Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is this the Smoking Gun on collusion with Russia? . . . Or just one step closer to it?

I've stayed away from writing about the dribbled out details of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting last June with the Russian lawyer, because the story kept changing and didn't seem solid enough.   I even wondered if it was one of these real "fake" stories that Rachel Maddow is on to, designed to trap liberal media into biting -- so that the anti-media forces can then portray them as purveyors of "fake news stories."

But now the Trump, Jr. story is being backed up with more and more corroborating and deepening, email claims.   If they are all true -- and the New York Times claims to have three sources on its basic story of the meeting -- then it is pretty close to a smoking gun -- at least Russia's attempt to share info to hurt Clineon (probably from the hacked emails) and the Trump team's interest in receiving it.

Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff spoke with Rachel Maddow on Monday night, and he called attention to the time line:   the Trump, Jr/Manafort/Kushner meeting with the Russian lawyer occurred after the hacking of the Democrats' emails and before they were released by Wikileaks.   That's only circumstantial, but it lends credence to the possibility that the meeting somehow led to their release.   

Here's the NY Times' latest installment on Tuesday, June 11th, written by Jo Becker, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, June 11, 2017


"The June 3, 2016 email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit:  One of his father's former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

"The documents 'would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,' read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, 'This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.'

"If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.  He replied within minutes: 'If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.'

"Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a 'Russian government attorney.'  Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along 'Paul Manafort (campaign boss)' and 'my brother-in-law,' Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

"On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Mr. Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.  [Who was reportedly in the office that day.]

"Over the last several days, The New York Times has disclosed the existence of the meeting, whom it involved and what it was about. The story has unfolded as The Times has been able to confirm details of the meetings.

"But the email exchanges, which were reviewed by The Times, offer a detailed unspooling of how the meeting with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, came about — and just how eager Donald J. Trump was to accept what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help. . . .

"The Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, is examining whether any of President Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. American intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump.

"The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. But in recent days, accounts by some of the central organizers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records."

There are more details about Trump, Sr.'s business partner for the Moscow Miss Universe Pageant and their plans, now on hold, to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.  This man is said to be close to Putin and his son and the son's publicist -- both of whom Don, Jr. knew from the Miss Universe pageant -- are the ones who made the email contact with Donald Trump, Jr. to set up the meeting.   There are several more references to the information about Clinton coming from the Russian government.

Here are some questions and points to consider:
1.  These new revelations give the lie to Trump, Jr.'s portrayal of it as a casual, unimportant meeting that "came to nothing."   He is very excited about it.   If it was just a "meet and greet," why would Manafort and Kushner have taken time out from the busy presidential campaign to meet with an obscure Russian lawyer?

2.  If it was an innocent meeting -- or one that came to nothing -- why would Don have bothered to lie about it;   why would Kushner have failed to reveal it on his disclosure?   Why would Don have kept changing his story, as it began to unravel?

3.  Here's a fact:   In election campaigns, it is illegal to accept anything of value from a foreign national.   We've all heard about having to return financial contributions from foreign nationals.   Well, "anything of value" can include intangibles as well, like, well, scandalous information.   So Don, Jr., knowing from that now-revealed email that they were offering "documents that would incriminate Hillary . . . and would be very useful to your father;"  and "part of Russia and its government's support for Trump.

"The documents 'would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,' read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, 'This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.'

3.  Does the story of the lawyer's real purpose being to try to get a President Trump to repeal the Magnitsky Act hold up?   It's true that this Russian lawyer, Ms. Veselnitskaya is a well-known lobbyist to get this US law repealed, which maybe just gives her a convenient cover story.  It was passed by congress in 2012 to punish designated Russian human rights abusers to seize their assets and keep them from entering the US.   Putin was so angered by the law that he retaliated by stopping the adoption of any Russian children by Americans.   That was a brilliant move on Putin's part.   It turned the whole issue into one he could distort into the US depriving orphans of being adopted.  So the law has become something of a cause celebre, all the moreso because it involved children and adoption.

4.  Maybe it's true that the Russians dangled the "Hillary dirt" as a ruse to engage the Trump campaign on the Magnitsky issue.   I don't buy it.   The timing is off -- Trump wouldn't take office, and be in position to do anything, for another seven months, even if he won.   It hardly seems like an issue of such import to be the driving force for all this.

5.  Here's my hypothesis, which I think far better fits the facts.  The Russians had obtained Clinton emails.  Maybe there was nothing very damaging on them, but they would have value to the Trump campaign -- just as has transpired with Wikileaks dribbling them out, keeping the issue of "Clinton emails" in the public's mind through the rest of the campaign.

6.  OK.   But what did Russia get out of the deal?   Other than a malleable U.S. president, of course.    I think "Magnitsky Act" was used as a code to talk about lifting the US sanctions against Russia for Crimea and Ukraine, which were hurting Russia economically.    It's perfect.   They could talk about "repeal" all they wanted to and mean "lift the sanctions."    So I think the meeting was very important and very successful for the Trump campaign.

In short, I think they made a quid pro quo deal.   We'll release these Clinton tapes and help you win.   You agree to lift the sanctions, once you've become president.


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