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The Russian Connection: Worse Than Collusion

Update: 7/11/2017 18:00 CET Donald Jr. released the e-mails before seeing his lawyer and before the NYT.

Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said
By Matt Apuzzo, Jo Becker, and Adam Goldman

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.

This may well be a violation of campaign finance law, at the least; at the worst, it is treason.

Update: 7/10/2017 22:00 ET: This news broke after this post was written late afternoon yesterday.

Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign
By Matt Apuzzo, Jo Becker, Adam Goldman and Maggie Haberman, New York Times

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.

Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign. There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.

But the email is likely to be of keen interest to the Justice Department and congressional investigators, who are 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 attempted to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump. {..]

It is unclear whether Mr. Goldstone had direct knowledge of the origin of the damaging material. One person who was briefed on the emails said it appeared that he was passing along information that had been given to him by others.

What would a reasonable, intelligent person do if contacted by a foreign lawyer with close ties to foreign authoritarian government who had information that could seriously damage a rival and, knowing, full well, that this information was most likely obtained illegally? Should the person be suspicious enough to check out this foreign lawyer with authorities, perhaps the State Department or the FBI? Apparently Donald Trump, Jr., scion of the Trump Organization and his cohorts, campaign manager Paul Manafort and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, jack of all trades, were not at all suspicious of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin., but in all probability they didn’t care.

Trump’s Son Met With Russian Lawyer After Being Promised Damaging Information on Clinton
By Jo Becker, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, New York Times

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by the president’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.

The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.

The meeting — at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican nomination — points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help. [..]

It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton. But the people interviewed by The Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so.

When he was first asked about the meeting on Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. said that it was primarily about adoptions and mentioned nothing about Mrs. Clinton.

But on Sunday, presented with The Times’s findings, he offered a new account. In a statement, he said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which his father took to Moscow. “After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The 2012 law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he halted American adoptions of Russian children.

“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Mr. Trump said.

Two people briefed on the meeting said the intermediary was Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist and the president of a company called Oui 2 Entertainment who has worked with the Miss Universe pageant. He did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, said on Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”

Lawyers for Mr. Kushner referred to their statement a day earlier, confirming that he voluntarily disclosed the meeting but referring questions about it to Donald Trump Jr. Mr. Manafort declined to comment. In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said he asked Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner to attend, but did not tell them what the meeting was about.

Political campaigns collect opposition research from many quarters but rarely from sources linked to foreign governments.

Now either this trio was incredibly naive, or they really thought they wouldn’t be caught. Junior isn’t the brightest of the three amigoes but Kushner and, certainly, Manafort would have to have known that meeting was, to say the least, nefarious. Trump the Junior has now hired a criminal defense lawyer, Alan Futerfas, wjo has also defended the Gambino, Genovese and Colombo crime families.

And just who is Natalia Veselnitsakya?

Ms. Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act.

The adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the act. Ms. Veselnitskaya’s campaign against the law has also included attempts to discredit the man after whom it was named, Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died in 2009 in mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison after exposing onhttp://thestarshollowgazette.com/e of the biggest corruption scandals during Mr. Putin’s rule.

Ms. Veselnitskaya’s clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting. Her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the F.B.I., according to a former senior law enforcement official. [..]

In addition to her campaign against the Magnitsky Act, Ms. Veselnitskaya represents powerful players in Russia. Among her clients is Denis Katsyv, the Russian owner of Prevezon Holdings, an investment company based in Cyprus. He is the son of Petr Katsyv, the vice president of the state-owned Russian Railways and a former deputy governor of the Moscow region. In a civil forfeiture case in New York, the Justice Department alleged that Prevezon had helped launder money linked to the $230 million corruption scheme exposed by Mr. Magnitsky by putting it in real estate and bank accounts. Prevezon recently settled the case for $6 million without admitting wrongdoing.

Ms. Veselnitskaya and her client also hired a team of political and legal operatives in the United States. The team included Rinat Akhmetshin, an émigré to the United States who once served as a Soviet military officer and who has been called a Russian political gun for hire. Fusion GPS, a consulting firm that produced an intelligence dossier that contained unverified allegations about Mr. Trump, was also hired to do research for Prevezon.

The Pevezon case was being investigated by former US Attorney for the South District of New York, Preet Bharara, who Trump fired in March.

Charlie Pierce explains the Magnisky Act:

Let us pause for a moment and consider the Magnitsky Act. Sergei Magnitsky was an auditor from a Russian law firm who uncovered the biggest case of tax fraud in the history of Russian kleptocratic corruption, which is something. In response, Magnitsky was arrested and put on trial for tax evasion in front of a bunch of crooks in lovely kangaroo suits. He died in prison of untreated medical problems and (probably) from being beaten to death by the good people from the Interior Ministry. In 2012, the Congress passed a law that froze the assets and effectively rendered non-persons 18 Russian officials who were tied in some way to the persecution and murder of Sergei Magnitsky. This got up the nose of Vladimir Putin, who responded by suspending the adoption of Russian children by American families. He also launched a PR blitz headed by a well-connected hack lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya. Which is where Junior comes in.

Needless to say, as typical of the Trumps and their spokespeople, Junior has changed story three times, finally admitting that he met with Veselnitskaya ot get dirt on Hillary Clinton which very likely was not obtained legally. Someone forgot to tell Junior this not only amounts to collusion with a foreign agent to influence an election but comes very close to treason. Former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard W. Painter takes Junior to the woodshed on MSNBC with Katy Tur.

Hopefully, Trump Jr. takes instructions from his lawyer better than his father, shuts up to the press and stops tweeting.