Two days after the NYT reported that Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., together with then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner - but without Donald Trump himself being present - had met at the Trump Tower with a lawyer who was allegedly "Kremlin connected" on June 9, 2016, shortly after Trump was assured of the Republican nomination, the NY Times has followed up with a new article, one which seeks to explain the one thing that was missing from the original NYT article: the motive behind said meeting, as in retrospect it turned out that members of Trump's campaign simply meeting with a Russian lawyer was less exciting than the NYT had hoped.
Curiously, when the NYT reported of the original meeting it did not have the dramatic punchline it was hoping for - it needed its readers help for that. As it explains, "the Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it." In other words, the new batch of anonymous sources only stepped up after reading the original report which, for lack of a better word, was disappointing.
And, as the NYT clarifies in its sequel - citing three advisers to the White House - Trump Jr. agreed to meet with the lawyer, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, only after allegedly being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
And while there is no smoking gun yet again as the NYT admits that "It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton", the paper writes that accounts of this meeting "represent[s] the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help." Or technically, the help of a Russian lawyer who denies having acted on behalf of the Russian government.
And apparently not Trump himself: Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, told the NYT on Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
Veselnitskaya told the Times in a Saturday statement that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed. She “never acted on behalf of the Russian government," she said, and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.” More importantly, "she recalled that after about 10 minutes, either Mr. Kushner or Mr. Manafort walked out", in other words the meeting was, as Trump Jr. suggested, a waste of time.
Separately, Trump Jr. said in a statement to the paper on Sunday that he had met with Veselnitskaya at the request of an acquaintance after learning she may have a tip about the Clinton campaign, but said she offered nothing of value and instead used “claims of potentially helpful information” as a pretext for a meeting about Russian adoption issues; he denied that he received any information on Clinton.
“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton,” Trump Jr. said in his statement. “Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
He said they then talked about American adoptions of Russian children. “It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting.” Trump Jr. also said he asked Manafort and Kushner to attend, but did not tell them what the meeting was about.
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So what's the punchline?
Well, since as the NYT itself admits that there is yet again no smoking gun - "it is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton" - the only implied allegation is the NYT's summary that "the accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help."
There are just four minor issues with this.
First, the meeting took place in early June, or roughly one month before Russia is said to have "hacked" either the DNC or Podesta's emails. This is something that even Trump's nemesis, and Comey's frieng, Benjamin Wittes noted on Twitter:
The date on this meeting may actually be exculpatory to Trump in one way. Why? It predates the disclosures, I think, of Russian hacking. /4/ pic.twitter.com/TGT5bXVNTL— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 9, 2017
It begs the question: if Russia was planning on hacking Clinton, why not wait one month until it actually had the relevant damning information, instead of allegedly using said information as a false pretext for a meeting with the Trump campaign, only to burn that particular bridge?
Second, if indeed the Trump campaign was hoping to use "hacked" information to attack Hillary, why would the "Kremlin" use Wikileaks or Guccifer2.0 as intermediaries just weeks later, when it could have gone directly to Trump as this narrative implies - whether using Veselnitskaya as a conduit as the NYT infers, or otherwise. Indeed, if this narrative is to be upheld, then one month later Putin, instead of using its "Kremlin connected" lawyer, went directly to the public, by disclosing the DNC emails which eventually led to Wasserman-Schultz' resignation after it was revealed that the Democrats had conspired against Bernie Sanders to benefit Hillary in the Primaries. Incidentally, the source of the leaked DNC emails was not an issue at the time when the pro-Bernie and pro-Hillary camps were engaged in a furious feud against each other. Only later did the Kremlin become a useful scapegoat to deflect attention from the original source of anger within the democratic party.
Third, if this was indeed as blockbuster a meeting as the NYT reporters present it, why was Trump himself absent? After all, if there is anything we have learned in the past year, is that when it comes to acceptable protocol, Donald Trump is the last person to care, and would have been the first person to want to know what this critical "source" has to say.
Finally, there is the question of whether someone was trying to set up the president's son. As Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Trump’s legal team, said quoted by Circa, “We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” said “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. " He added that "These developments raise serious issues as to exactly who authorized and participated in any effort by Russian Nationals to influence our election in any manner."
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None of that was mentioned in the NYT sequel, whose intention is that just the insinuation of collusion now spread to Trump Jr., will be sufficient to keep the Russia hacking story alive and in play at least a little longer.
Another potential consequence is that at the insistence of Democrats, Trump Jr could be dragged into the Russian investigation. On Sunday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he may push Trump Jr., who runs the Trump Organization with his brother, to testify before the committee.
“We are going to want to question everyone at that meeting about what was discussed,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
In short: anything to keep the "Russia hacking" story - now well past its "sell by" date - going just a little bit longer, even as the first meeting between Trump and Putin has now come and gone. Meanwhile, one year after the alleged Russian hacking, the public still eagerly awaits any evidence of said Russian hacking.