Randall D. Eliason teaches white-collar criminal law at George Washington University Law School. He blogs at Sidebarsblog.com.
Donald Trump Jr. has just released the emails that led to his meeting in June 2016 with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Jaw-dropping is not too strong a term for them.
As I wrote Monday, this meeting — also attended by President Trump’s then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — is potentially a key piece of evidence in the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.
Trump Jr. had already admitted he attended the meeting after being informed by email that Veselnitskaya was offering to provide damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But the emails themselves — which he posted on Twitter apparently after learning that the New York Times was about to publish them — are far more damning than anyone could have imagined.
The email from Trump associate Rob Goldstone bears the subject line, “Russia-Clinton — private and confidential.” It says that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” was offering to provide the Trump campaign “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” He explains this is “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” The emails describe Veselnitskaya as a “Russian government attorney.”
Trump Jr.’s response to this offer: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” — in other words, closer to the date of the election. He proceeded to set up the meeting, and told Goldstone that Kushner and Manafort would also attend.
Wow — where to begin? First, the emails establish that the entire purpose of the meeting was to share potentially compromising information about Clinton. Trump Jr. and others have claimed the meeting was primarily about sanctions against Russia and the prohibition of U.S. adoptions of Russian children. Those topics are mentioned nowhere in the emails.
The emails also make it perfectly clear that the source of the proffered information is the Russian government. The Trump team may have tried to characterize Veselnitskaya as a private Russian lawyer and to claim that they had no reason to think she was acting on behalf of the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the emails could not be plainer that the proffered information is from the Russian government and “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Finally, the email resolves any doubt about Trump Jr.’s state of mind concerning possible assistance from Putin. His “I love it” pretty much says it all.
Any responsible campaign lawyer or campaign manager, when faced with this type of offer of assistance from the Russian government, would run screaming in the other direction. Hopefully he or she also would report it to the FBI. Team Trump apparently embraced it. In the thick of the campaign, three of Trump’s most senior and trusted advisers took the time to meet with a “Russian government attorney” to see what the Russian government had to offer.
On Monday I referred to prosecutors building a wall of evidence, brick by brick, to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a possible conspiracy. With these emails, Donald Trump Jr. just delivered a wheelbarrow full of bricks to the special counsel’s office.