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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Donald Trump insists he did not collude with the Russians, but his son is singing a different tune - Why this matters

Denying that they met any Russians

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WASHINGTON, U.S. - While Trump and his camp have been denying a Russian collusion for months, even denying that they met any Russians during the campaigning - his son is now singing a different tune and investigators are listening intently. 

In what is being seen as the first direct piece of evidence that Trump’s inner circle tried to get damaging information on Trump’s Presidential rival Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - Trump Jr just acknowledged he met a Russian lawyer last year. 

In a revelation made by The New York Times, based on confidential government records, two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer, identified as Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has connections to the Kremlin.

According to interviews and the documents revealed in the report, the meeting took place at the Trump Tower in Manhattan and was also attended by Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner - who are both embroiled in their own Russia-related controversies.

While reports of many such undisclosed meetings between Trump’s associates and Russians have continued to come to the fore since January this year, this episode has so far gone unreported.

The report claims that the meeting took place on June 9, 2016, and emerged as the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. 

The report pointed out that it is also the first time that his son Donald Trump Jr. is known to have been involved in such a meeting.

After being approached by The Times with the details available regarding the meeting, representatives of Donald Trump Jr. and Kushner reportedly confirmed the meeting. 

In a statement, Donald Jr. described the meeting as primarily about an adoption program, but the statement did not address whether the presidential campaign was discussed.

However, he has now admitted that he met the Russian lawyer who, he said, promised to reveal damaging material on Hillary Clinton.

While Donald Trump Jr has insisted that Veselnitskaya had provided "no meaningful information" on his father's rival for the presidency, that, experts believe could be beside the point. 

Intent is going to be on the investigators’ purview and this, experts insist may just become a troubling news for all the three close Trump aides who attended the meeting. 

Natalia Veselnitskaya is best known for mounting a multi-pronged attack against the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. 

The law had enraged Putin so much, that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.

The report pointed out that the adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the Magnitsky Act. 

Veselnitskaya’s campaign against the law has also included attempts to discredit its namesake, Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died in mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing one of the biggest corruption scandals during Putin’s rule.

Veselnitskaya was formerly married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, and her clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting. 

A former senior law enforcement official revealed that her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the FBI.

On Sunday, Trump Jr said he had been asked to meet "an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.”

He added, “I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared [Kushner] and Paul [Manafort] to attend, but told them nothing of the substance."

Commenting on what was discussed at the meeting, Trump Jr said, "After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting."

Meanwhile, Veselnitskaya said on Saturday that "nothing at all was discussed about the presidential campaign" and insisted she had "never acted on behalf of the Russian government and have never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”

Kushner's lawyer has said her client had previously disclosed the meeting on security clearance forms and Manafort is believed to have disclosed the meeting to congressional investigators.

Further, a spokesman for President Trump's legal team said on Sunday that the president was "not aware of and did not attend" the meeting.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said the meeting was a "big nothing burger.”

On Monday, the White House aide, Kellyanne Conway rushed to defend Donald Trump Jr's meeting with the Russian lawyer and said reports of the meeting attempted to “convert wishful thinking into hard evidence.”

In a contentious interview on ‘Good Morning America’ Conway tried to clarify her prior denials about Donald Trump associates meeting with Russian citizens about the 2016 election after the revelations made by The Times report.

She told George Stephanopolous on ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday, “Some of the disclosure forms have been amended since that time and to reflect other meetings, including this one.”

Incidentally, last year, Conway claimed on ABC that there was absolutely no contact between Trump campaign staffers and Russia. 

She said in December, “I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false but it’s dangerous and it does undermine our democracy.”

In May this year, the president insisted that he had not colluded with the Russians, clarifying then, "But I can only speak for myself.” 

With U.S. officials closely investigating every single aspect of the alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election - the recent revelations, if proven true could well be amongst the biggest bombshell revelation made in the case. 

Revelations related to the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russia have dogged Donald Trump ever since the start of his presidency and this particular one has threatened to intensify the probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. Presidential election of 2016.



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