The discovery of Donald Trump Jr.’s controversial meeting with Russians in June 2016 has turned up the existence of interesting phone calls the president’s son had with a Russian go-between after getting an invitation to meet on opposition research they supposedly had on Hillary Clinton. The Post reports:
The emails that originated the meeting came to Trump Jr. from a publicist named Rob Goldstone. One of Goldstone’s clients was a performer named Emin Agalarov, who is also the vice president of a development company in Moscow that partnered with the Trump Organization in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant in that city. . . .
We know that Trump Jr. has proven to be consistently uninterested in offering a full explanation of the events surrounding that meeting until it has become unavoidable for him to do so. We know that perhaps the only record of the phone calls with Agalarov that might exist are records of the calls’ duration, which Trump Jr. has now included in his statement before those records are subpoenaed. We know that Trump Jr. only agreed to the meeting after those calls occurred.
The evidence at hand strongly suggests that Agalarov and Trump Jr. spoke. If they did, that call almost certainly involved Agalarov explaining to Trump Jr. why the meeting was worth his time. Agalarov, to some extent, sold the president’s son on taking the meeting.
Donald Trump Jr. and his attorney — echoed by some credulous reporting — insist he did not “collude” with Russians. “Colluding” is not a crime or even a legal term. If you consider consulting with a Russian go-between, agreeing to take a meeting offered with the promise to get dirt on Clinton, and a series of misleading and incomplete statements explaining the meeting to be evidence of “collusion” and a guilty mindset, you are not alone.
The June meeting has become the point at which two strands of the special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller’s investigation came together.
First, we have whether Trump’s team was cooperating — “colluding,” if you will — with Russians in order to obtain help in defeating Clinton. With the reports this week that Facebook sold $100,000 worth of advertising to a “Russian bot farm” that spread anti-Clinton propaganda, one wonders if they were able to pull all that off and time the WikiLeaks disclosure with no help whatsoever from anyone on the Trump team. That’s possible, but it would be remarkable. (The Post reports, “Even though the ad spending from Russia is tiny relative to overall campaign costs, the report from Facebook that a Russian firm was able to target political messages is likely to fuel pointed questions from investigators about whether the Russians received guidance from people in the United States — a question some Democrats have been asking for months.”)
The second strand of Mueller’s investigation concerns the possible obstruction of justice. Trump asking former FBI director James B. Comey to lay off Michael T. Flynn; subsequently firing Comey; cooking up a false story to explain Comey’s firing; leaving out meetings with Russians from testimony (in the case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions) and submissions for a security clearance (in the case of Jared Kushner); sending out people like VP Mike Pence to vouch for the phony reason for Comey’s firing; trying to affect Comey’s testimony by lying about the existence of tapes; cooking up a fake story about President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower (to throw investigators off the trail); and creating a misleading narrative to explain the June 2016 meeting all go into the “obstruction” box. And once again, we see Mueller hot on the trail. CNN reports:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has approached the White House about interviewing staffers who were aboard Air Force One when the initial misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower was crafted, three sources familiar with the conversations said.
The special counsel’s discussions with the White House are the latest indication that Mueller’s investigators are interested in the response to the Trump Tower meeting. Mueller wants to know how the statement aboard Air Force One was put together, whether information was intentionally left out and who was involved, two of the sources said.
Oddly, Donald Trump Jr. in his Thursday interview under oath with staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee reportedly could not remember the details of how that statement was put together. That’s hard to take at face value given the importance of the issue, the reported intervention of the president and how recent were the events in question (May of this year). Saying “I don’t remember” when one does remember would be false testimony under oath.
In sum, the June 2016 meeting has become the focal point, at least for now, of investigation into possible cooperation between the Russians and the Trump campaign and into obstruction of that investigation, which if Donald Trump Jr. testified falsely, continues to the present. And let’s not forget that both of those lines of inquiry require investigation of Trump’s finances. (As a former U.S. attorney explained, “These financial relationships are relevant to the Russia investigation because they may speak to Trump or his associates’ motive or opportunity to collude, or else provide evidence of collusion.”) The American people need not worry that Mueller will leave any stone unturned.