On Sunday, The New York Times dropped a bombshell report: Donald Trump Jr., then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a lawyer with connections to the Russian government in June 2016 in order to hear dirt on Hillary Clinton. The Times reported:
President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.
The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.
Trump Jr. appeared to corroborate the story in a statement on Sunday evening; earlier, he had denied any meetings with Russian-connected sources, then changed his story to suggest that this meeting was about Russian adoption policy. Here was Trump Jr.’s new statement:
The statement leaves a few open questions. First off, what did Trump Jr. say to entice Manafort and Kushner to attend, just days after it became clear that Trump would indeed secure the nomination? Why was this woman credible enough to earn a visit from three of the top campaign officials in Trump world? If she wasn’t connected to the Russian government, what made Trump Jr. and the other visitors believe that she was credible in her access to information about Clinton?
The media are jumping ahead of the story, naturally, claiming that Trump Jr.’s statement itself is demonstration of guilt — that Trump Jr. knew he was talking to a Russian agent about Hillary Clinton and the campaign. But there’s no evidence from Trump Jr.’s statement that such is the case — he merely says that he was asked by a mutual acquaintance to meet with a private party.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus stated that the entire meeting may have been set up by Democrats in order to entrap Trump Jr. and the rest of the Trump campaign. He suggested that the person who “set up the meeting” may have been associated with Democratic opposition firm Fusion GPS. A spokesperson for Trump’s lawyers explained:
We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for. Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the President and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier.
This explanation leaves more open questions: if a Democratic firm had fixed up the meeting, why wouldn’t they break that information during the campaign, when the Clinton camp was routinely suggesting that Trump was a Putin puppet?
There are many unanswered questions about this story. But it’s hardly an open-and-shut case for Trump-Russia collusion — particularly with regard to President Trump himself.