On June 9, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. and other top members of the Trump campaign met with a number of Russians, including lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya. The meeting was set up after Trump Jr. was contacted by Rob Goldstone, an agent who represents a Russian pop star. Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the Russians had dirt on Hillary.
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. famously replied.
Veselnitskaya, despite evidence to the contrary, had denied any connections to the Russian government. But this week, Veselniskaya admitted she has been “actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general” for years. The admission came after emails documenting her relationship with the prosecutor general were released by Dossier, an organization started by a Russian exile who is a leading opponent of Putin.
At a campaign rally in Michigan, a red-faced Trump offered a convoluted explanation for Veselniskaya’s admission. According to Trump, Veselniskaya does not have any relationship with the Russian government. But she recently was convinced by Putin to pretend she was an agent of the Russian government.
Why? According to Trump, Putin realized that “Trump is killing us.” Therefore, Putin convinced Veselniskaya to lie about her role to make life in America “even more chaotic”
Arguing that Veselniskaya is not a Russian agent but also takes orders directly from Putin is a creative, if not particularly convincing, line of argument.
Trump provided no explanation for the email evidence that established her connections to the Russian government were ongoing.
Trump’s role in managing the narrative of the June 2016 meeting is already under scrutiny. During questioning by the House Intelligence Committee, Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about his conversations with his father when the meeting first became public, citing attorney-client privilege. Legal experts have widely dismissed Trump Jr.’s argument, which is based on the fact that there was a lawyer in the room, since neither he nor his father is a lawyer. Republicans on the committee, however, let Trump Jr. get away with it.
Trump’s contention that he is “tougher on Russia” than any other president is also highly questionable. While he has imposed some sanctions on Russia, he has also blamed Congress for forcing his hand. In other cases, the implementations of new sanctions have been as minimal as possible. Recently, when U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced that administration’s intention to impose harsher sanctions on Russia, Trump became enraged and rolled the policy back.