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Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

President Donald Trump’s eldest son has for months insisted that efforts to determine whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials interfering in the U.S. election are a “witch hunt.” That argument imploded when it was revealed Tuesday that Donald Trump, Jr. took a meeting in the hopes of obtaining damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and with the knowledge that the information was part of Russian government efforts to help his father’s campaign.

It was a remarkable self-own, too: Trump Jr. himself released emails on Twitter that showed he was promised “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” if he were to meet with a “Russian government attorney.” A publicist and family friend of the Trumps linked Trump Jr. up with that lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, for a sit-down meeting in June 2016, shortly after his father secured enough delegates to be the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Trump Jr. also was told that the damaging information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Despite that overture, Trump Jr. adopted the “witch hunt” line and attacked the media and Democrats for their focus on new developments in the federal and congressional Russia probes, dismissing the investigations themselves as political attacks.

Trump Jr. told ABC News that the Russia probe was a “witch hunt” against his father in early June, lamenting that there was “a political establishment working to make it difficult for him to succeed.”

He then published an angry series of tweets as fired FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress on June 8, describing Comey’s testimony that the President had pressured him to quash the bureau’s investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn as “BS.”

The day after Comey testified on Capitol Hill, however, Trump Jr. said that the “witch hunt” targeting his father had “passed.”

“This is the only thing that they had on Trump,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity at the time. “This is what they did to distract him from being able to get the stuff done that he was elected to ultimately do, and I think now that this has all passed, he can go back to doing what he promised he was going to do.”

He continued his victory lap the following day in an appearance on the Fox Business Network, where he claimed that his father had been “vindicated” by Comey’s testimony, calling the Russia probes a “10-month witch hunt.”

At the end of June, just 10 days before the New York Times published its first report about his meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr. wrote a tweet agreeing with an out-of-context remark from a CNN commentator that the Russia story was a “nothing burger.”

Even before questions about the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russian officials dominated headlines, Trump Jr. dismissed the notion that Russia was behind the hacks of Democratic organizations and operatives that roiled the 2016 election and strenuously denied that the Trump campaign had been involved in any way.

In July 2016, less than two months after Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him about the Clinton campaign’s allegations that Russia intervened in the 2016 campaign in an effort to help his father.

“I mean, they will say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie. You notice he won’t say, ‘Well, I say this.’ We hear ‘experts,'” Trump Jr. replied.”You know, ‘His house cat at home once said that this is what’s happening with the Russians.'”

“It’s disgusting. It’s so phony,” he continued. “I watched him bumble through the interview, I was able to hear it on audio a little bit. I mean, I can’t think of bigger lies, but that exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win.”

Later in that same interview, he dismissed the notion that the Trump team would work with Russia to sway the election.

“I’m really frustrated with what’s going on in this country, Jake. And if I can do that one day I’d love to be able to do it for the people of this country,” he said when asked if he might run for mayor of New York City. “It’s not going to be about divisive politics and emails, you know, accusing people of working with the Russian government.”

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In an interview with NBC News published on Tuesday morning, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. last year denied that she promised him information on Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee.

“I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that,” Natalia Veselnitskaya told NBC News.

“It’s quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted,” she added when asked why Trump Jr. thought she had damaging info on Democrats.

She also denied to NBC News that she has any connections to the Russian government.

NBC’s Keir Simmons, who interviewed Veselnitskaya, said on MSNBC Tuesday morning that Veselnitskaya told him she got a call from a man she didn’t know asking her to meet with the Trump campaign at Trump Tower. She said that Emin Agalarov, a pop star who appeared in a Miss Universe video with Donald Trump, was involved in setting up the meeting.

“I never asked anybody for a particular meeting with Mr. Donald Trump Jr., or with anybody else,” she told NBC.

Veselnitskaya told NBC that Trump Jr. asked her if she had “had any financial records which might prove that the funds used to sponsor the DNC were coming from inappropriate sources.” She said she told him that she did not have any such records.

She said that Trump Jr. may have been interested in speaking with her because she had gathered info on a former U.S. citizen who ran a company that she believes did not pay taxes in Russia or the U.S. and that might have donated to the DNC.

Veselnitskaya met with Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower soon after Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. Trump Jr. has acknowledged that he agreed to the meeting because he believed Veselnitskaya had information about Clinton and the DNC that could help the Trump campaign.

Trump Jr. said that Veselnitskaya did not have “meaningful information” and that they spent much of the meeting talking about Russian adoption. Veselnitskaya told NBC News that the issue of adoption was the main reason for her to attend the meeting.

The New York Times reported Monday night that an email to Donald Trump Jr. indicated that the promised information about Clinton was part of an effort by the Russian government to help the Trump campaign. One source told the Times that it appeared that the publicist who set up the meeting was passing along information that had already been passed through others.

In her interview with NBC News, Veselnitskaya indicated that Kushner and Manafort did not play active roles during her meeting with Trump Jr.

“I could recognize the young gentleman who was only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes, and then he stood up and left the room,” she told NBC News. “It was Mr. Jared Kushner. And he never came back, by the way.”

“And the other individual who was always in the same meeting, but all the time he was looking at his phone. He was reading something. He never took any active part in the conversation. That was Mr. Manafort,” she added.

Watch part of the NBC interview:

This post has been updated.

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In an email before his meeting with a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr. was told that the promised compromising information on Hillary Clinton was part of an effort by the Russian government to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the New York Times reported Monday night.

Publicist Rob Goldstone sent the email to Donald Trump Jr. and suggested that the Russian government was behind the alleged damaging info on Clinton, the New York Times reported, citing “three people with knowledge of the email.” The Times noted that there’s no evidence suggesting that the email or meeting between Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer were linked to Russia’s hacking attempts.

The Times initially reported on Saturday that Donald Trump Jr., along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer at Trump Tower shortly after Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination last year. Trump Jr. acknowledged that he took the meeting on Saturday, but he did not at first mention that he discussed the campaign.

A day later, Trump Jr. revealed that he took the meeting because he was told the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had “information helpful to the campaign.”

“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 a Sunday 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.”

Then on Monday, Trump Jr. defended his decision to attend the meeting and said that he believed Veselnitskaya had “info about an opponent.”

Trump Jr. has hired attorney Alan Futerfas to represent him. Futerfas told the Times in a statement on Monday that his client did nothing wrong.

“In my view, this is much ado about nothing. During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia,” Futerfas told the New York Times in a Monday email. “Don Jr.’s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed.”

Read the New York Times’ full report here.

 

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Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, unsuccessfully sought a financing deal from a wealthy Qatari investor to save his family’s troubled midtown Manhattan building, according to a Monday report from The Intercept.

Kushner tried to negotiate with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, a billionaire and former prime minister of Qatar known as HBJ, for half a billion dollars to help refinance Kushner Companies’ flailing investment in the building at 666 Fifth Avenue, The Intercept reported, citing “three well-placed sources with knowledge of the near transaction.” Kushner and his father, Charles, were in negotiations with HBJ throughout 2015 and 2016, according to the report.

The Kushners’ office building at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is in significant financial trouble, as the tower does not bring in enough revenue to pay off the family’s debts. The family has sought several deals to refinance the property, with a major deal with Chinese insurance giant Anbang falling through in March. Federal investigators are also looking into whether Kushner sought Russian financing for the building when he met with the CEO of a Russian state-owned bank in December.

Recently, Trump sided with four Gulf states who broke off ties with Qatar, a longtime ally of the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson believed that United Arab Emirates ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a friend of Kushner’s, was behind Trump’s statement opposing Qatar, according to a report from The American Conservative.

The White House referred The Intercept’s questions to Kushner Companies. Kushner Companies and HBJ both declined to comment to The Intercept.

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Vice President Mike Pence has been hosting major Republican donors at his private taxpayer-funded residence in Washington, D.C., according to a Sunday report in the New York Times.

The dinners were attended by donors who helped Pence and President Donald Trump win the 2016 election, as well as by company executives and fundraisers who could be key to the pair’s re-election.

Pence’s press secretary, Marc Lotter, told the New York Times that Pence has not used the dinners to fundraise, which would break campaign finance laws. He’s also not the first to invite donors to the White House or the Vice President’s residence.

Aides to Pence who helped found America First Policies and America First Action, two groups that support Trump’s presidency, helped the Vice President organize the dinners. Katie Walsh, an adviser to America First Policies, told the Times that the group has not used the dinners to solicit fundraisers.

Read the full report here.

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President Donald Trump on Monday morning defended his decision to duck out of a meeting of G20 leaders over the weekend and have his daughter, Ivanka Trump, take his place at the summit temporarily.

Trump’s eldest daughter was photographed sitting in between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump and his daughter were quickly criticized for the move.

Chelsea Clinton on Monday morning pushed back against Trump’s argument that people would not mind if it were her sitting in for her mother:

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President Donald Trump on Monday morning published a mildly threatening tweet about the Senate GOP’s effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, urging senators to pass legislation this summer.

Trump’s tweet came amid intense uncertainty that the Senate can pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act as senators have yet to come out with a grand deal. Over the weekend, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that he thinks the bill is dead, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said she has no reservations about killing the bill if she thinks it could hurt her constituents.

Senate Republicans only have a few weeks to pass the bill before they leave the Capitol for a month-long recess in August. The House would then need to approve the Senate version before the legislation could be sent to Trump’s desk.

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In an interview published Sunday, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) indicated that she has no problem being the vote in the Senate that kills the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“I only see it through the lens of a vulnerable population who needs help, who I care about very deeply,” Capito told Politico, referring to the possibility that she could help determine the Senate bill’s demise. “So that gives me strength. If I have to be that one person, I will be it.”

Capito opposes the Senate bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid and has said that a stand-alone provision providing more funding to fight opioid addiction would not win her support for the legislation.

She told Politico that she’s uncertain about the bill’s future when the Senate returns to Washington, D.C., this week.

“I think that remains to be seen,” Capito said on the chances for the bill’s success. “That’s the eye of the needle, and I think it’s being tried to be threaded. But I’m not sure.”

Capito also said that Republicans may have to work with Democrats if this effort fails.

“Collaborating with Democrats on the other side, to me, is not an exercise in futility,” she told Politico. “That may be where we end up, and so be it.”

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Sunday said that the Senate Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare is likely to fail when the Senate returns from the July 4 recess this month.

“My view is it’s probably going to be dead,” McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” adding the caveat that he has been wrong before. “I fear that it’s going to fail.”

McCain lamented that Republican leaders pushed to pass the legislation with only Republican votes.

“If you shut out the adversary or the opposite party, you’re going to end up the same way Obamacare did when they rammed it through with 60 votes. Only guess what? We don’t have 60 votes, John,” McCain told host John Dickerson.

If the bill fails, McCain said that Republicans should try to bring Democrats into the process.

“It doesn’t mean they — that they control it. It means they can have amendments considered. And even when they lose, then they’re part of the process. That’s what democracy is supposed to be all about,” the senator said.

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President Donald Trump on Sunday morning revealed that he discussed forming a “Cyber Security unit” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but under 24 hours later Trump walked back that suggestion.

Trump mentioned the unit in a tweetstorm about his conversation with Putin at the G20 summit and Russian election hacking.

Trump’s proposal for a partnership with Russia on cyber security drew criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Sunday. The President then stated that the cyber unit “can’t” happen Sunday night.

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