President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., agreed to meet with a “Russian government attorney” last summer who supposedly had “very high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, according to emails the younger Trump publicly released Tuesday.
This paragraph, from The New York Times’ latest scoop on a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, is completely and totally damning:
“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.”
Remember that Don Jr. has changed his story since the Times reported a meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on Saturday.
Version 1: The meeting was primarily about adoptions. Don Jr. didn’t mention anything about the election to the Times.
Version 2: The impetus for the meeting was the promise of negative information about Hillary Clinton. But Don Jr. said in a statement he didn’t know who it was he was meeting with.
CNN has not verified the Times report, and we’ll see if a Version 3 emerges. But Version 2 is wholly undermined by the latest Times reporting.
The idea that Don Jr. didn’t know the identity of the person he was meeting with preserved the possibility that he walked into the meeting totally blind. All he knew was that he was meeting with a friend of a friend — the meeting had been brokered by someone Don Jr. met in Russia during a Miss Universe pageant — who had information about Clinton.
But, according to the Times, Don Jr. received an email from the same person who set up the meeting making clear that the material was part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s candidacy.
So, even if he didn’t know the exact name or identity of the Russian lawyer he was to meet with, he knew — if he read his email — that whatever he was told in the meeting was part of a foreign government’s efforts to help choose its preferred candidate in the 2016 election.
Sit with that for a minute: The eldest son of the de facto Republican presidential nominee reportedly met with someone he knew was peddling information as part of a Russian government effort to elect his dad.
That’s stunning. There’s just no other word for it.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr., said in a statement following the story that it was “much ado about nothing.”
And I’m sure there will be spin and explanations. The whole thing was a nothing-burger! Don Jr. quickly sniffed out the fact that the information Veselnitskaya was telling him was useless. So who cares?
That’s not the point, of course. There’s NO way Don Jr. would have known in advance that the information Veselnitskaya had was unhelpful. All he knew going into that meeting was that a Russian government effort to help his side win had produced information about Clinton that he wanted to see.
The intent and hope was that the information — regardless of the source — be good. That it turned out not to be, again, according to Don Jr., is beside the point.
Where does the story go from here? Who knows. This White House has repeatedly refused to answer questions that, frankly, need answers by screaming “fake news.” They may do so again. But calling names won’t solve this problem. Not even close.
Analysis by Chris Cillizza