Emails about a June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and top Trump officials for the purpose of delivering damaging information on Hillary Clinton may not be evidence of collusion. But they are certainly affirmation that the Trump campaign was an eager partner, willing to do whatever was needed, including working with a foreign, hostile power, to get information to support the Republican nominee. And that is alarming enough as it is.
Moreover, it’s further proof that leaders of the Trump campaign, despite coordinated vehement denials of any involvement with Moscow prior to the election, have been less than forthcoming, further justifying the need for the ongoing investigations into their Russian ties.
Trump officials contend the meeting was much ado about nothing. That may be. But there’s no avoiding the incriminating information contained in the emails released by Donald Trump Jr. Tuesday moments before they were about to be published by the New York Times. Here are some of the most troubling aspects:
First, the emails contradict what Trump Jr. claimed on Saturday that the meeting with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya as well as Paul Manafort, then the campaign’s chairman, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, was primarily about a Russian adoption program. He also argued that he had not told Manafort and Kushner what the meeting was about. But the emails, which he had forwarded to Manafort and Kushner, clearly indicated that the purpose of the meeting was “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” To further demonstrate that Trump Jr. understood the goal of the meeting, he responded, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Second, the emails make clear that the three leaders of the Trump campaign were not just meeting with a Russian attorney operating independently. An email from Rob Goldstone, a trusted intermediary, noted that Trump Jr. would be meeting with a woman who was a “Russian government attorney.” Furthermore, Goldstone said that the information came from Russia’s chief prosecutor who had decided to pass it along to the Trump campaign. This is the first direct evidence that senior Trump associates were willing to work with Russian government officials in an effort to defeat Clinton.
Third, this is further proof that the Russians were seeking to meddle in the U.S. election with the goal of ensuring a Trump victory. Goldstone notes, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Intelligence agencies have already concluded that Russians had worked to support Trump by hacking into the emails of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton. Some of that information was released in July 2016.
Finally, the memos leave behind an array of troubling questions concerning whether Trump was aware of the meeting — how could he not be? — and whether any incriminating information eventually was passed along directly to the Trump campaign or indirectly to other sources. Trump Jr. has indicated that nothing came of the meeting. “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered,” he said. “It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.” But given how often his story has changed, these questions would be better left to the Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which are investigating these Russian connections.