President Trump’s Russian friends just can’t keep themselves out of the news. Today brings us the return of Natalia Veselnitskaya:
A Russian lawyer whose role at a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower has come under scrutiny from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was charged Tuesday in a separate case with obstructing justice in a money-laundering investigation.
Natalia Veselnitskaya became a central figure in the Mueller probe when it was revealed that in June 2016, she met with Donald Trump Jr., after an intermediary indicated she had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
But the charges unsealed Tuesday say she made a “misleading declaration” to the court in a civil case.
Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others at Trump Tower in Manhattan on June 9, 2016, represented Prevezon Holdings in a civil case in which the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan sought millions of dollars in forfeiture from the company and others. The department had alleged in a civil complaint that a Russian criminal organization ran an elaborate tax refund scheme, stealing the identities of targeted companies and filing sham lawsuits to incur fake losses for refund purposes.
This case doesn’t have anything directly to do with the president or his family, but it does serve as more evidence of Veselnitskaya’s close Kremlin ties. She’s being charged with presenting to the court a supposedly independent Russian government report exonerating her clients, when in fact she “had participated in drafting those supposed independent investigative findings in secret cooperation with a senior Russian prosecutor.”
Which reinforces the likelihood that when Veselnitskaya sat down with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016, she was there as a representative of the Russian government.
That, of course, was how she was privately presented to the Trump campaign. You’ll recall that when the meeting was proposed in an email to Trump Jr. by his acquaintance Rob Goldstone, the latter wrote that dirt on Hillary Clinton would be forthcoming from Russia, and “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Don Jr. replied, “If it’s what you say, I love it,” and quickly arranged the meeting with the campaign’s top officials.
What has never been clear is why Veselnitskaya was unable to deliver the goods. We may never know; she’s back in Russia and will probably not be coming back to face questioning by U.S. prosecutors. That meeting, from both the Russian and Trump campaign sides, shows that conspiracies are seldom as neat and efficient as Hollywood would have us believe. They’re more likely to be full of incompetence and miscommunication, with everyone pursuing their own agendas and often unable to coordinate in the way they’d like.
That has been the basis of the Trump defense in all this, which basically comes down to the assertion that while they may have been trying to collude with Russia, the collusion never quite came together, and so they’re innocent. That isn’t completely false (except the innocent part), but the most important fact about the Trump Tower meeting may be that just about everyone involved has either been proven to have lied about it, or has said things about it that are impossible to believe.
To review: When the story of the meeting broke, Don Jr. first said it was for the purpose of discussing Russian adoptions and had nothing to do with the campaign, a lie that lasted all of one day. President Trump personally dictated a false statement for Don Jr. to release to the media, then had his representatives deny that he had done so. Kushner omitted mention of the meeting on his security clearance forms, and claimed he had no idea what the meeting was about despite the fact that he had been sent the email explaining that it was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Rudy Giuliani then said that Don Jr., Kushner and Manafort didn’t even know Veselnitskaya was Russian. (“She didn’t represent the Russian government, she’s a private citizen. I don’t even know if they knew she was Russian at the time,” Giuliani said.) It may also turn out that President Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting, which would mean that both he and Don Jr. have lied about that, too.
This is simply not how innocent people act.
At some point in the near future, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s final assessments will be made public in some form. There will no doubt be a good deal of discussion of the Trump Tower meeting and how it relates to the rest of the well-documented campaign waged by the Russian government to help Donald Trump get elected. At that point, Trump and his surrogates will insist that none of it means anything.
Here’s a suggestion, though, for an argument they can make. Sure, Trump and his family have associations with shady Russians, including some under indictment. But they have associations with shady Americans, too! So there’s nothing to see here.