The scandal over Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 campaign meeting with agents of Russian influence just keeps blowing up. If anything, the pace of revelations has quickened all week. No matter what excuses Republicans and Fox News bloviators may offer, this story is just getting up to speed and shows no sign of ever slowing down.
In addition to a Kremlin-connected lawyer with clients in Preet Bharara’s courtroom, music producer Rob Goldstone, and an unnamed translator, CNN has learned that a still-unnamed representative of the Agalarov family was also present. The fifth visitor on the Russian side of the table was an unregistered Russian lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin with a background in Russian counterintelligence.
Mr. Akhmetshin has offered contradictory answers on that last point before, and insists that was never formally trained as a spy — a distinction without a difference in Putin’s Russia. A naturalized American citizen, Akhmetshin has previously been accused of conspiring to hack a Russian mining company.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Akhmetshin also tried to downplay the meeting as a disappointment. Yet no matter how short it was, and no matter how long Jared Kushner was in the room, it is clear that the proposal of a quid pro quo was communicated.
Russia wanted Magnitsky sanctions relief and made a vague offer of negative material on Hillary Clinton in return. Whether or not the Trump team were angry about the bait-and-switch, they cannot possibly claim that they walked away without any understanding of what Moscow wanted.
White House statements made for Donald Jr have consistently said that no information on Clinton was ever delivered at the meeting. Yet according to Alkhmetshin, attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya did present them with a plastic folder, the contents of which were supposed to lead them to Russian money in the Democratic Party.
But he claims not to recall whether Trump, Kushner, or campaign manager Paul Manafort kept the folder. “Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government,” the AP reports. “He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.”
At LawNewz.com, Rachel Stockman says that legal experts see evidence of “solicitation and coordination” emerging.
“If it’s accurate, it obviously adds considerably to the already strong case that Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort violated a number of federal criminal prohibitions through soliciting illegal foreign assistance to a U.S. presidential campaign (and, in Jared’s case, through falsely and incompletely filling in SF86 in obtaining security clearance) and, again on the premise that this report is accurate, this information shows that they not only solicited but indeed received such assistance,” Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe told LawNewz.com “It’s already beyond dispute that much of what Don Jr. has said about the June 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin (and perhaps others in addition to Jared and Paul) was plainly false, but this added layer of obviously deliberate deception makes the case for treacherous collusion with a hostile foreign power to help Trump defeat Clinton and to subvert our democracy all the stronger.”
Interest in Akhmetshin is bipartisan. Writing to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in April, Sen. Chuck Grassley wanted the dual Russian citizen scrutinized for working as “an unregistered agent” and perhaps lying on his citizenship application.
With his credibility vanishing, Jared Kushner is reportedly pushing the White House to defend him with greater vigor even while staff cower and retreat from a scandal they cannot contain. His lawyers knew about the Don Jr emails weeks ago — in fact, they seem to be the source of the New York Times story that blew the lid off the meeting — but none of the White House communications staff were informed.
The president still cannot even make up his mind exactly when he learned about the meeting. No PR professional would want to make a verbal stand on such shaky ground. Only a true sycophant like Sebastian Gorka or Kellyanne Conway would volunteer to do so.
Indeed, we now know that the Russian influence campaign to support candidate Trump started long before the first primary ballot, as Russian agents were overheard discussing the Trump family well before the first primary ballot. A simple timeline of events is damning because it shows both parties interested in what the other could offer.
Furthermore, the June 2016 meeting was part of a pattern of lobbying by agents of Russian influence. Two months before Trump’s campaign team met with Russians seeking relief from the Magnitsky Act, Dana Rohrabacher was approached in Moscow on similar terms.
And there are questions about whether collusion is still ongoing: was US attorney Preet Bharara fired so that Attorney General Jeff Sessions could settle a Magnitsky-related court case to the advantage of Velnitskaya’s client?
Reacting to the story about Rinat Akhmetshin taking part in the meeting with Donald Trump Jr, Greg Sargent writes that “Trump’s deception efforts should themselves now receive more intense scrutiny.” The same is true for burgeoning efforts within the right wing echo chamber to deflect the story with conspiracy theories.
Evidence of intent to deceive is evidence for consciousness of guilt; the Trumps look more and more guilty of treason every day.
ADDING: As this post went live, the translator was identified as a former FBI employee who isn’t speaking to the press.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 14, 2017
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