TrumpWatch, Day 482: Revelations About Trump Tower Discussion of Collusion With Russians

Donald Trump with his son Donald Jr. (File)

Questions remain over extent of Donald Trump’s involvement


Developments on Day 482 of the Trump Administration:

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Trump Jr. Testimony Released

There are more revelations about a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump’s closest advisors and three Kremlin-linked envoys, courtesy of testimony from Donald Trump Jr.

The remarks of Trump Jr., who welcomed the offer of the meeting to receive “dirt” on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, are among 2,500 pages of testimony released by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Trump Jr. was joined at the encounter by Donald Trump Sr.’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. They received Kremlin-linked Natalia Veselnitskaya; Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet intelligence officer; and Ike Kaveladze, a representative of Russian-Azerbaijani billionaire and Trump business associate Aras Agalarov.

In the testimony, Trump Jr. confirms discussion of a Russian offer of material damaging Clinton, one to which he responded, “I love it”, when it was presented as the reason to arrange the meeting.

When The New York Times first revealed the Trump Tower meeting in July 2017, Trump Jr. said the discussion was about “adoptions”. The Trump-Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller is focusing on the possible deception, including whether Donald Trump Sr. had a hand in the drafting of the statement — which could expose him to claims of obstruction of justice.

Trump Jr. testified that he did know about his father’s direct involvement and that he discouraged it. However, he said Trump Sr. may have influenced the draftabout the meeting through his confidante and communications aide, Hope Hicks:

Q. And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?

A. I believe some may have been, but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.

After the revelations of the meeting, Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas tried to coordinate a strategy backing up Trump Jr.’s dismissal of the discussion as a “complete waste of time”.

Futerfas wrote the statement of Rob Goldstone, the publicist for Emin Agalarov and the broker who worked with Trump Jr. to set up the meeting, that maintained it was only about economic sanctions and a ban on Americans adopting Russian children. Goldstone also forwarded Futerfas’s e-mail to another participant in the meeting, Ike Kaveladze.

Futerfas had spoken several times with Kaveladze by telephone before the revelations, and was due to speak with Emin Agalarov.

Alan Garten, another Trump Organization attorney, spoke by telephone with Goldstone before the news broke. After the call, Goldstone wrote, “They are concerned because it Jinks [sic] Don Jr to officials from Russia – which he has always denied meeting.”

After The New York Times articles, incoming White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci told Goldstone that it was important that “we remain consistent and united”.

Did Trump Sr. Know About June 2016 Meeting?

A mystery remains about whether Trump Jr. gave details of the Trump Tower meeting, both as it was being arranged and after it was held.

Trump Jr. made a phone call to a blocked number after speaking with Emin Agalarov, a pop singer who is the son of Trump Sr.’s business partner Aras Agalarov, about the meeting. He also called the blocked number on other occasions.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has testified that Trump Sr.’s primary residence uses a blocked number.

Trump Jr. has denied his father knew about the meeting. He testified to the committee:

Q. Does your father used a blocked number on his cellphone or on any phones that you call him on?

A. I don’t know.

Q. So you don’t know whether this might have been your father?

A. I don’t.

Disappointment Over the Clinton Material

One of the three visitors to Trump Tower, Rinat Akhmetshin, indicated that Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort lost interest when it became clear that the direct provision of anti-Clinton material was not Veselnitskaya’s primary topic.

The lawyer did claim that money was being illegally funneled to the Democratic National Committee, suggesting that the information could help the Trump campaign. However, this fell far short of the “thousands of e-mails” from Clinton and the Democrats, offered to Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos by another Kremlin contact in April.

Veselnitskaya focused on Moscow’s attempt to dismantle a 2012 US law, the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions over human rights abuses. She tried to tarnish Bill Browder, a British-American financier and leading proponent of the Act, through tax fraud allegations.

“There were no questions. I could tell like he — Trump Jr. — he just instantly lost interest about those things. And she probably felt this,” Akhmetshin said.

Goldstone, the British publicist and broker for the meeting, echoed the account. He said he thought the Russians were bringing a “smoking gun”, but Kushner appeared “agitated” and “infuriated” when Veselnitskaya rambled about the Magnitsky Act rather than the anti-Clinton material. Kushner asked her to “focus a bit more” and start over.

At one point, Trump Jr. asked Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin if they “had anything on Hillary”. Akhmetshin replied, “Why don’t you do your own research on her? We gave you the idea”, and continued talking about the Magnitsky Act.

Giuliani: Mueller Won’t Indict Trump — While He’s President

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani makes another declaration to sweep away an investigation, saying he has a commitment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team that Trump will not be indicted while he is President:

When I met with Mueller’s team, they seemed to be in a little bit of confusion about whether they could indict. We said, “It’s pretty clear that you have to follow D.O.J. policy.”

They can’t indict. They can’t indict. Because if they did, it would be dismissed quickly. There’s no precedent for a president being indicted.

Giuliani’s statement may be incidential, given that any indictment is likely to follow after Trump has left the White House — through impeachment and conviction, resignation, or the end of his term.

Meanwhile, Mueller may write a report about Trump’s conduct that Congress can use as part of any impeachment proceedings, or he can name Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in court documents.

However, it is the latest attempt to give reassurance to Trump, whose lawyers have repeatedly proclaimed the imminent end of the inquiry: by last Thanksgiving, then by Christmas, then by early this year.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will not indict President Trump if he finds wrongdoing in his investigation of Trump campaign links to Russia, according to the president’s lawyers. They said Wednesday that Mr. Mueller’s investigators told them that he would adhere to the Justice Department’s view that the Constitution bars prosecuting sitting presidents.

The disclosure provides the greatest clarity to date about how Mr. Mueller, who is also investigating whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry itself, may proceed. If he concludes that he has evidence that the president broke the law, experts say, he now has only two main options while Mr. Trump remains in office: He

Mr. Mueller’s stance could serve as political relief for Mr. Trump, whose presidency has been under the cloud of the investigation. Mr. Trump has repeatedly called it a “witch hunt.” A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about how the president reacted to Mr. Mueller’s viewpoint on indictment.

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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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