By Miriam Raftery
July 14, 2017 (Washington D.C.) – President Donald Trump, his top aides and family members have repeatedly dismissed claims that his campaign conspired with Russia to win the election as “fake news” and “lies.” (See a timeline of denials compiled by the BBC.) But evidence is now clear that those statements were untrue.
The email chain released by the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., shows "an intent to collude with Russia, veteran prosecutors and white-collar defense attorneys.” Politico reports, handing special prosecutor Robert Mueller a “smoking gun.” A Time Magazine cover shows Trump Jr.’s face and the headline, “Red-handed: the Russia scandal hits home.”
Trump Jr. released emails, the Washington Post reported, after learning the New York Times was about to do so, which reveal that he set up a meeting with an attorney who was “part of Russia and its government support or Mr. Trump.” specifically because the attorney claimed to have “official documents” that would “incriminate Hillary.”
A family friend, publicist Rob Goldstone, helped set up that June 9, 2016 meeting and wrote Trump Jr. in a June 3 email, “The crown prosecutor of Russia…offered 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,” Reuters reports.
Copied on those emails were Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, his then-campaign manager. All three attended the meeting with the Russian lawyer, Natalyia Veselnitskaya
Trump Jr.’s response? “I love it,” he replied via email. He later claimed the lawyer did not deliver the damaging material on Clinton as promised, but instead shifted talk to the Magnitsky Act which sanctioned Russian human rights abusers and the Russians’ retaliation by stopping adoptions of Russian children.
Prior to learning the New York Times was about to release the damning emails, Trump Jr. had claimed the meeting was set up to discussion Russian adoption policies. Even after disclosing the meeting, he initially failed to mention that Russian counterintelligence officer and lobbyist Rinat Akhmetsin also joined the meeting, the Washington Post reports. Akhmetsin has previously been accused of illegal corporate hacking, Courthouse News reports.
Might Akhmetsin have been engaged to hack into Hillary Clinton or DNC email accounts? Or into U.S. election systems directly including systems of multiple states' voting rolls where phishing attempts were made? Such hacks have been confirmed, testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and other accounts have indicated, but it's not yet clear who authorized or carried them out. Those are questions the ongoing investigations may seek to probe.
Did President Trump know of the meeting, which took place at Trump Tower, while he was also in Trump Tower? He has claimed he had no knowledge of the meeting. But two days before the meeting with the Russian lawyer, he told media he would soon be making a “major speech” with damaging information about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, a speech and revelations he never made.
Cornell Law School professor Jens David Ohlin says the question of the campaigns involvement appears “settled now” adding “The conversation will now turn to whether President Trump was personally involved or now,” the Reuters report states.
Trump has defended his son’s actions and dismissed them as merely seeking “opposition research.”
But conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer blasted that excuse on Fox TV. “This is not just opposition,” he said. “This is a foreign power, and not just any foreign power, an adversary foreign power.”
Krauthammer further ridicules suggestion that it’s not a crime if the damaging info wasn’t delivered. “It’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion was incompetent,” he said, likening the situation to agreeing to accept delivery of stolen goods—a crime, even if those goods were not delivered.
The Constitution defines treason as conspiring with an adversary foreign power. Only 30 individuals have ever been prosecuted for treason, a tough standard to prove.
But other crimes, such as a criminal conspiracy and violations of election laws, are far easier to prove. Federal law prohibits any contributions, or soliciting contributions for anything of value, from a foreign government.
That includes results of research, hacking, or other in-kind contributions, contents a lawsuit just filed against the Trump campaign by Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center, and Democracy 21. It accuses the Trump campaign, as well as Trump Jr. Kushner and Manafort of soliciting a contribution from a foreign national, PBS Newshour first reported, according to TPM. The suit also names Goldstone for providing “substantial assistance” in soliciting a foreign donation.
Such actions, apart from likely being crimes, also leave the Trump family and Trump’s inner circle vulnerable to possible blackmail, critics point out.
The Senate Intelligence Committee says it plans to call on Trump Jr. to testify, Reuters has reported. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, told the press, “The American people need to know that our president is acting on their behalf and not acting because he has a fear that the Russians could disclose things that would harm him or his family.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham shares that concern. “We cannot allow foreign governments to reach out to anybody’s campaign and say, `We’d like to help you.’”
Trump has repeatedly claimed not to have ties to Russians, other selling a property once to a Russian. But numerous reports have documented far closer ties through Trump’s business enterprises and his campaign. A CNN video just released also shows Trump meeting in 2013 with the actual Russians who allegedly asked Goldstone to later set up that meeting between Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer.
Trump is heard on the videotape saying “These are the most powerful people in Russia; these are the richest people in Russia.”
Trump Jr. has denied wrongdoing but has hired New York criminal defense attorney Alan Futerfas, a who has represented organized crime mob figures, to represent him.
Kushner, meanwhile, has suddenly remembered over 100 foreign contacts he claims he forgot to disclose when he obtained a White House national security clearance. He’s revised his disclosure list of foreign contacts to add more than 100 names including Russians. Senate Democrats have demanded that Kushner’s security clearance be revoked, a request denied by Republicans.
Not everyone agrees that the Trump team's intent to collude with Russia is a problem. San Diego Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric has bizarrely blamed the media for reporting on a scandal many legal experts view as more serious than Watergate. n a survey of GOP leaders on the matter by Politico, which found many dismissive of the seroius nature of the allegations, Krvaric stated, " "Democrats and their allies in the media are actually doing the country a disservice with their 'scandal each day' narrative," Newsmax reported.
The ongoing investigations by the Senate, House, special prosecutor and lawsuits make it likely that key figures, potentially including the President himself, may be forced to testify under oath on what they knew, and when they knew it. That could open the door potentially to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, since it’s a crime to lie under oath, unlike statements made to the media or voters in the American public.