It’s hard to find anyone in Donald Trump’s orbit who didn’t meet and speak with Russian officials at some point.
And they all lied about it.
The latest addition to the list is the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
The New York Times reports that in the summer of 2016, the young Trump met with a Kremlin-friendly lawyer in New York, hoping to get compromising information about Hillary Clinton.
Paul Manafort, the then-Trump campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and close advisor, both attended the meeting.
Junior first denied the meeting happened. Then he admitted it did, but claimed it had nothing to do with politics. Only then did he admit it was campaign-related after all, but there was nothing wrong with it because the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, didn’t have any dirt on Clinton.
“Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense,” he said.
It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act.
Veselnitskaya has lobbied against the Magnitsky Act for years, which sanctions high Russian officials for human rights abuses.
Russia retaliated against the act by banning American adoptions of Russian children.
By Trump Junior’s own admission, however, that is not why he took the meeting. He met with Veselnitskaya hoping to learn something his father could use against the Democrats.
The reason this didn’t lead to collusion between the Trump operation and Russia is that Veselnitskaya didn’t have anything to offer, not because the Trumps were careful to avoid conspiring with a foreign national. (Assuming Trump Junior is telling the truth this time.)
Indeed, one after another, members of Trump’s team met with Russian officials:
- Peter W. Smith, a longtime Republican operative whose connection to the Trump campaign is still unclear, has admitted to contacting Russian hackers last year in a bid to obtain Clinton emails. Smith suggested to the Russians that Trump’s future national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, was involved with this effort.
- Flynn was forced to resign four weeks into the Trump Administration after it emerged that he, too, had lied about contacts with Russian officials.
- The aforementioned Manafort stepped down from the Trump campaign in August, two months before the election, when his ties to Russia had come to light.
- Kushner met with the head of Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov, during the campaign. Gorkov is a former Russian spy and confidant of Vladimir Putin. Vnesheconombank is not really a bank but rather an arm of the Russian state and hence under sanction. Kushner, predictably, denied the meeting took place before admitting it did. But we still don’t know what the two men discussed.
- Together with Flynn, Kushner also had a meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, during which he reportedly proposed setting up a back channel in a Russian diplomatic facility in order to prevent American spy agencies from listening in on their conversations!
- Jeff Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump and the current attorney general, neglected to disclose his own contacts with Kislyak during his confirmation hearing.
- Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, admitted to delivering a “peace plan” for the conflict in Ukraine to the president before denying he had done anything of the sort.
- Carter Page, a Putin apologist, was mentioned by Trump as a foreign-policy advisor, only for his campaign to deny Page’s involvement weeks later.