Welcome to the twenty-seventh edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. The subject this week is singular: the increasing web of evidence that the Trump campaign collaborated with the Russian government.
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An Invitation to a Meeting
The New York Times this week broke a story about Donald Trump, Jr., meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The invitation to this meeting is essential, for it paints a picture of a Trump campaign team willing to accept assistance from the highest reaches of the Russian government. Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid reporter facilitated the introduction between Trump, Jr., and Natalia Veselnitskaya. Here is his initial email to Trump, Jr.
“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting 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.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin. What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.”
Let’s be quite clear about what is contained within this email. First, the offer of documents incriminating Hillary Clinton from a high level official of the Russian government. Second, the acknowledgement that the Russian government supported Trump in the election.
Lest you think that there was some ambiguity regarding the provenance of this information, in a later portion of the email chain, Goldstone refers to Veselnitskaya as “the Russian government attorney.” It was explicitly articulated in these emails that this supposedly incriminating information about Hillary Clinton was coming directly from the Russian government.
Bring in the Rest of the Gang
Joining Don, Jr., in this meeting were his brother-in-law and current high-ranking senior advisor to Trump, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. This wasn’t conceived of and executed by Don, Jr., alone; he had the senior-most figures within the campaign join him for this rendezvous.
What is this meeting in a sentence? This meeting is the Trump campaign chairman meeting with a Russian lawyer who has promised to give the Trump campaign incriminating documents pertaining to Hillary Clinton on behalf of the Russian government for the explicit purpose of helping Trump win the election. Wow.
By way of comparison, when Al Gore’s campaign for president in 2000 received a copy of George W. Bush’s debate book, they sent it directly to the FBI. This isn’t a partisan issue. Any number of Republican staffers report that they would never have accepted any kind of campaign information from foreign sources. Reporting this kind of overture to law enforcement is just what you do as a presidential campaign. It is the only way possible to fulfill the sacred duty of protecting the integrity of our electoral process.
Is This Treason?
While not technically treason (there has been no official declaration of war between the US and Russia), these actions are symbolically traitorous. Multiple high-ranking members of the Trump campaign put the interests of the Russian government (which happened to align with the campaign’s own interests) higher than those of their nation. They did so knowingly and willfully, and at least one of them remains a high-ranking member of government with security clearance.
Remember that Russia is not our friend. This is the same Russian government that coordinated with Wikileaks to release emails from the DNC, hacked by the Russians in the first place. It’s possible, if not likely, that they attempted to hack voting machines themselves. Russia’s attempts to influence the election are now so well-documented the New York Times has an entire site to catalogue their various stories on the subject.
Russia’s long-term strategy is nothing less than the destabilization of the western liberal democratic alliance. Molly McKew wrote an excellent long piece about this at Politico back in January. To make Russia relevant again, Putin needs to undo the monopolar nature of the NATO Alliance. Russia only has relevance in multipolar world. With the US-Europe alliance fraying, faith in American democracy waning, and a U.S. president openly hostile to the bedrock of American democracy – the first amendment – Russia’s anti-American campaign is already reaping dividends.
Knowing Russia’s long-term strategic position towards the US takes the Trump campaign’s actions from merely illegal to downright traitorous. They willfully aided the attempts of a hostile foreign power to undermine the integrity of the American electoral process. In accepting the meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump, Jr., Kushner, and Manafort have abetted the Russian government’s attempts to destabilize democracy in America.
Though it may only the latest in a long line of sacred laws and norms besmirched by Trump and his associates, it is the most flagrant contravention of American interests proved to date. If we do not have our elections, we do not have our democracy. A campaign accepting a hostile foreign power’s overtures of assistance is a frontal assault on our sovereignty.
Who is Natalia Veselnitskaya?
Several outlets have written profiles of Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian government lawyer who met with Trump, Jr., Kushner, and Manafort. Julia Ioffe’s at The Atlantic is the best. It portrays a tenacious prosecutor, eager to take on enemies of Putin in defense of the motherland.
The excerpts from her Facebook profile reveal a woman with tremendous antipathy towards both the United States and liberalism.
“She recirculates American far-right conspiracy theories that the Women’s March in Washington was organized by a member of Hamas. She concluded, in English, that “liberalism is a f****** mental disorder.” She assailed the American press for their “infantilism” and “complete lack of understanding of what’s going on in the masses.” After a trip to the States that coincided with the turbulent first two weeks of the Trump presidency, she wondered aloud if the chaos in America weren’t a good thing.”
If we had known only that quote about liberalism alone and nothing else about Veselnitskaya, and she had met with any other candidate, we would be into the territory of scandal. Liberalism is sacred – it is part of the American creed. That senior figures within the campaign (again, one of whom is now in the government) would meet with such a woman is worrisome enough. That she happens to be the emissary of a government openly hostile to liberalism and committed to tearing it down only gives added potency to the insanity of this meeting.
Involvement of Jeff Sessions? Appearance of quid pro quo?
The involvement of Veselnitskaya brought to attention her most recent involvement in U.S. politics, which was that she was the defense attorney for the Katsyv family in a money laundering case brought by… wait for it… fired Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Shortly after Bharara’s dismissal by Trump, the Department of Justice settled the suit with Katsyv.
This has led to questions about whether there was some sort of quid pro quo with Veselnitskaya. All of the Trump campaign attendees at the meeting have claimed that only adoption law was discussed (if you read some of the links included so far, you’ll get a sense for the relevance of adoption law), but Veselnitskaya seems to have gotten a pretty clear quo on the back-end courtesy of Sessions’s DOJ.
(Some of the) Remaining Unanswered Questions:
When did Trump learn of this meeting and what did he know of it? Trump, Sr., who claims no knowledge of this meeting, promised a speech revealing dirt on Clinton after the meeting with Veselnitskaya had been arranged but before it took place. That speech was subsequently canceled.
Who others in the campaign were involved in this meeting with Veselnitskaya, either to help coordinate or in the assessment of the information received?
Why has the Trump campaign (and government) consistently tried to cover up all interactions with the Russians?
When will Republicans in Congress quit holding out for short-term policy victories and defend our country? In the words of the Washington Post Editorial Board:
“Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), must finally decide: Is this really okay? Are they really prepared to debase themselves in defense of a president whose closest advisers may have welcomed underhanded interference in America’s election from a hostile foreign power?”
The smoke is billowing out of the administration like someone is burning a massive quantity of wet wood, yet Republicans in Congress continue to act as if there is little reason to suspect there may be a fire.
The single best piece on the Trump, Jr., meeting came from Jack Shafer at Politico. The writing is worth your time, I promise.
Continuing with the Trump-Russia theme, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the DOJ are now investigating whether the Kushner-led digital marketing operation of the Trump campaign helped guide Russian fake news attacks.
If you’re looking for something to take your mind off of the Trump-Russia scandal, Chinese scientists teleported a photon into space through quantum entanglement.