This week we received the first clear public evidence that senior Trump campaign officials met with Russians to try to discredit Hillary Clinton.
After a few days filled with wobbly equivocations, on Monday Donald Trump Jr. finally acknowledged he held a meeting with a Russian lawyer last June in the hope of obtaining information that might hurt the Clinton campaign.
Trump Jr. took the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after he had been told she “might have information helpful” to the Trump campaign.
On its face, this is already profoundly alarming. Our political parties do not collude with foreign governments to have their candidate elected.
However Trump Jr., Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner all attended the meeting, in what looks like the clear hope of receiving Russian help to attack their Democratic opponent.
It's impossible to rule out that Donald Trump, Jr., was willingly assuming this role. https://t.co/i41e1oBjc9— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) July 15, 2017
Worse, according to The New York Times, before he took the meeting Trump Jr. was advised in an email that the information he would hear was part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s presidential run.
The email was sent by Rob Goldstone, an eccentric British publicist and former tabloid reporter who had helped set up the meeting in Trump Tower, according to the Times.
The meeting with Trump senior staff took place on June 9, 2016 less than a week before the news of the Russian government hacking spree broke, a development that led to the publication of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.
June 9 was also the day that political consultant and Trump confidant Roger Stone confidently predicted on Twitter that “Donald Trump will destroy Hillary Clinton next week.” What did know and when did he know it?
All in all, it seems that June 9 was a very big day for the Trump campaign. After receiving an email that explicitly states the Russians will collude with the Trump campaign, Trump Jr. says “let’s set up a meeting” rather than reporting the email to the FBI.
The fallout’s coming quickly. In an eye-popping development on Monday Trump Jr. hired New York criminal defense lawyer Alan Futerfas, the so-called mob lawyer who has previously represented the Gambino, Genovese, and Colombo organized crime families.
Longtime political operatives have heard of many presidential campaigns that, facing desperate odds, were themselves desperate for information that would alter the narrative, giving their struggling candidate an edge.
But none of them have ever heard of meeting with a foreign adversary to receive damaging information about their opponent.
How likely is it that Trump Jr. received an email that the Russians had dirt on Clinton and wanted Trump to win without informing his father? It’s not very likely at all, is it?
How likely is it that Manafort and Kushner would have attended the meeting with the Russian lawyer, in the middle of a fast moving national campaign, if they didn’t expect to hear something truly momentous? The meeting happened in Trump Tower whilst Trump himself was in residence.
White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush Richard Painter had strong words for team Trump: “Let’s cut through the baloney here, the Russians have been doing this since the 1917 Russian Revolution when the Communists wanted to destabilize all the western democracies including the United States and Western Europe. They’ve also been conducting espionage inside the United States and that has continued through 2017.
“When someone calls on behalf of the Russians and offers derogatory information about a former secretary of state who is now a presidential candidate, the first person you call is the FBI. I don't care if you’re a Republican as I am, or a Democrat. You call the FBI. The last thing you do is go meet with the Russians to try and get the derogatory information. They’re only doing that to use you to accomplish some purpose and we know what that is. It is undermining our system of representative democracy…
“It’s a very serious problem that several high-ranking representatives of the Trump campaign would not call the FBI about this… That’s not how we win elections in the United States. We don’t use Russian agents and spies to gather information on our opponents.”
Unfortunately for team Trump, Trump Jr.’s meeting seems to signal a very clear intent. And with the kingpins of the Trump campaign all in attendance at the meeting, it seems pretty clear they placed high value on it and had expected to hear something to make their attendance worth their time.
This week the Times finally pulled the string that could unravel the whole business.