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Donald Trump Jr’s Russia problem

By now, you’ve likely heard this weekend’s NYT blockbuster, that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer last summer who had promised to give the Trump campaign damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr. had never before disclosed the existence of the meeting, and Trump’s staff had repeatedly denied having any meetings at all with any Russians at all. And yet, another drip drip drip of scandal as we find out about yet another secret meeting with the Russians. And this meeting was as high-level as it gets, including Trump’s son, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then- campaign manager Paul Manafort.

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Initially, Trump Jr. claimed that the meeting was to discuss “adoptions.” That, in and of itself, is too cute by half. By “adoptions,” Trump Jr. means “American sanctions on Russia.” Putin retaliated against America’s passage of the Magnitsky Act, a major human rights cudgel, by banning American adoptions of Russian children. So a meeting on “adoptions” was really a meeting on the Magnitsky sanction legislation.

But then things got even more interesting. The NYT contacted Trump Jr. the next day, and told him they had additional information about the meeting. Trump Jr. then came clean about the rest of the story.

More from the NYT:

But on Sunday, presented with The Times’s findings, he offered a new account. In a statement, he said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which his father took to Moscow. “After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. 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 she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The 2012 law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he halted 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,” Mr. Trump said.

This story is bizarre, and troubling, on a number of levels. Trump Jr. claimed as late as this past March that he never had meetings with Russians on behalf of his dad’s campaign. Then, when confronted by the NYT, Trump admits that there was a meeting, but it only about “adoption,” when actually it was about sanctions. And then, when confronted again by the Times, Trump comes clean and admits the meeting was set up in order to receive damaging information about Hillary. Why the ever-changing stories if nothing nefarious took place? Are we to believe that Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort all forgot meeting with the Russians to receive damaging information about Hillary? That’s not something you forget. And it’s part of a larger pattern of Trump campaign meetings with Russians that were initially denied and then uncovered.

It’s also not something you do at all. When Al Gore’s presidential campaign was sent a copy of the Bush briefing book, the campaign called the FBI. Imagine being contacted by a Russian who is offering damaging information about your opponent. The campaign’s first call should have been the FBI. But it wasn’t. Instead, Trump’s most trusted aides — his son, his son-in-law, and his campaign adviser — meet with the Russian offering help with the American election.

As Leon Panetta just said on CNN, “the mere fact that the meeting took place raises serious implications about the possibility that his campaign did in fact try to work with the Russians with regards to trying to undercut Hillary’s campaign.”

In plain English, we’ve been discussing for a year whether the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to help defeat Hillary. We now know that the Trump campaign met with the Russians in an effort to help defeat Hillary. That does nothing to dismiss concerns about collusion. Quite the contrary.

The meeting was about Magnitsky and taking down Hillary. In other words, the meeting was about something the Russians wanted (getting rid of the sanctions) and something Trump wanted (damaging information on Hillary). Were I the Russians, I’d have come to that meeting expecting a hefty quid pro quo, the sanctions for the info.

And what about after the meeting? Are we to believe that the Russians, knowing that the top levels of Team Trump were interested in accepting damaging information on Hillary, did nothing to follow through on that promise? That they didn’t again reach out to the Trump campaign with additional promises, and possibly additional help? Why would the Russians only offer to help once?

There’s just so smoke. So many contacts with the Russians. So much hiding of those contacts. And now, we actually have a meeting between Team Trump and the Russians that was set up with the goal of helping defeat Hillary. This story isn’t going away; it’s getting worse.

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