One takeaway of many preliminary reports about some 2,500 pages of sworn testimony released on the key 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and Kremlin-linked operatives is that the original promise of game-changing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton never quite materialized. In other words, Don Jr. didn’t exactly get what he was promised or he was looking for.
But people who simply ask, “What did the Trump campaign actually get from the meeting?” are missing a much bigger point about the meeting. An equally important if not more telling question is, “What did the Russians get from the meeting?”
Considering that the Russian lawyer and key participant, Natalia Veselnitskaya, admitted last month to being an “informant” for the Russian government, one has to wonder what she informed Russian officials about following the meeting.
What’s the first thing she told them? We promised Team Trump information that “would incriminate Hillary” and “be very useful” to Donald Trump’s candidacy, and three of the campaign’s top officials showed up at the meeting: Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr.; Trump’s son-in-law and director of digital outreach, Jared Kushner; and Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Veselnitskaya’s takeaway: they were eager and open for business with us.
In fact, based on the Senate Judiciary transcripts, Don Jr. began the June 9, 2016, meeting with: “So you have some information for us?” Don Jr. also expressed disappointment to the Judiciary panel about what little dirt actually materialized in the meeting: “All else being equal, I wouldn’t have wanted to waste 20 minutes …”
In other words, if they had gotten something good, he would have been psyched about it. But it was supposedly a bust.
The Russians also got an opening from Don Jr. on potentially easing sanctions imposed on Russia by the Magnitsky Act, a penalty for human rights violations in the country that greatly embarrassed Vladimir Putin. Veselnitskaya had a track record of lobbying for removal of the sanctions, and Don Jr. closed the meeting by hinting at a quid pro quo.
Donald Trump Jr. shut down the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower by telling his Russian guests perhaps they’d revisit the discussion about lifting sanctions legislation should his father win the election.
Finally, Team Trump appears to have been open to the idea of getting help from a Russian social media network, VK, with voter turnout among Russian-speaking Americans. That idea had been previously reported based on follow-up emails sent by the meeting’s organizer, Rob Goldstone, to the Trump campaign’s social media director, Dan Scavino.
“I’m following up on an email [from] a while back of something I had mentioned to Don and Paul Manafort during a meeting recently,” Goldstone wrote to Scavino on June 29. […] “At the time, Paul had said he would welcome it, and so I had the VK folks mock up a basic sample page, which I am resending for your approval now,” Goldstone wrote.
While it’s unclear what became of this effort, it’s just one more example of Team Trump’s openness to Russian help in the election.
Bottom line: Team Trump may not have been impressed with the dirt it sought to obtain, but the Russians clearly got the message the Trump camp was plenty eager for the Kremlin’s help.
As the Judiciary panel’s ranking Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein outlined in her statement summarizing the documents:
- The Trump campaign accepted this offer of “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton],” which was also described as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
- Top campaign officials Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. did not reject the offer of election assistance from a hostile foreign government. Nor did they report this offer to law enforcement authorities. Instead, they attended the meeting.
- Afterward, Donald Trump Jr. issued misleading statements, with assistance from the White House, that concealed the meeting’s true purpose.
All of those signals left the door wide open for other approaches by the Kremlin. Not only do we know Russian intelligence operatives routinely cast a wide net to test the waters and reel in co-conspirators, we also know they affirmatively did so in 2016. Even if the public doesn’t have full access to that array of information yet, we do know, for instance, that George Papadopoulos is one other point of entry to the Trump campaign the Russians tried to exploit. But there’s apparently plenty more where that came from.
The Senate Judiciary, in its limited #TrumpRussia investigation, released Trump Tower meeting transcripts. We learned much, much more about other approaches in our House Intel investigation. Why are @HouseGOP blocking our transcripts?
In fact, the Senate Intelligence panel just confirmed Wednesday another avenue the Kremlin used to boost Trump’s candidacy: the National Rifle Association.
Perhaps when all the congressional inquiries conclude, the total picture will prove a lot more telling than any single committee release. But having full access to the House Intelligence panel’s transcripts would be useful. If Team Trump is as innocent as the House GOP’s Intel members say, why not release those transcripts too?