Two days after the NYT reported that Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., together with then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner – but without Donald Trump himself being present – had met at the Trump Tower with a lawyer who was allegedly “Kremlin connected” on June 9, 2016, shortly after Trump was assured of the Republican nomination, the NY Times has followed up with a new article, one which seeks to explain the one thing that was missing from the original NYT article: the motive behind said meeting, as in retrospect it turned out that members of Trump’s campaign simply meeting with a Russian lawyer was less exciting than the NYT had hoped.
Curiously, when the NYT reported of the original meeting it did not have the dramatic punchline it was hoping for – it needed its readers help for that. As it explains, “the Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.” In other words, the new batch of anonymous sources only stepped up after reading the original report which, for lack of a better word, was disappointing.
And, as the NYT clarifies in its sequel – citing three advisers to the White House – Trump Jr. agreed to meet with the lawyer, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, only after allegedly being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
And while there is no smoking gun yet again as the NYT admits that “It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton“, the paper writes that accounts of this meeting “represent[s] the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.” Or technically, the help of a Russian lawyer who denies having acted on behalf of the Russian government.
And apparently not Trump himself: Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, told the NYT on Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
Veselnitskaya told the Times in a Saturday statement that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed. She “never acted on behalf of the Russian government,” she said, and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.” More importantly, “she recalled that after about 10 minutes, either Mr. Kushner or Mr. Manafort walked out”, in other words the meeting was, as Trump Jr. suggested, a waste of time.
Separately, Trump Jr. said in a statement to the paper on Sunday that he had met with Veselnitskaya at the request of an acquaintance after learning she may have a tip about the Clinton campaign, but said she offered nothing of value and instead used “claims of potentially helpful information” as a pretext for a meeting about Russian adoption issues; he denied that he received any information on Clinton.
“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton,” Trump Jr. said in his statement. “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 they then talked about 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.” Trump Jr. also said he asked Manafort and Kushner to attend, but did not tell them what the meeting was about.
— ABC News (@ABC) July 9, 2017
So what’s the punchline?
Well, since as the NYT itself admits that there is yet again no smoking gun – “it is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton” – the only implied allegation is the NYT’s summary that “the accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.”
There are just four minor issues with this.
First, the meeting took place in early June, or roughly one month before Russia is said to have “hacked” either the DNC or Podesta’s emails. This is something that even Trump’s nemesis, and Comey’s frieng, Benjamin Wittes noted on Twitter:
The date on this meeting may actually be exculpatory to Trump in one way. Why? It predates the disclosures, I think, of Russian hacking. /4/ pic.twitter.com/TGT5bXVNTL
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 9, 2017
It begs the question: if Russia was planning on hacking Clinton, why not wait one month until it actually had the relevant damning information, instead of allegedly using said information as a false pretext for a meeting with the Trump campaign, only to burn that particular bridge?
Second, if indeed the Trump campaign was hoping to use “hacked” information to attack Hillary, why would the “Kremlin” use Wikileaks or Guccifer2.0 as intermediaries just weeks later, when it could have gone directly to Trump as this narrative implies – whether using Veselnitskaya as a conduit as the NYT infers, or otherwise. Indeed, if this narrative is to be upheld, then one month later Putin, instead of using its “Kremlin connected” lawyer, went directly to the public, by disclosing the DNC emails which eventually led to Wasserman-Schultz’ resignation after it was revealed that the Democrats had conspired against Bernie Sanders to benefit Hillary in the Primaries. Incidentally, the source of the leaked DNC emails was not an issue at the time when the pro-Bernie and pro-Hillary camps were engaged in a furious feud against each other. Only later did the Kremlin become a useful scapegoat to deflect attention from the original source of anger within the democratic party.