Don Jr., Don Sr., and The Russians

Donald Trump. Photo Credit: The Hot Zone USA Library/Malik LeGare

Twitter was the place to be Tuesday morning, as it frequently has been during the Trump presidential candidacy as well as his presidency; the drama this time still has to do with the “R” word (Russia) but with a different Donald Trump than usual: Donald Trump Junior.

Since Saturday, The New York Times has been reporting about a meeting that took place in June of 2016 between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort (then Trump, Sr.’s campaign manager), Jared Kushner (the infamous son-in-law) and a Kremlin connected Russian lawyer.

This was two weeks after Trump was officially named the Republican candidate for president. Trump, Jr.—his eldest son—received an email from one of Trump, Sr.’s former business partners in Russia who stated that he had been contacted about information on Hillary Clinton that may be useful to the Trump campaign. Rob Goldstone is a publicist who formerly worked for a British tabloid; he emailed Trump, Jr. stating that his contact was involved with the Russian government and had documents Russia wanted to share. He claimed that the documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to [Trump].”

In the emails, he also notes that the information is “very high level and sensitive” and called it “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

This story unfolded like an avalanche starting with the vague reporting about the meeting on Saturday, moving toward descriptions of the emails’ contents and the subject of the arranged meeting, to the nearly simultaneous release of the actual emails from both the Times and Trump, Jr. himself on Twitter Tuesday morning. As the avalanche avalanched, Trump’s spokespeople and Trump, Jr., gave seemingly inconsistent explanations for the emails and meeting. Ultimately, however, Trump, Jr., confirmed that the meeting had occurred, as well as stating that it had been arranged for what he called “political opposition research,” with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

The first email came to his inbox on June 3; Veselnitskaya was at Trump Tower meeting with three of Trump’s top-most and closest aids on June 9th.

Note: this was at least a full month before the first “dump” of Clinton-related hacked emails. Wikileaks published emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee on July 22; on July 25, “Guccifer 2.0” claimed responsibility for the hack. Though Guccifer and the Russian government, as well as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, deny a link between Guccifer and the Russian government, US government officials as well as numerous intelligence agencies believe that the username was created by Russian intelligence services for the express purpose of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

On July 27, the @realDonaldTrump account Tweeted: “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!” Note: her emails were found to not have been illegally deleted per two separate FBI investigations. This followed a statement he made at a rally around the same time: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Mike Flynn, former National Security Advisor to the Trump Campaign, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both come under fire for not disclosing connections to or communications with Russian officials, as had Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner. Mike Flynn was fired and Jeff Sessions alleged he would recuse himself from any election investigation, though he sounded off on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was leading that investigation.

Prior to release the email exchange, Trump, Jr., had stated that he would be “happy to work with the [investigative] committee to pass on what I know.” He is referring to the congressional committees currently looking into the Russian interference and potential Trump team involvement. Many private citizens and bipartisan officials were also calling for him to testify to special counsel, Robert Muller. 

In the email exchange, Trump, Jr., responded at one point to Mr. Goldstone saying “If it’s what you say I love it.”

Mr. Trump was informed by The Times that the emails would be published Tuesday, which prompted him to publish them himself on his Twitter. He called the move an effort to be “totally transparent.”

Trump, Sr., praised his eldest son later in the day in a statement on Twitter, specifically saying “I applaud his transparency.”

There is the question of whether it is transparency if the documents were already on track to be published. Beyond that, what the content of the emails reveals left many scratching their heads as to why the Trump team would willingly confirm The Times’ damning reporting.

The email exchange, posted by Trump, Jr. and The Times, reveals that he was, indeed, offered Russian government assistance in damaging Hillary Clinton’s campaign and bolstering his fathers’.

This is not only spelled out explicitly in the emails’ text, but also confirmed by the backstory tracked by The Times into the Goldstone and Trump connection.

They met when the Trump Organization was attempting to do business in Russia. Goldstone represents “one of Russia’s biggest pop music stars, Emin Agalarov. Emin, who professionally uses his first name only, is the son of Aras Agalarov, a real estate tycoon sometimes called the ‘Donald Trump of Russia.’”

Agalarov has previously bragged about having close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Agalarov worked with Trump, Sr., to bring the Miss Universe competition to Moscow in 2013. Trump, Sr., even made a cameo in an Emin music video.

In the emails, Goldstone writes that Emin had called him that morning asking him to contact the Trumps. He writes, “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to” the Trump campaign; he also offered to set up a meeting with Trump, Sr., directly if that would be preferred.

Veselnitskaya said in an interview that she did not work for the Russian government and that she met with the Trump team in order to lobby against the Magnitsky Act. This law named for Sergei Magnitsky who died in Moscow while imprisoned by the Russian government for investigating fraud by Russian tax officials, enacted sanctions against 18 individual Russians in order to punish them for Magnitsky’s death. The originally reported premise for the meeting was to discuss Russian adoptions; but, according to Amanda Taub of The Times, “When the Kremlin Says ‘Adoptions,’ It Means Sanctions,” calling the connection between Russian adoption and sanctions against the Russian government “so inextricably linked as to be practically synonymous.”

Former National Security Advisor for the Trump Administration, Mike Flynn, went through a similar pattern of revelation, denial and more revelation in regards to his own Russian contacts, which also reportedly involved sanctions against the Russian government. When the Obama Administration imposed sanctions in December, responding to the Russian interference in the election, Mike Flynn had a series of phone calls with the Russian ambassador in which he reportedly told him that the Kremlin didn’t need to worry about those sanctions once Trump took office.

The lawyer, Veselnitskaya, may or may not be directly connected to the Kremlin; it has yet to be definitively determined. She reported not long ago that, as a lawyer, she has argued and won 300 cases. She acted as defense for a Russian man, Denis Katsyv, when a U.S. Attorney accused him of money laundering; that U.S. Attorney is likely familiar to you: Preet Bharara. That laundering scam was the specific one that led to Sergei Magnitsky being imprisoned and likely tortured to death; Veselnitskaya has said in a statement that her purpose for the meeting with Trump, Jr., last year was to lobby against the successive Magnitsky Act.

When that sanction was passed, Russia’s parliament banned the U.S. adoption of Russian children, which explains why sanctions and adoption in Russia are “inextricably linked.”

As Bloomberg puts it: “Even if that meeting didn’t help, Veselnitskaya has every reason to be happy Trump won. He fired U.S. Attorney Bharara in March, and in May, the case in which [her client] was involved ended in a surprise $6 million settlement, agreed by Bharara’s successor Joon Kim.” There was no admission of guilt, merely a payout, required in the settlement.

Further, whether it comes out that Veselnitskaya was directly linked to the Kremlin or not, she was clearly acting in the interest of the Russian government in pushing against both the Magnitsky Act and in advocating for her case and client. And, whether or not any information was actually exchanged, the meeting was clearly set up with the specific purpose of receiving help with a US election from a foreign government. Foreign payments are forbidden expressly in election/campaign finance law; while no funds seem to have been directly exchanged, this type of information continues to call into question the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, the extent of the Russian interference in the 2016 election and beyond, and it is now longer a question of whether Trump campaign members were working with Russian operatives to sway the election, but who all was involved and how much they were involved with.

The NPR Politics podcast noted one particular element of the emails that stood out to its pundits in particular: “This email is talking about a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign, as if it’s, like, a thing that exists, that we know about.” 

Her co-host responds that “not only does it apparently not raise red flags for Donald Trump Jr., it didn’t raise flags for Paul Manafort, the campaign manager, or Jared Kushner” despite the emails being forwarded to them prior to the meeting. This indicates that these Trump campaign aids did not think twice about accepting assistance for their US campaign from a foreign power or that they already knew that such assistance was available and underway before this. 

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