In his first media appearance since news broke of Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with a lawyer for the Russian government and the subsequent email chain of incriminating information published by Trump Jr. himself, Trump Jr. told Sean Hannity in an interview Tuesday night that, “this was everything. But Trump Jr. himself said in the Hannity interview that he “probably met with other people from Russia.”
Are there more shoes to drop? One meeting that Donald Trump Jr. has not fully explained is a speech in Paris on October 11, 2016, just weeks before the election.
In his capacity as a key member of the Trump campaign, Trump Jr. spoke at the meeting at the request of a French think tank, The Center of Political and Foreign Affairs. Trump Jr. was likely paid about $50,000 for the speech, according to the speaking fees listed by talent booking agency that represents him.
The CFPR has a reputation in the French press as being “openly connected to the Russians.” It is difficult, however, to track just how connected they are, as France does not require it’s nonprofit organizations to disclose their finances.
The founders of the center have worked closely with the Russian government to end the conflict in Syria and in 2016, nominated Russian President Vladimir for the Nobel Peace Prize. The center’s director, Fabien Baussart, has been described as “a former lobbyist for Russian oligarchs in France.” He cited Putin’s “peace-making efforts” as reason for his nomination. One of the founders, Baussart’s wife Randa Kassis, heads a political party called the Movement for a Pluralistic Society, which is in part endorsed by Russia in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Asssad.
In a Facebook post about the meeting, Kassis mentions the nature of the policies discussed at the meeting. “[Syria’s] opposition got hope that [the] political process will move forward and Russia and the United States will reach accord on the issue of the Syrian crisis, because of Trump’s victory,” she wrote. “Such hope and belief is the result of my personal meeting with Donald Trump junior in Paris in October.”
Kassis frequently shares articles about herself from Sputnik news, an outlet which has been identified in intel assessments as a state-controlled Russian propaganda site.
Kassis told the Wall Street Journal in November that she had discussed her conversation with Trump Jr. with Russian foreign ministers.
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What the latest revelations bring to light, however, is how little is known about Trump Jr.’s relationship with his Russian contacts. It isn’t known who orchestrated this meeting, who Trump Jr. spoke with while he was there or if it was another attempt by the Russian government to curry favor with Trump Jr. or his father.
Prior to the release of Trump Jr.’s emails, President Trump and others at the White House repeatedly denied any collaboration with Russians.
Candidate Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of warmer relations with Russia. At a July 2016 news conference Trump said, “There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly as opposed to the way they are right now, so that we can go and knock out ISIS with other people.” At other points in the campaign and into his presidency, Trump proposed relaxed sanctions on Russia, appointed the Russia-friendly Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, and has repeatedly denied any Russian involvement in the U.S election.