meetings with such people is a crime, then I hope there is a statute of limitations — because I would have been a repeat offender.

Don’t get me wrong. Trump Jr. should not have taken the meeting. These offers of information on the down-low are greeted with eye-rolling, and red flags are almost always clearly visible. No senior campaign official, much less a family member of the candidate, should take such a meeting.

Having the meeting was a rookie, amateur mistake. Between human curiosity and a campaign professional’s duty to get the dirt when you can, Trump Jr. likely felt that the person had to be heard. In a normal case, the meeting should have been handed off to a lackey. Said lackey would have then reported the scoop — or lack thereof — and awaited further instruction.

However, after seeing today’s email exchange dump from Trump Jr., it is easy to see that the meeting should have never happened. Period.

I double down on the idea that this meeting was a rookie, amateur mistake. Even the lackey should not have taken this meeting. It was bad judgment, but not collaboration with the Russians.

Just imagine: Trump Jr. is sitting there when he gets an email — from a music promoter — screaming with red flags and some comical language (does Russia even have a “Crown prosecutor”?) and he takes the bait. Wince! Anybody should have known better.