At first glance, Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer may seem like Just Another Story in the long saga of connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. In fact, when compared to Michael Flynn phoning it in to the Russian ambassador, or Jared Kushner offering to bring Trump right into the Russian embassy for secret chats with the Kremlin, this little meeting may seem like the “nothing burger” that Reince Priebus declared.
But this is a burger with everything. In fact, it may be the last item on Donald Trump’s menu. Because if this was a mystery, the answer would be dead obvious.
There’s the motivation. Donald Trump Junior has openly admitted that he agreed to the meeting for the express purpose of obtaining information sourced from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
There’s opportunity. These were still early days, when the Trump team was small and consisted of only a few people. And yet, Junior found the prospect of obtaining Russian information on Hillary so enticing that he invited both adviser Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort to be present. This was pre-Bannon. At this point, Kellyanne Conway was still working for Ted Cruz. On June 9, bringing together Kushner, Manafort, and Trump Jr was an all-hands on deck meeting of the Trump campaign.
Donald Trump Jr. says that Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya began the meeting by offering some of the promised Hillary material. However, that information was “vague” and “ambiguous.” Veselnitskaya then switched to another topic, one that Junior has summed up as “adoptions.” However, US adoptions of Russian infants is inextricably tied to another subject—blacklisting of Russian officials that restricts their use of international banks. Vladimir Putin imposed the ban on Russian adoptions in retaliation for blacklisting of Russian officials under the Magnitsky Act (related to the murder of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who showed just how much oligarchs were stealing from Russia). The adoption talk became the alibi for the meeting — one that Junior screwed up by admitting the true purpose of the get-together.
The Trump Team got their first taste of what the Russians had to offer. But to get the rest of the goods, Trump’s team would have to pony up—and show that they were willing to play ball.
Finally, there is the timing. This meeting came just two days after Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination. This isn’t something that happened after the election or in the very last days of the campaign. This meeting came on June 9. It was in the very early stages, when Trump was still regarded as a joke by most of the press and public, and when the three people in that room — Trump Jr, Manafort, and Kusher — were directly responsible for almost everything in the campaign.
Offer, price, alibi. All in one little meeting. And here’s the proof that what was on offer wasn’t “vague” or “ambiguous.” Veselnitskaya gave Trump’s team a very good idea of what she had to offer. How can we know? Because that same day, Donald Trump tweeted this …
His first tweet concerning Hillary’s “missing” emails. Which would indicate that Junior didn’t just bring in the whole of the senior staff to hear Veselnitskaya, he made sure the offer was passed along to Trump senior, pronto.
Six days after the meeting, the first information hacked from the DNC appeared on the web.
On Wednesday, an individual going by the handle Guccifer 2.0 claimed credit for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s network, though a cybersecurity firm investigating the breach stood by its conclusion that Russia was behind the breach.
One month after the meeting, in the opening phases of the Republican National Convention, the Trump team specifically weakened the platform’s stance against Russia.
The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington. ...
Republican delegates at last week’s national security committee platform meeting in Cleveland were surprised when the Trump campaign orchestrated a set of events to make sure that the GOP would not pledge to give Ukraine the weapons it has been asking for from the United States.
On July 21, Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination.
On July 22, Russia released emails stolen from the DNC through Wikileaks.
As Hillary Clinton prepared to announce her 2016 running mate, a trove of nearly 20,000 emails were released by WikiLeaks on Friday, providing an embarrassing inside look at Democratic Party operations on the eve of the Democrats' national convention.
If the changes to the platform were a test of the Trump team’s commitment, they came through. And they got their payoff. In fact, in less than a week, it looks as if Trump was looking for another hit.
On July 27, Trump issued his famous invitation.
“I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the Republican nominee said at a news conference in Florida. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
If the original meeting with Veselnitskaya wasn’t the key to some of these events, it seems extremely coincidental in both its timing and its topic.
Republicans have tried to insert doubt about the people behind the meeting. But it was a brokered by PR guru Rob Goldstone, made at the request of a specific client.
The public relations specialist who arranged a meeting last year between President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian attorney said on Monday he did so at the request of singer-songwriter-businessman Emin Agalarov, a Moscow-based client of his.
Who is Emin Agalarov? That would be this Emin Agalarov.
Agalarov has a long history with Trump, detailed in a lengthy Forbes profile.
Among Agalarov’s most striking claims: that he and his billionaire developer father, Aras, had plans to build a Trump Tower in Russia that would now likely be under construction had Trump not run for office; that he has maintained contact with the Trump family since the election and has exchanged messages with Donald Trump Jr. as recently as January; and that President Trump himself sent a handwritten note to the Agalarovs in November after they congratulated him on his victory.
Trump and Emin Agalarov had a tight connection. And, as Agaralov says …
[Emin] —theatrical, handsome and a fluent English speaker—who quickly bonded with the New York reality TV star. In the years following the Miss Universe event, Emin performed for Trump at one of his golf courses, invited him to make a cameo appearance in a bass-heavy music video and, Agalarov says, even spent time in Trump’s New York office just prior to the announcement of his presidential campaign. The affection was clearly mutual. On his 35th birthday, in 2014, Trump sent Agalarov a personal video recording with this message: “You’re a winner. You’re a champ. You’re great at real estate.”
It was from this “champ” that Trump Jr. got the message to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya.
From just what’s been admitted so far, it seems that the meeting can be boiled down to …
— We have some good information on Hillary. Stuff that will really be embarrassing.
— What do you want for it?
— Not much. Just lift the restriction on a few guys, maybe ease off on Russian actions in Ukraine, and you get everything we’ve been able to steal about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
— But won’t people see through that? What excuse will we offer?
— Tell them you’re concerned about adoptions. All those poor kids. All those American families left childless.
That is, of course, speculation. At least in part. But considering how much has been confirmed by the people involved, particularly the motivation of Trump’s team in accepting and participating in the meeting, the level of speculation seems very low.
The meeting that Donald Trump Jr. scheduled with Natalia Veselnitskaya is far from the only example of the Trump campaign’s connections or collusion with Russia. But it may be the only one that’s needed.