Trump Jr.’s secret meeting with a Russian lawyer
In a bombshell revelation that left the White House deeply rattled, President Donald Trump’s eldest son admitted this week that he met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer last year after being promised she had “very high-level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump Jr. was told in an email by British publicist Rob Goldstone, an intermediary he knew from his father’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, that the proposal was “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father. “If it’s what you say,” Trump Jr. replied, “I love it.” He forwarded the email chain to his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his father’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort; all three men met the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.
Trump Jr., who now runs the family business, initially claimed this week that the meeting was about an adoption program that was ended by the Kremlin in response to U.S. sanctions. But when The New York Times then revealed that emails showed he had in fact thought the meeting would yield dirt on Clinton, Trump Jr. claimed Veselnitskaya hadn’t provided anything of substance, released the e-mail chain himself, and insisted he never told his father about the offer of the Russian government’s help. The president, who was reportedly deeply frustrated that the Russia story just wouldn’t go away, said that his son “is a high-quality person” who is “open, transparent, and innocent.”
The Trump Jr. revelations came just days after President Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg. After the two-hour conversation, Putin said Trump had accepted his assurances that there was no Russian meddling in the election. The White House disputed that account, saying Trump had “strongly pressed” Putin on the issue, but agreed that it was “time to move forward.” Trump also said he and Putin made important progress on a cease-fire in Syria, and that they were planning to jointly set up “an impenetrable Cyber Security Unit”—a claim he later dropped amid widespread ridicule.
What the editorials said
The Trump Jr. emails “confirm what the president, his son, and others have denied repeatedly for more than a year,” said The New York Times: Trump campaign officials met with Russian government representatives to solicit help in winning the election. “Any halfway competent and ethical campaign” would have taken a foreign government’s offer to influence a U.S. election straight to the FBI. Instead, Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner pounced on it. Now Trump Jr. “appears to be in real legal jeopardy” for violating campaignlaw prohibitions on soliciting any “thing of value” from foreign officials.
The decision to meet with Veselnitskaya was “disgraceful,” said NationalReview.com, but it “doesn’t prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.” It’s plausible that Goldstone deliberately misled Trump Jr. about having dirt on Clinton in order to “get Veselnitskaya through the door” to lobby for lifting sanctions, and that “nothing else came of it.” But “it would be easier to credit the Trump team’s denials if they didn’t so routinely mislead.” Trump Jr. changed his story multiple times, and Kushner “initially failed to disclose the meeting during his security-clearance application process.” The public needs a full investigation into what happened between Trump and Russia—“now more than ever.”
What the columnists said
U.S. intelligence agencies told us that “Putin’s goal was to get Trump in the White House,” said Cristian Farias in NYMag.com, but for the first time, we have clear evidence—“a smoking gun”—of improper connections between Russia and Trump’s inner circle. This revelation may point to wrongdoing that “could very well reach the president himself,” who began publicly inviting Russia to find and publish Clinton’s emails right after his son’s meeting. Is it really credible that Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager were told that the Russian government wanted to give Trump information to help him beat Clinton, and never mentioned it to the candidate?
Sorry, but this is a “faux scandal,” said Ed Rogers in Washington Post.com. “There are always people hovering around campaigns trying to peddle information.” Trump Jr. was foolish to take the meeting—he should have sent a “lackey”—but since “nothing happened,” no collusion occurred.
If, as Trump defenders insist, the Trump-Russia connection is all a big nothingburger, said Matthew Yglesias in Vox.com, why does Trump keep acting as if Putin is his favorite world leader? Virtually everyone else in Congress and Trump’s Cabinet sees Putin as a dangerous foe who interfered in our election, but the president remains firmly “attached to the idea of a Russia-friendly foreign policy.” Why?
What I don’t understand, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com, “is how conservatives can mock, scoff at, and ridicule the idea there might be some legs to this story.” Trump fired the FBI director, and told both the Russian ambassador and a national TV audience he did so to “thwart the Russia investigation.” Both his son and son-in-law have had multiple, secretive contacts with Russian bankers, oligarchs, and Putin allies. Every time the Trump apologists go out on a limb to defend him, the president “brings out the saw.”
Illustration by Fred Harper. Cover photos from AP, Getty (2) ■