An explosive new report in the New York Times says that Donald Trump Jr. was told in advance of his meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya that she had negative information to offer about Hillary Clinton and that the source of the information was the Russian government.
According to the Times, citing “three people with knowledge of the email,” Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who set up the meeting, contacted Trump and told him he should meet with Veselnitskaya because she could share information sourced to the Russian government. After the Times first reported Saturday on the meeting’s existence, Trump acknowledged that it took place, but made no mention of the Russian government being a source of Veselnitskaya’s alleged information.
It’s not clear at this point that she actually had any such information — from what we can tell, she sought the meeting to discuss with the Trump campaign her longstanding attempt to get a set of sanctions related to human rights abuses lifted. And there’s no indication that the Veselnitskaya meeting had anything to do with the emails pilfered by Russian-backed hackers from the Democratic National Committee or John Podesta.
Still, the fact that the Trump campaign took a high-level meeting — Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner were also present — whose ostensible purpose was for the Trump campaign to work with the Russian government to take down Clinton certainly increases the level of plausibility around the possibility that people from Trumpworld were involved in the anti-Clinton information operation that we do know took place.
Donald Trump Jr. is getting into a lot of trouble
Even before this latest revelation, Donald Trump Jr.’s participation in the meeting was a potential source of legal trouble for him.
That’s because it’s essentially illegal to seek foreign help of any kind in a political campaign. Under 52 USC 30121, 36 USC 510, the law governing foreign contributions to political campaigns, you don’t have to actually get useful help from foreigners, according to this law: The mere fact that Trump Jr. asked for information from a Russian national about Clinton, and heard her out as she attempted to describe it, might have constituted a federal crime.
“If what Donald Trump Jr. said was true ... then they should have never had the meeting in the first place,” Nick Akerman, an assistant special prosecutor during the Watergate investigation who now specializes in data crime, says.
Compounding Trump Jr.’s trouble is the fact that his story about the meeting keeps changing. He had earlier maintained that he’d had no meetings with Russians having anything to do with the campaign. Then when the Veselnitskaya meeting first came to light, he said it was a discussion about adoptions. When it was further revealed in the press that Veselnitskaya came to him with the offer of opposition research on Clinton, he acknowledged it was actually about that but said there’s nothing wrong with seeking some oppo. Now it’s come out that he neglected to mention that the Russian government was the source of the information.
This raises the question — as several other rounds of Trump-adjacent figures meeting with Russians has — of why there’s been the need to lie if nobody did anything wrong.
The specter of collusion
For a long time now the specter of “collusion” has loomed large in the Trump/Russia investigation, with no clear evidence having come to light that the Trump campaign was in any way involved with the hacking of Democratic emails.
Today’s revelations do not exactly change that.
But if the Times’s reporting is accurate, it establishes that the Trump campaign was willing — and even eager — to work with the Russian government to secure political advantage. That makes the leap to Trump involvement in the actual Russia-backed anti-Clinton information campaign that we know happened — the DNC email hack — a lot narrower.
Whether Trump himself knew anything about the meetings his son was setting up is, of course, another matter. But it’s inherently difficult for Trump to put distance between himself and his own son — especially seeing as how the son in question is currently charged with managing the business empire Trump still runs.