Russia Puts the Squeeze on Don Jr.

Donald Trump, Jr. makes remarks at the 2016 Republican National Convention held at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Credit: Ron Sachs / CNP (RESTRICTION: NO New York or New Jersey... Donald Trump, Jr. makes remarks at the 2016 Republican National Convention held at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Credit: Ron Sachs / CNP (RESTRICTION: NO New York or New Jersey Newspapers or newspapers within a 75 mile radius of New York City) Photo by: Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images MORE LESS
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That notorious Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort in Trump Tower in June 2016 is talking again. Natalia Veselnitskaya gave a two and a half hour interview yesterday in Moscow in which she claimed that Don Jr. had told her that key sanctions against Russia might be lifted in what seems to have been a tacit exchange for help in the election.

Here’s the key passage from the write-up in Bloomberg News …

Veselnitskaya said she went to the New York meeting to show Trump campaign officials that major Democratic donors had evaded U.S. taxes and to lobby against the so-called Magnitsky law that punishes Russian officials for the murder of a Russian tax accountant who accused the Kremlin of corruption.

“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Trump Jr. said of the 2012 law, she recalled. “I understand our side may have messed up, but it’ll take a long time to get to the bottom of it,” he added, according to her.

Veselnitskaya also said Trump Jr. requested financial documents showing that money that allegedly evaded U.S. taxes had gone to Clinton’s campaign. She didn’t have any and described the 20-minute meeting as a failure.

There are several overlapping points to consider in this account. The first and most important is that we should not take anything Veselnitskaya says at face value. Our best understanding is that she is part of a Russian intelligence influence operation. The point of these efforts is not just to make deals or help friends. It is to get control. That means compromising people. It is hard to see this statement on her part as anything but an implicit threat. If what she is saying is true, Veselnitskaya is describing the clearest example to date of a proposed quid pro quo between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. A plain reading of her claim is that he was suggesting that if they could produce real evidence against Clinton, a future Trump administration could help with sanctions relief.

That is a huge, huge detail – if it’s true.

Even if you assume it is true, there’s no reason for Veselnitskaya to say it. No one is forcing her to say anything, certainly no legal authority in the United States. So whether it’s true or not almost seems beside the point. The real significance is that she’s suggesting something highly, highly damaging.

Here’s another possibility to consider. There were other Veselnitskaya associates at that meeting in addition to her. Why do we think one of them wasn’t wearing a wire? There’s nothing about Don Jr., the Trump organization or the Trump campaign that gives us any reason to think any of these people would have been searched for such a listening device. It’s certainly possible that she or one of her colleagues have proof of what was said in that meeting, something that would leave all three of the key Trump side players vulnerable to blackmail.

Here’s the other point. What she describes Don Jr. saying sounds entirely plausible. It fits perfectly with his tough-guy, deal-maker persona. If he hadn’t been interested in such a deal why would he have taken the meeting in the first place? These kinds of intelligence operations are always looking for more than just help, information, and friends. They’re also looking to compromise their targets to ensure on-going cooperation.

Remember, this is what made DOJ officials believe Mike Flynn was such a risk. He was publicly lying and his Russian contacts could prove he was lying, thus making him vulnerable to blackmail. Don Jr. seems to be in the same spot. And his father, the President, has already directly involved himself in lying on his son’s behalf. Remember, he wrote or wrote significant portions of Don Jr.’s initial press response the June 9th, 2016 meeting. Mueller isn’t the only person the Trumps need to worry about.

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