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Donald Trump Jr.’s leaked private messages to WikiLeaks, explained

What these Twitter DMs show — and don’t show.

Leigh Vogel/WireImage/Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Donald Trump Jr. and the WikiLeaks Twitter account exchanged several private messages during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a new story by the Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe, who obtained messages turned over to congressional investigators.

Trump Jr. sent at least three direct messages, or DMs, to WikiLeaks. He also told several top Trump campaign staffers by email that WikiLeaks had reached out to him, back in September 2016. And when WikiLeaks suggested tweeting out a link to its site hosting Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s hacked emails, he did so.

WikiLeaks sent many more DMs to Trump Jr. over several months. They ranged from questions to a request for the Trump campaign to “push” a story to requests for leaks, but he appears not to have answered most of them. (After Ioffe’s story was published, Trump Jr. tweeted out what he said is the full DM thread. Here’s part one, part two, and part three.)

The messages in Ioffe’s story suggest overall that WikiLeaks and Trump Jr. viewed each other as allies. And significantly, the story reveals that the top level of the Trump campaign was aware of outreach from WikiLeaks that autumn. That matters because it was widely believed at the time that WikiLeaks was posting emails hacked by the Russian government.

However, the messages do not show that Trump Jr. or anyone else on the Trump campaign had advance knowledge of any of WikiLeaks’ plans regarding Democrats’ hacked emails. In fact, Trump Jr. reached out to ask WikiLeaks about rumors of a planned release, but there’s no indication that he got a response.

What Donald Trump Jr. did

Per Ioffe, the correspondence between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks begins with a Twitter DM the group sent him on September 20, 2016. It read:

A PAC run anti-Trump site is about to launch. The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is “putintrump.” See “About” for who is behind it. Any comments?

Trump Jr. responded the next day: “Off the record I don’t know who that is but I’ll ask around. Thanks.”

Ioffe writes that according to “a source familiar with the congressional investigations,” Trump Jr. then emailed top Trump campaign officials Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Jared Kushner to let them know that WikiLeaks had gotten in touch. Kushner also forwarded the note to Hope Hicks. (That’s basically the entire top level of the Trump campaign at that time.)

On October 3, 2016, WikiLeaks sent another note about a story that Hillary Clinton had once said she wanted to “just drone” Julian Assange, the group’s founder, writing: “Hiya. It’d be great if you guys could comment on / push this story”

Trump Jr. quickly answered: “Already did that earlier today. It’s amazing what she can get away with.”

And two minutes later, he asked WikiLeaks: “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?”

At the time, rumors were widespread that WikiLeaks would soon release damaging Clinton-related emails. And, in fact, it did — four days later, the group began posting John Podesta’s hacked emails. However, there’s no indication that the group answered this question from Trump Jr. or gave him advance notice.

On October 12, 2016, after a few days of Podesta email dumps, WikiLeaks DMed Trump Jr. again, suggesting that Trump Sr. tweet out the link

Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us. ... there’s many great stories there the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. Btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4

Though Trump Jr. doesn’t appear to have answered, his father tweeted this 15 minutes later (which could be a coincidence, because the general topic of WikiLeaks was much discussed at the time):

That did not include the link in question, but Trump Jr. tweeted it out two days later:

Ioffe writes that there’s no indication Trump Jr. sent any other messages to WikiLeaks after this.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks continued to DM him, at one point asking him to leak them Trump Sr.’s tax returns to help the group “improve the perception of our impartiality,” suggesting that Trump not concede the election if he loses, and after the election making the strange suggestion that the he should “suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador” to the US.

What we still don’t know

One of the biggest questions at the heart of the Trump-Russia scandal is whether anyone on Trump’s team had any knowledge of or involvement in the hacking and leaks of leading Democrats’ emails.

These new DMs do not indicate that that happened. Indeed, one DM makes Trump Jr. seem clueless about WikiLeaks’ planned Podesta email dump four days before it began. There’s no evidence at this point that the group tipped off him or anyone else in the Trump campaign.

Still, the DMs do reveal that Trump Jr. was in contact with WikiLeaks during the fall of 2016, just before the group’s controversial Podesta email postings began.

They also reveal that he told several of the highest-level Trump campaign advisers about this outreach, via email. The fact that so many on the campaign, including Don Jr., knew about this certainly makes it difficult to believe Trump himself didn’t also know. But knowing about messages like these and actively colluding in criminal activity are different things.