In an off-camera press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters today that the president only learned of the clandestine meeting between his son and a Kremlin-linked lawyer “in the last couple of days.” But we shouldn’t expect this story to stand up for long.
Nothing is normal about Donald Trump Jr’s belated disclosure that he met with a Kremlin-tied lawyer during the 2016 campaign seeking dirt on Hilary Clinton. New details are emerging every day that raise more questions than answers — and bring the shape of a conspiracy into sharp relief.
Earlier today, the Washington Post revealed that the “acquaintance” who arranged the meeting is Rob Goldstone, a music publicist whose friendship with the Trumps dates back to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Although he would not describe the conversation, Goldstone told the Post that Natalia Veselnitskaya did indeed raise the topic of adoptions, a sly way of discussing the Kremlin’s campaign against US sanctions.
“Once she presented what she had to say, it was like, ‘Can you keep an eye on it? Should [Trump] be in power, maybe that’s a conversation that he may have in the future?’ ” Goldstone said.
Goldstone is no stranger to the Trump family.
Here’s a photo Goldstone posted in April of Trump posing with Emin Agalarov at Trump Doral pic.twitter.com/vpDxLFZoqR
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) July 9, 2017
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) July 10, 2017
Goldstone manages Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop singer who “served as a liaison between Trump and the Russian leader” Vladimir Putin during that 2013 trip to Moscow. Trump later appeared in one of Emin’s music videos. He bragged about his access to Trump in March, telling Forbes that the new president “does not forget his friends.”
Emin certainly approves of Trump’s attitude towards Russia, telling the Washington Post in 2016 that during the Moscow trip, Trump “kept saying, ‘Every time there is friction between United States and Russia, it’s bad for both countries. For the people to benefit, this should be fixed. We should be friends.'”
Oh, and Emin’s father Aras is also very close to Vladimir Putin. Known as the “Trump of Russia,” he also tried to partner with Trump’s failed development schemes in Moscow. Are we out of coincidences yet?
Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic talked to professional Republican campaigners who explained that campaign officials generally watch out for the sort of approach that Kremlin hand Natalia Veselnitskaya made — and report them when they happen.
“I’ve been involved in 9 presidential campaigns … never happened, never would happen for all kinds of reasons,” said GOP consultant John Weaver, who advised the White House bids by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Rick Tyler, a former top aide to the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz Texas, said he would have called the FBI if approached by a foreign agent from an adversarial nation like Russia.
“Senior presidential campaign officials don’t take meetings with nameless people. Doesn’t happen,” Tyler said.
When the Al Gore campaign received a mysterious package containing a copy of the George W. Bush debate briefing book in 2000, a lawyer working with the campaign turned it over to the FBI. Contrary to Fox News excuses, it is not true that “everybody does” what Donald Jr. did. unknown
Furthermore, the story of Donald Jr’s meeting was confirmed by no less than five White House sources. As Josh Marshall observes, “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 are several candidates to follow on to this story, and most of them have to do with timing. For example, Julian Assange announced he would be releasing “Clinton emails” just three days after the meeting. Or as Martin Longman points out, Veselnitskaya represented a defendant against Preet Bharara in a money laundering case related to the Magnitsky affair.
Perhaps Trump Jr. wasn’t conversant on the Magnitsky controversy at the time, but Paul Manafort should have been. He had been working the Russian lobbying circuit for long enough to know where the money was flowing, and Russia was very vocal about the issue. She should have been seen as an agent of a foreign power and of Vladimir Putin in particular.
More than that, though, she should have been seen as an attorney for murderous Russian mobsters with high-level connections to the Russian Ministry of the Interior. Simple prudence should have prevented them from getting entangled with such a person, and not just for political reasons. The potential for blackmail or violence were too high to be acceptable to a rational person.
Keith Olbermann also notes that the meeting happened just before candidate Trump began to talk about “missing” Clinton emails.
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) July 10, 2017
Then there is the mysterious server in Trump Tower that was communicating with Russia’s Alfa bank. As Franklin Foer explained when he broke that story at Slate, “The Trump Organization shut down the server after Alfa was told that the Times might expose the connection.” A chart of DNS queries by the Trump server to Alfa bank shows that … well, something is happening on or about June 9th.
Finally, there is the infamous dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele. While his most salacious reports have gotten the most attention, the overall picture he drew of a presidential campaign colluding with agents of Russian influence is being validated more and more by the day.
This is not over, and nothing good for Donald Trump or his son lies at the end of this road.
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