Trump Jr. Releases Smoking Gun Russian Collusion Emails
In an attempt to get ahead of a New York Times article detailing his email exchanges with a Russian contact that would assist him in obtaining “dirt” on Hillary Clinton to help his father win the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. published an entire chain of emails to Twitter today essentially offering a digital confession that he and at least two top-level campaign officials attempted to collude with Russia during their attack on the United States last year.
The email chain – from June 2016 – tells the story of how the Russian government reached out to Donald Trump Jr. to offer the Trump campaign assistance in defeating Hillary Clinton through use of stolen material that could be released publicly to damage her chances of winning.
In their description of the email thread, Vox described it succinctly reporting:
In the thread, publicist Rob Goldstone writes clear as day that a prosecutor in Russia met a client of his, and offered to give the Trump campaign incriminating information on Hillary Clinton “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. responded.
The full thread — posted by Trump Jr. himself in two tweets in an effort to preempt a story by the New York Times’ Jo Becker, Adam Goldman, and Matt Apuzzo — makes indisputably clear that Trump Jr. was trying to collude with the Russian government.
In the thread, Goldstone goes on to schedule a meeting between Trump Jr. and a “Russian government attorney” who he said would convey the information. Trump Jr. also forwards on the thread to Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, confirming the time of the meeting.
In releasing the emails, Trump Jr. seemed to be attempting to prove his innocence through the belief that because he didn’t successfully receive any actual information, he didn’t break any law. It’s like the men on To Catch A Predator that fall for the lure, show up to the trap, and then claim innocence because they didn’t actually molest anyone. It’s the intent and the carrying out of the meeting that legally matters – not the end result of the meeting (though we’ll get to more on that in a moment).
In his official statement on the emails, Trump Jr. said in part, “The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Opposition Research. I first wanted to just have a phone call but when they that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet. I decided to take the meeting.”
When members of a foreign government (that you know are engaged in an ongoing cyber attack on the United States) offer opposition research to you for an election they are actively attacking electronically, you inform the FBI – you don’t take a meeting.
And you especially don’t invite two high level campaign officials (Kushner and Manafort) to that meeting as that means it’s not just a son helping his father; it’s now an official campaign operation.
In order for an American citizen – campaign official, private citizen or otherwise – to be considered to be ‘in collusion’ with Russia in their attack on the United States, the legal bar isn’t necessarily the acquisition of information.
Vox explained this noting:
We have indisputable proof that people very close to the president indeed — his son, his son-in-law/top adviser, and his then-campaign chair — were not only aware of but encouraging of a Russian government effort to help Trump win the White House.
Think about it: Goldstone casually sent Trump Jr. an email saying his information would be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” — casually stating Russia’s support for Trump as if it were an unremarkable fact.
Trump Jr.’s response is similarly blasé. Rather than being confused or questioning what Goldstone means when he’s referring to the Russian government’s support for Trump, the president’s son cheerily responds “If it’s what you say I love it” and proceeds to try to get the details. And he forwards the thread on to Kushner and Manafort.
First, a reframing of the way we think of collusion. Collusion actually is a political term; there’s no line in the criminal code that says you go to jail for colluding with a foreign adversary.
But you can go to jail for conspiring with a foreign adversary to influence or undermine an election, and Jacobovitz thinks what Trump Jr. did, as documented by emails he himself shared on Twitter, could rise to that level.
“You may have crossed the line on conspiracy to commit election fraud or conspiracy to obtain information from a foreign adversary,” attorney Jeffrey Jacobovitz told the Washington Post. “You cannot benefit from a foreign adversary in this kind of scenario.”
He also said it’s ““…as close as you can get to a smoking gun.”
Other legal experts agreed.
Cornell Law School associate dean Jens David Ohlin spoke with the Washington Post on the subject stating, “It’s a shocking admission of a criminal conspiracy.” Ohlin added, “The conversation will not turn to whether President Trump was personally involved or not. But the question of the campaign’s involvement appears settled now. The answer is yes.”
Even the contention that nothing came of the meeting is under scrutiny – especially since the Trumps, their campaign staff, and White House officials have all repeatedly lied about meetings with Russian officials at every step of the investigation.
Release of Information
Prior to the meeting, it was public knowledge that Russia was engaged in an cyber attack on the United States elections both in their targeting of state registers as well as the hacking of emails. (The third prong in the attack was the spreading of propaganda and misinformation aimed at helping Trump win the election.)
As of the meeting, however, those hacked emails hadn’t been released. They weren’t released until some time after the Russian official met with Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort.
Was anything agreed to in this meeting by either side? We know from both sides that in addition to sitting down to talk dirt on Clinton, there was a discussion about American adoptions of Russian children and sanctions the Russian government opposes against suspects of human rights abuses.
A month after the June 2016 meeting, thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee were leaked on the eve of Democrats’ convention, leading the DNC’s chair to resign. Members of Congress with access to intelligence said Russians had already hacked into those emails by the time Trump Jr. met with the Russian lawyer.
Jacobovitz said Mueller and his team will certainly be investigating whether there was some kind of quid pro quo between the Trump campaign and Russia on sanctions vs. damaging emails to Clinton.
WaPo also noted one other item of interest in terms of collusion, legal standards, and negotiating with hostile foreign agents for opposition research:
Also worth noting: Trump himself has drawn a line in the sand of what collusion means to him, a definition he may come to regret. Essentially, the president has said, collusion is knowing about something going on illegally and not doing anything about it.
Under that definition, it appears the Trump campaign rocketed past its own definition. It’s not normal, and it may not even be legal, to meet with a foreign adversary expecting dirt on your opponent.
Since Donald Trump Jr. has conveniently provided the nation with his emails (so as to spare the nation teeth-gnashing over the potential legitimacy of those emails had the New York Times published them first), the question now turns to the seriousness of his (and others’) crimes.
Since we now have proof positive the Trump campaign knowingly, willingly and gleefully met with a Russian official in the midst of last year’s attack on our elections, it’s no question of whether the highest ranking officials around Trump conspired to win the election by working with a hostile foreign power in their attempt to sway our elections.
As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp wrote Monday:
The solicitation bit is why it doesn’t matter if Trump Jr. actually got useful information. The part that’s illegal, according to the experts I spoke to, is trying to acquire dirt on Clinton from a foreign source, not successfully acquiring it. And his statement more or less admits that he did, in fact, solicit this information.
“The most recent [developments] are especially significant because they include specific statements on the record conceding the Trump campaign’s expressed interest in what the Russians could provide,” Bob Bauer, White House counsel for Barack Obama from 2010 to 2011, writes at Just Security. “Those statements show intent — a clear-cut willingness to have Russian support — and they reveal specific actions undertaken to obtain it.”
A lot more questions about this remain including who else knew, what other potential quid pro quo deals were made, and essentially how deep into the Trump campaign and Trump White House the Russian collusion actually goes.
One thing is certain: Robert Mueller is all over this.
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