The New York Times is reporting that “Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy.” That would be a significant development in supporting allegations of “collusion.” I am still skeptical of the alleged crime of collusion and even more skeptical of the alleged crime related to this meeting. I am also confused by the NYT story which says that the email from publicist Rob Goldstone acknowledged that the information was coming from the Kremlin but the article quotes Goldstone in saying that he had no knowledge of any such connection to the Russian government.
The newspaper says that three people said that the memo from Goldstone was described to it by three people and indicated that the source of the information was the Russian government and that it wanted to pass along damaging information against Hillary Clinton.
I have previously questioned the basis for claiming that Trump Jr. committed a crime in holding this meeting in the hopes of finding dirt on Clinton. Some have argued that receiving intelligence from the Russian would be akin to an illegal campaign contribution.
However, the article raises more questions than answers. If the Kremlin was behind this information, why didn’t this mysterious Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually pass along such information? Instead, she is described by various people as stating some generalities about possible Russian support for Clinton without any support or documentation. If the Russians were making such a play to influence the election in favor of Clinton, this is a curious way to going about it. First, they arrange a bizarrely high-profile meeting (when real spies tend to find third parties to get or transmit information). Second, they secure the meeting but do not bring even a detailed account, let alone documents, to support the allegation. Finally, if Trump had acted on that information, it would have been a disaster since it would have been baseless and unsupported. To this day, there has been no evidence of Russian financial support to the Clinton campaign or Democratic National Committee.
It is also weird that Goldstone admitted that he spoke with the Trump team before speaking with the New York Times. He then categorically denied the allegation and said that he was merely passing along a request from the father of his client pop star Emin Agalarov. Mr. Agalarov was an associated of Trump Sr. in the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013. He said that he was told that Veselnitskaya had information of possible illegal campaign contributions from Russia for Clinton. He told the NYT that he “never, never, ever “thought (or presumably said) that the information was coming from the Russian government.” That leaves us in a rather weird position. It is hard to believe that this man (or the Trump team) is so stupid as to go over the memo and then tell the media something diametrically opposite of what the memo actually says. Obviously the memo is going to be reviewed and eventually released.
So where does that leave us? In a word, confused. The NYT article itself seems conflicted on what the memo actually said. If the memo did state that the Russian government wanted to pass damaging information on Clinton, why didn’t it? If such information was going to be fed to the Trump campaign, it would still leave us with the legal question of whether information can now be treated as a thing of value under federal campaign laws. However, it would be good to understand what is being specifically represented as to the pre-meeting communications from Goldstone.