TrumpWatch, Day 172: Furor Over Trump Jr.-Russian Meeting Grows

Donald Trump watches Emin Agalarov, who helped set up June 2016 Donald Trump Jr. meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer, at the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow in 2013

Donald Trump Jr. knew meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer could be about anti-Clinton material

Developments on Day 179 of the Trump Administration:

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Trump Jr. Knew Kremlin-Linked Lawyer Was Offering Anti-Clinton Info

Donald Trump Jr. knew that a Kremlin-connected lawyer was offering information to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, before arranging a June 2016 meeting that also included Donald Trump Sr.’s campaign manager Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Trump Jr. was told in an e-mail that the material was part of a Kremlin effort to aid Trump Sr.’s candidacy, “according to three people with knowledge of the e-mail”.

The e-mail was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former reporter for the British tabloid Daily Mail who helped broker the meeting. Goldstone represents the Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, whose billionaire father Aras Agalarov was Donald Trump’s business partner when the Miss Universe pageant was held in Moscow in 2013.

Aras Agalarov and Trump Jr. collaborated to bring a Trump Tower to Moscow, but the project never got off the ground.

Goldstone told media that Emin Agalarov said, “I’m told she [Clinton] has information about illegal campaign contributions to the DNC [Democratic National Committee.” He said he then sent the e-mail to Trump Jr. with the purported information.

Goldstein denied any knowledge of involvement by the Kremlin. Later, after his e-mail was described to The Times, he could not be contacted for further comment.

Trump Jr.’s Changing Story

Trump Jr., who had denied in March meeting any Russian officials, said on Saturday that the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya was about “adoptions”. After learning of a New York Times article on Sunday that established the meeting was to discuss anti-Clinton material, Trump Jr. said he was unaware that would be the topic and quickly changed the subject when it arose.

The meeting took place less than a week before it was widely reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee. A June 20 memo in a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent said the Russians had compiled information for “several years” on Clinton and sent some of it to Trump and his associates.

Alan Futerfas, the lawyer now retained by Trump Jr., said his client had done nothing wrong but pledged to work with investigators if contacted. He insisted, “Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed.”

On Twitter, Trump Jr. also protested his innocence, saying that he was an unwitting victim of Veselnitskaya’s surprise disclosure of the anti-Clinton material.

He then wrote, “Happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know.”

White House: “No Collusion”

Despite the attempt by a Kremlin-linked envoy to interfere in the election, Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner did not report the meeting at the time or for months afterwards. It only came to light last week after the Times was told of a confidential document by Manafort and Kushner listing the encounter.

White House officials said Donald Trump Sr. only learned of the meeting when the first New York Times article appeared on Saturday. A spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence said he was also unaware of the discussion.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted on Monday, “The president’s campaign did not collude in any way. Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election. No one within the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election.”

Goldstone, the broker of the meeting, said Veselnitskaya offered “just a vague, generic statement about the campaign’s funding and how people, including Russian people, living all over the world donate when they shouldn’t donate”. She then turned to discussion of the Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress to sanction Russian human rights abuses — a measure against which Russian President Vladimir Putin retaliated by suspending adoptions of Russian children by US parents.

Veselnitskaya said “I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that.”

But she added, “[The Trump associates] wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

The lawyer said she had never acted on behalf of the Kremlin. A Putin representative said the President did not know Ms. Veselnitskaya, and that he had no knowledge of the meeting.

GOP Senator: I Will Kill the Healthcare Bill

GOP Senator Shelley Moore Capito has said she will kill the Republican healthcare bill:

I only see it through the lens of a vulnerable population who needs help, who I care about very deeply. So that gives me strength. If I have to be that one person, I will be it.

Capito expressed concern about the bill’s impact on Medicaid recipients, especially those afflicted by the opioid crisis.

She is among several moderate Senators — all from states which faces signficant cuts to Medicaid if the bill passes — who have expressed concern about the legislation. Their reluctance, combined with opposition from some conservatives, led to the GOP legislation backing away from a vote before the July 4 recess.

However, with pressure on to show some legislative achievement under the Trump Administration, both the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are seeking to push through the bill before the Senate adjourns again in August.

Pence Hosting Private Dinners for Big Donors

Vice President Mike Pence is hosting private dinners for large donors, corporate executives, and conservative political leaders.

Over several months, Pence and his wife Karen have held the dinners at the Vice President’s official residence. There have been 30 to 40 guests at each, including Chicago hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin, the brokerage firm founder Charles Schwab, and executives from companies like Dow Chemical — who have benefitted from the Trump Administration’s rollback of environmental regulations, including restrictions on pesticides — and the military contractor United Technologies.

The guests donated or helped raise millions of dollars in the 2016 campaign, and they are viewed as likely supporters for two new groups, America First Policies and America First Action, created to promote Donald Trump, Pence, and Congressional allies.

Spokesman Marc Lotter said that Pence had not held any political fund-raisers at his residence, which could run afoul of a law barring the solicitation of political contributions in government buildings.

Fox Falsely Accuses Comey of Passing Classified Info; Trump Tweets as Fact

Fox News claims, and Donald Trump publicizes, the false allegation that former FBI Director James Comey passed classified information to the media through a friend.

Comey testified before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in early May that he passed memoranda summarizing his meetings and phone calls with Trump to journalists, using his friend Daniel Richman from Columbia University. However, he emphasized that there was no classified material in the summaries.

After “officials familiar with the information” put out the story to The Hill, the Fox and Friends program promoted a “bombshell report” that Comey’s memos had “top secret information”.

Trump eagerly recycled the allegation:

But analysts and journalists immediately pointed out that Comey had only passed on unclassified material:

Fox and Friends finally apologized on Tuesday morning:

Bannon Has Portrait of Himself as Napoleon

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has a portrait of himself as Napoleon.

The painting was reportedly given to Bannon by Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party who has courted favor with Donald Trump and his advisors.

The painting of Napoleon in his study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, shows the leader in full military regalia.

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