The revelations this week that Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian nationals who promised campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 marks "the end of the beginning" of the legal case against the Trump regime, and as Donald Trump Sr. hides out in Paris this week, NY Times reporter Peter Baker asks the now central question: What did Trump know, and when did he know it?
At 6:14 p.m. on June 7, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. clicked the send button on an email to confirm a meeting with a woman described as a “Russian government attorney” who would give him “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.”
Three hours later, his father, Donald J. Trump, claimed victory in the final primary races propelling him to the Republican presidential nomination and a general election contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In his victory speech, Mr. Trump promised to deliver a major address detailing Mrs. Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” to give “favorable treatment” to foreign governments, including “the Russians.”
The White House said the timing was a coincidence. The younger Mr. Trump said this week that he never told his father about the meeting with the Russian lawyer, and the president said on Wednesday that he did not know about it until a few days ago. But the time frame raised questions that investigators will presumably examine as they try to piece together who knew what, and when, last year during what American intelligence agencies have called a Russian effort to influence the presidential election.
The meeting with the Russian lawyer came at a crucial stage in the elder Mr. Trump’s against-the-odds campaign as he pivoted toward taking on Mrs. Clinton, who was widely seen as the front-runner for the presidency. With Mr. Trump’s party still divided, his team was eager for information that could be used against his Democratic opponent, just as any nominee would be at that stage. The difference was that the Kremlin, according to intelligence reports, was eager to play a role in the campaign, and was in the midst of unleashing an operation to damage Mrs. Clinton.
The younger Mr. Trump said the meeting with the Russian lawyer yielded no useful information about Mrs. Clinton, and instead turned into a discussion about a Russian-American diplomatic dispute. By happenstance or not, in the days and weeks after the meeting with the Russian lawyer, emails purloined from Democratic computers were made public, which investigators tied to Russian hacking.
As a candidate, the elder Mr. Trump, who had expressed admiration of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, took positions that summer that caused head scratching. He expressed openness to lifting sanctions on Russia that were imposed after its annexation of Crimea, and suggested he might not defend NATO allies that did not spend enough money on their own security. The Republican platform at the party convention in July 2016 was crafted to keep out a call to provide arms to Ukraine to fight pro-Russian separatists.
The president’s legal team declined to comment about the close timing of some of these events. A White House official said the president’s threat to air allegations about Mrs. Clinton on June 7 was part of a long-planned speech and was not related to his son’s decision to meet with the Russian lawyer. At a briefing on Wednesday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, dismissed the latest articles about the emails and meeting as “much ado about nothing.”
Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that he was not aware of the June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer at the time. “No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this,” he told Reuters. He did not fault his son for sitting down with the lawyer. “I think many people would have held that meeting,” Mr. Trump said.
The notion that Trump the elder wasn't involved in his son's efforts to get dirt on the person he hated so much that he led chants of "Lock her up!" at his campaign rallies is ludicrous, but here we are, asked to believe yet another pile of Trump falsehoods.
The real issue remains the near-universal refusal by the GOP in Congress to do anything about this. Yes, both the House and Senate intelligence committees want to question Junior, but the evidence is pretty clear that the Trumps' long-standing Russian relationships can no longer be dismissed as coincidental, as Shane Harris at the WSJ reminds us.
Investigators are re-examining conversations detected by U.S. intelligence agencies in spring 2015 that captured Russian government officials discussing associates of Donald Trump, according to current and former U.S. officials, a move prompted by revelations that the president’s eldest son met with a Russian lawyer last year.
In some cases, the Russians in the overheard conversations talked about meetings held outside the U.S. involving Russian government officials and Trump business associates or advisers, these people said.
Russian officials are routinely monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, and it wouldn’t be unusual for them to discuss people who have business interests in Russia.
Mr. Trump held the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, was a globally recognized celebrity and sold properties to Russians. The intelligence gathering wasn’t aimed at Mr. Trump or people in his circle, and it isn’t clear which Trump advisers or associates the Russians referred to, or whether they had any connection to his presidential aspirations.
The 2015 conversations were detected several months before Mr. Trump declared his candidacy for the White House. The conversations have been in investigators’ possession for some time, but officials said the Donald Trump Jr. news this week prompted them to look at them again.
It's looking more and more like Junior's meeting last year was the key piece of the puzzle that makes a lot of other very coincidental evidence look far less like coincidence and more like conspiracy. Oh, and top of all this, it looks like the Russian lawyer Junior met with was in the country illegally.
The irony in that borscht is thick enough not to need sour cream.