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That’s that: The Trump campaign welcomed Russian meddling

Here's what we know so far about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer during his father's presidential campaign in June 2016. (Video: Elyse Samuels, Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The emails released by Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday are unambiguous.

“The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with” Trump family acquaintance Aras Agalarov, the first email from publicist Rob Goldstone to Trump Jr. reads. In that meeting, the prosecutor — actually the prosecutor general of Russia, Yuri Yakovlevich Chaika — “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information,” Goldstone’s email continues, “but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin [Agalarov, Aras’s son].”

“If it’s what you say,” Trump Jr. replies, “I love it.”

That’s it. Despite frequent protestations from President Trump on Twitter — “they made up a phony collusion with the Russians story,” “the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election” — and from Trump Jr. in a now-remarkable interview on CNN, below, this is indisputable evidence that the Trump camp was indeed willing to accept the meddling of Russian actors in the election.

Whether Trump himself knew what Goldstone had promised isn’t clear. (An attorney for the president released a statement saying that Trump “was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”)

Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov may have spoken by phone on June 6, leading to a meeting being finalized on the afternoon of June 7. That evening, Trump won primary contests in California and New Jersey that handed him the delegates he needed to clinch the nomination. During his victory speech, Trump pledged that he’d give a major speech the following Monday, June 13, “discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”

The meeting with Goldstone and a Russian attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya happened on June 9. Trump Jr. told the New York Times that he quickly realized that the promised information about Clinton didn’t exist and that Veselnitskaya soon changed the topic to sanctions against Russia. Trump’s June 13 speech about Clinton didn’t happen.

But let’s set aside whether Trump himself knew. Clearly, people working on his campaign did.

The Fix's Aaron Blake explains why Donald Trump Jr.'s decision to tweet out emails about a meeting with a Russian lawyer could end up being damaging. (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Trump Jr. was joined in the meeting by his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and by Paul Manafort, then the chairman of Trump’s campaign. They’re mentioned in the emails with Goldstone, too, when Trump Jr. says that he’ll likely invite them to the meeting. The subject line for those emails? “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

Again, though, we can’t say conclusively that they knew what the meeting was about, any more than we can that the elder Trump did. (Veselnitskaya told NBC News on Tuesday morning that Kushner only stayed the first 10 minutes or so, suggesting that he was uninterested in what was being discussed.)

We know that the campaign was comfortable with Russian meddling, though, because an indisputable agent of the campaign said so: Donald Trump Jr.

Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center explained by phone that there was no extricating Trump Jr. from the Trump campaign.

“I think there’s no question he was an agent of the campaign,” Noble said. “He was holding himself out as representing the campaign. He was speaking on behalf of the campaign. It would be hard for them to argue he wasn’t acting as an agent of the campaign, that he was acting independently, particularly because he brought in other people from the campaign with him” to the meeting. Random people can say that they’re doing work for a candidate, but random people can’t get the campaign chairman to show up when asked.

Mind you, whether he was an agent of the campaign is irrelevant for the legal issues that are raised by the emails. The Washington Post spoke with experts who believe that emails show Trump Jr. having probably “crossed the line on conspiracy to commit election fraud or conspiracy to obtain information from a foreign adversary.”

That last part alone is illegal, Noble explained.

“Anyone soliciting a foreign contribution is violating the law,” he said — and that includes opposition research, such as what was embraced by Trump Jr. One legal bar is whether someone provides “substantial assistance” to obtaining something of value from a foreign national. “Given the emails,” Noble said, “I think that’s substantial assistance.”

But, yet again, beside the point.

“Had he been running the Trump businesses and not been involved in the campaign. Not been traveling on behalf of the campaign. Not been speaking out for his father,” Noble said, “they might have an argument” that Trump Jr. wasn’t acting on behalf of the campaign. Trump Jr. didn’t need an official campaign title to be part of the campaign — and, besides, Noble said, he had one. Son.

(As for traveling for the campaign: Federal records show that Trump Jr. was reimbursed for nearly $30,000 in travel expenses by the Trump campaign.)

Trump Jr. was part of the campaign. Trump Jr. set up a meeting with other campaign representatives to receive what he thought was material impugning an opponent that, he was told, came directly from the Russian government. (In fact, he was told that it was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” something that President Trump has long denied existed. Trump Jr. doesn’t appear to have balked at that description.) In other words, it’s no longer possible to deny that the campaign sought to collude with the Russian government in its meddling efforts.

And this is one set of emails.

“This is one shoe” that has dropped, Noble said, “and we have a centipede in front of us.”