The Collusion Walls Start to Close in on the Trump Family

Big Russia-shaped bombshells are dropping today on Trump, his direct family, and his campaign.

First and most important, it looks like for the first time we have direct admitted evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to damage the Clinton campaign with illegally obtained information:

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.

And now we know why:

The meeting — at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trumpclinched the Republican nomination — points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.

While President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and the Russians, the episode at Trump Tower is the first such confirmed private meeting involving his inner circle during the campaign — as well as the first one known to have included his eldest son. It came at an inflection point in the campaign, when Donald Trump Jr., who served as an adviser and a surrogate, was ascendant and Mr. Manafort was consolidating power.

It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton. But the people interviewed by The Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so.

When he was first asked about the meeting on Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. said only that it was primarily about adoptions and mentioned nothing about Mrs. Clinton.

Donald Trump Jr. is now recanting his earlier denials about the meeting, saying that he did agree to the meeting to see what dirt the Russians had on Clinton, but that they didn’t deliver anything useful–instead using it as a pretext to lobby for changes to the Magnitsky Act:

In his statement, Donald Jr. said he did not know the lawyer’s name, Natalia Veselnitskaya, before attending the meeting at the request of an acquaintance. He said that after pleasantries were exchanged, the woman told him that “she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton.”

“No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information,” he said, asserting that he concluded that claims of helpful information for the campaign had been a “pretext” for setting up the meeting.

The problems for Trump Jr. here are several.

First, there is no reason at all to believe that any of Trump’s family and associates are telling the truth now, either. They have lied and omitted key details about all their meetings with Russian agents in the past, and we should have no reason to believe their statements about what happened during these meetings now.

Second, there’s the reality that Trump’s immediate family and campaign were actively seeking damaging information about their political opponents from a hostile foreign adversary, and allowed themselves to be lobbied on a law designed to punish the murder of political activists by that same adversary. Even if you were to take the Trump team’s statements at face value, we now have Trump’s son and onetime campaign manager directly admitting that they sought to collude with Russia on negative information about Clinton.

Third, we now know once again that Trump and his associates lied about this and other meetings they had with Russian agents and officials.

Finally, the fact that all this information is coming out now means that someone on the inside is talking. That in itself is deeply problematic for Republicans, and it could start to make various members of the inner circle seek out reputational life rafts rather than stay loyal to the captain’s of a sinking ship. It’s not as if the Trump family has ever shown much loyalty to their underlings in return for their service, after all. It doesn’t pay to fall on one’s sword for them.

Things could get very interesting from here. It could be the beginning of the end. Time will tell.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.