TrumpWatch, Day 177: Trump Shelters at Golf Course from Trump Jr.-Russia Affair

Donald Trump at the US Women's Open golf tournament at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, July 15, 2017 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump Jr.-Kushner-Manafort meeting in June 2016 with Kremlin-linked lawyer included eight people

Developments on Day 177 of the Trump Administration:

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Trump Ignores Pressure Over Trump Jr.-Russia Meeting

Donald Trump spends the weekend at his golf course in New Jersey, avoiding almost any reference to the June 2016 meeting between his top advisors and Kremlin envoys over material that could damage Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

The discussion with a Kremlin-linked lawyer in Trump Tower was arranged by Donald Trump Jr. with Russian and British intermediaries to review the material, supposedly held by Russia’s Prosecutor General. It also included Donald Trump Sr.’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was joined by Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and another representative believed to be connected with billionaire and Trump associate Aras Agalarov, whose son Emin helped set up the meeting.

For the first day since July 8, when The New York Times revealed the meeting, there was no further revelation yesterday. Donald Trump Sr. took advantage by going to the US Women’s Open at his golf course in New Jersey — where he will also spend Sunday — and tweeting about the stock market, taking credit for its 17% rise since November 2016.

Trump also declared, “Next week the Senate is going to vote on legislation to save Americans from the ObamaCare DISASTER” — an announcement which proved premature when the showdown was delayed again later in the day, purportedly because of the eye surgery of GOP Senator John McCain.

Trump made only one vague allusion to the expanding story over his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials, tucked away in another declaration of success:

The White House has been on the defensive since the first story of the Trump Tower meeting, changing Donald Trump Jr.’s story with each new revelation in the media. Its attempt to contain the story by releasing an e-mail chain between Trump Jr. and the intermediary for the Agalarovs, British publicist Rob Goldstone, backfired when the e-mails showed the President’s son eagerly welcoming the anti-Clinton material.

Trouble grew on Friday when the attempt to limit the account of the meeting to the “private” lawyer Veselnitskaya — labelled as a “Russian government attorney” in the Trump Jr.-Goldstone e-mails — failed with the revelation of the presence of Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected on ongoing links to Russian intelligence services.

Sources then revealed that, besides a translator, there was another member of the Veselnitskaya group. The name has not been given, but the sources pointed to a connection with Aras Agalarov, who worked with Donald Trump Sr. to bring the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to Moscow and who pursued large real estate projects with both Trump Sr. and Trump Jr.

Trump Shakes Up Legal Team

In apparent frustration at its inability to contain the Trump-Russia affair — and possible concern over criminal charges — the Trump family has shaken up the legal team in its “war room”.

Donald Trump has appointed former federal prosecutor Ty Cobb as White House special counsel, with the White House saying the attorney will oversee the legal and media response to the Trump-Russia investigation.

Cobb replaces Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal attorney who has led the “war room” since it was announced in May, when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel for the inquiry.

Jared Kushner has also changed his legal team. High-profile defense attorney Abbe Lowell takes over the Trump-Russia brief from Jamie Gorelick, who will now oversees ethics issues.

It has also been revealed that the Trump campaign paid $50,000 to the law firm now representing Donald Trump Jr., two weeks before the first story about the Trump Jr.-Kushner-Manafort meeting with the Russian envoys.

The payment to the firm of Alan Futerfas on June 27 is apparent confirmation that the Trump team knew the Trump Jr.-Russia story was about to break.

Three weeks before The New York Times published the initial account, Kushner and Manafort belatedly filed reports that they had met with Veselnitskaya. Failure to declare a meeting with an agent of a foreign power can carry a five-year prison term.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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