Donald Trump Jr.
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

The Trump legal team is preparing a defense for Donald Jr. that is all based on the idea that his meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya was an elaborate scheme set up by the Democrats. At the center of it all is the research firm Fusion GPS, which is the group that ultimately hired Christopher Steele, author of the so-called “Steele dossier.”

To get the connection, it will help if you’ve read Martin’s excellent piece on Natalia Veselnitskaya. While other journalists eventually told her story, he was the first to explain that she was a lot more than simply a “Russian lawyer.”

To summarize, Veselnitskaya was the lawyer for Prevezon (a Russian holding company based in Cyprus), who were being sued by Preet Bharara for laundering money from a massive tax heist by using the proceeds to purchase pricey New York City real estate. Fusion GPS was hired by the law firm BakerHostetler, which was also representing Prevezon.

Do you see the connection? Veselnitskaya represented Prevezon and Fusion GPS was hired by a law firm that also represented Prevezon. Since Fusion GPS is the group that is responsible for producing the Steele dossier, that means that they set up the hoax that ensnared Donald Trump, Jr. into the trap of taking the meeting that everyone is so obsessed with, but which produced nothing.

Anyone think that sounds plausible? Apparently Trump’s lawyers do.

On Monday, Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Trump’s outside counsel, alleged that the meeting had been set up under false pretenses and implied that Veselnitskaya’s association with Fusion GPS was relevant to the alleged deception.

“Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier,” Corallo said in a statement.

I first heard about this on Facebook two nights ago from one of the people I follow specifically to hear what kind of fake news is being spread by Trump supporters. This story in even crazier form was traveling around those sites that anyone with half a brain would avoid. So I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then I noticed that Erick Ericksson had bought into it. I know he’s a right wing extremist, but he’s been no fan of Donald Trump. The title of his piece is, “Were Democrats Working With Russia Against Trump? That Russian Lawyer Has Ties to Democrat Oppo Researchers.” Here’s his introduction:

This will not get nearly as much coverage as Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, but it does raise the issue of whether Democrats and Russians were as collaborative as the Democrats claim the Trump team was. There is a remarkably small degree of separation between Natalia Veselnitskaya and Fusion GPS, the Democrat opposition research firm that came up with the Trump dossier.

Let’s ground ourselves in a few facts. If this was an elaborate Democratic scheme to ensnare Donald Jr., then Emin Agalaov—who talked to Don on the phone to help make the connection—would have been in on the whole ruse. Part of the story on some sites has been to suggest that Veselnitskaya was actually an anti-Trump supporter of Hillary Clinton. That contradicts everything we know about her role in Russian affairs, specifically what is noted above about her work for Prevezon (once again, read Martin’s piece for more details).

This whole conspiracy theory depends on a belief that Fusion GPS is some kind of Democratic front group because they helped produce the Steele dossier, which smeared Donald Trump. Notice in the quote above from Corallo that he refers to the idea that they were “retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president.” There is a slight hint of truth in that statement. But what it ignores is the fact that Fusion GPS was initially hired in October 2015 by unnamed Republican clients in order to develop opposition research on Trump to be used during the GOP primary. Once Trump won the nomination, the research was continued by Democrats. That makes it pretty clear that this is a firm that is happy to be employed by either/both sides.

Part of the case being made about Veselnitskaya having ties to Democrats is to question how/why she got a visa to be in the country on June 9, 2016 for the meeting with the Trump campaign. Here’s Erickson on that:

Natalia Veselnitskaya had been denied a visa into the United States. She had been given temporary parole, allowing her to enter the country with an expired visa, but it has been revoked by 2016.

Of course right wingers are claiming that this is where Obama comes in. His administration pulled the strings necessary for her to enter the country and enact this whole ruse on poor unsuspecting Donald, Jr. The president himself made that claim today when he said this:

Now, the lawyer that went to the meeting, I see that she was in the halls of Congress, also. Somebody said that her visa or passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Now maybe that’s wrong, I just heard that a while ago. But I was a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.

But if you remember, in Donald’s email exchange with Goldstone, there was some back and forth on setting up a time for the meeting. At one point Goldstone writes:

Would it be possible to move tomorrow meeting to 4pm as the Russian attorney is in court until 3 i was just informed.

Here’s the story on that:

Veselnitskaya was initially refused entry to the United States when she applied for a visa for herself and her children for the end of 2015. According to court files, she said she was granted a temporary “parole letter” allowing her into the country to assist her client Katsyv, who was facing a trial in the U.S. linked to his alleged part in the $230 million fraud uncovered by Magnitsky.

She applied in the Southern District of New York for that temporary access to be extended beyond Jan. 6, 2016, when it was due to expire. Court transcripts show that prosecutors were reluctant to give Veselnitskaya a blank check to remain in the U.S. while the case stalled…

A judge ordered an extension, with the expectation that trial would start soon.

Finally, none of this matters because ultimately Donald Jr. was happy to have a meeting with someone who told him they represented the Russian government and had dirt to share about Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Moscow.

As we’ve seen so often, these facts won’t matter as this conspiracy theory travels around the swamp of fake news. But remember, this is an angle the Trump lawyers are preparing in Donald Jr’s. defense. They really are that incompetent…or desperate.

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