Although nobody comes out and says it, after Junior voluntarily admitted that he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer because she had promised information that would help his father’s campaign, the biggest question of the day must be, how dumb is this kid, anyway?
The New York Times had a story that began this way —
President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.
The meeting was also attended by the president’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.
But instead of denying that the meeting had anything to do with getting dirt on Hillary, Fredo Trump admitted it.
I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.
Apparently, in Junior’s mind there was no collusion, since (he says) the Russian lawyer had no useful information. But he took the meeting with the Russian lawyer in the expectation that she would provide information to help the Trump campaign. Whether the information was of any actual use is beside the point.
Still, Trump Jr. has already changed his story about this meeting several times — first claiming he had no such meeting, then claiming it was about the topic of Russian adoptions, and only now admitting he agreed to take it because an “acquaintance” he met when Trump’s Miss Universe pageant was held in Moscow told him this person “might have information helpful to the campaign.”
This report comes after a pair of Wall Street Journal scoops revealing that a Republican operative contacted Russian hackers in an effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails — and that the operative suggested that Trump adviser Michael Flynn was involved with his effort.
Together, these stories provide our first real indications that high-level people on Trump’s team attempted to work with people tied to the Russian government to get information that could impact the campaign and hurt Clinton’s chances.
We don’t know if the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was acting on behalf of the Russian government. We don’t know, really, what information she may have provided. Everyone involved insists that Donald Trump himself knew nothing about any of this. But Junior’s own admission tells us that he and other high-level elements of the Trump campaign were open to collusion with foreign nationals on behalf of the campaign, which is, by some accounts, a violation of federal campaign law.
And Jonathan Chait wrote,
Trump Jr.’s latest defense is that while he sought damaging information from Veselnitskaya, she failed to deliver any. However, the timing of events around this meeting is instructive. The hacker Guccifer announced the theft of Clinton emails the month before, and Guccifer’s only publicly known connection to Russia was his use of Russian proxy servers. But three days after the meeting with the Trump campaign, Julian Assange, Putin’s pass-through publishing source for email hacks, announced, “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton … We have emails pending publication, that is correct.”
The most interesting follow-up question is, what was the nature of the damaging information that Veselnitskaya promised? Stolen emails, perhaps?
See also Josh Marshall:
The Timesreports that they got the information from “three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.” They apparently talked after the release of the first story. This is highly, highly significant. Needless to say, advisors to the White House are not in the business of taking highly damaging stories and volunteering new information which makes them catastrophically damaging. The only reason a President’s allies ever do something like that is either to get ahead of something much more damaging or get a first crack at shaping the public understanding of something much more damaging. There’s really no other explanation. We don’t know yet what drove them to volunteer such highly damaging information. Five of them did it. It wasn’t a matter of one person going rogue.
Junior claimed the real purpose of the meeting was to enable U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. Back to Jonathan Chait:
One of the Russian government’s highest priorities is to repeal an American law, named after a murdered Russian dissident who exposed corruption at the hands of Vladimir Putin, which allows financial penalties for Russian human-rights violators. Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with the Trump campaign, is spearheading this effort. Russia retaliated for the hated law by suspending American adoptions of Russian children: A discussion of adoption inherently implies a discussion of favors to be granted to Putin’s regime.
So there may be some truth to the adoption story, but that hardly makes it innocent. Obviously, Putin will want a quid pro quo. And this was before the election, never mind the inauguration.
And, as Josh Marshall wrote also, Junior’s claim that he thought that the DNC and Hillary Clinton might be colluding with Russians is preposterous. It’s the sort of excuse somebody with very little imagination might come up with, though.