For all of us, stakes went up

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Only special counsel can set politics aside and sort out what is or is not true.

IF A BEST-SELLING AUTHOR were writing a political thriller he might script it this way, with some investigative reporter progressively baiting a hook by revealing just enough information to entice the quarry to swallow a little harder each day.

Saturday: The New York Times reports President Trump's son, Donald Jr., accepted an undisclosed meeting last summer with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. Trump Jr. responds that it was only a "short introductory" affair about issues related to adoptions of Russian children by American parents.

Sunday: The Times springs the information that the meeting was set up by an intermediary who promised the Russian lawyer had damaging facts about Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. says "no details or supporting information was provided" and the meeting was adjourned.

Tuesday: The Times reports it has seen a pre-meeting email in which Trump Jr. was promised the Russian lawyer would dish dirt on Clinton that is "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." The email chain showed this response from Trump Jr.: "If it's what you say, I love it."

THE HOOK IS SET. There's no other conclusion to be drawn. Donald Trump Jr. and the two key players who attended the meeting with him - then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner - were in the room intending to glean damaging information about Clinton from what had been clearly represented to them as Russian government sources.

So much for the claims no one from the Trump organization colluded with Russia about anything appearing to meddle in U.S. elections.

If there was no collusion, it was not from lack of intent.

The evasiveness and denial from Trump Jr. that began Saturday ended with the stunning revelation that the three highest-ranking members of the campaign team - beneath only the candidate himself - were all sitting in a Trump Tower room expecting to hear information that had been described by the intermediary as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

THAT MEANS THE STAKES just went up dramatically.

Published information may be damaging and embarrassing. But reality will play out in the offices of special counsel Robert Mueller.

The two congressional investigations may or may not be of value. On the House side, the investigation at several turns has looked substantially tainted by partisan maneuvers. In the Senate, the investigation has appeared less compromised. Still, politics being politics, citizens probably should lower expectations for a thorough, transparent and effective congressional probe.

We live today in a poisonous partisan climate. Sides have been chosen and, for many, facts and truth are only accepted if it fits the preconceived partisan narrative - far left or far right. As a result the outcome within Congress likely is predictable, with the two parties just glaring at each other over ideological barricades.

Mueller, on the other hand, holds an independent office and is not answerable to anything but the law. His charge is to follow the facts where they lead, expose the truth and let the legal chips fall where they may. That could mean anything from criminal charges to nothing there to see.

That's a tightrope to walk across a swamp filled with maneaters. Let's hope his step is sure.

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