The last was a bad week for Russiagate believers, though as always reporting of recent developments has been sparse.
There have in fact been two recent developments in the Russiagate case, both of which involve Donald Trump Junior.
One centres on the meeting Donald Trump Junior had on 9th June 2016 with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The other centres on the emails The Atlantic recently published which which were sent to Donald Trump Junior by Wikileaks.
(1) Veselnitskaya meeting
I discussed this meeting at length in an article I wrote back on 12th July 2017, shortly after the existence of this meeting was publicly disclosed.
I pointed out that far from supporting the allegations of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign both the circumstances and the events of the meeting pointed in the opposite direction, to the conclusion that no collusion had actually taken place
There is no evidence here of any crime or wrongdoing being committed or – contrary to what many are saying – of any intention to commit one.
What Donald Trump Junior was offered was official documents supposedly provided by the Russian government which would expose Hillary Clinton as a hypocrite in light of her dealings with Russia. At a time when Donald Trump was already being criticised for wanting a rapprochement with Russia it is not surprising that Donald Trump Junior’s interest was piqued.
However this information – whatever it was – would have had to have been made public if it was going to be used, and since it was supposed to take the form of official Russian government documents provided to the Trump campaign by the Russian government that would have meant that the fact that the Russian government was involved and was the source would have had to be disclosed. There was and could have been no intention to keep the fact secret.
That is what Donald Trump Junior obviously anticipated when he agreed to meet Veselnitskaya, and what he must have thought the Russian government intended. The emails cannot be read in any other way.
This is a wholly different scenario from the one suggested in the Russiagate affair. That alleges secret collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government as part of a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign involving an illegal hack of the DNC’s and John Podesta’s computers in order to publish stolen emails which would swing the election from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump.
This by contrast was or was supposed to be a straightforward and above the board offer of information by the Russian government to the Trump campaign that might be useful in the election.
There is nothing wrong or sinister or illegal in Donald Trump Junior being interested in this. There would have been nothing wrong or illegal in Donald Trump Junior receiving from the Russian government official Russian government documents about Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia in this way.
Nor would there have been anything wrong or illegal if Donald Trump Junior or the Trump campaign had made this information public, all the more so as the fact that the Russian government was the source would have had to be disclosed.
In the event, as I also pointed out in my article of 12th July 2017, the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and Natalia Veselnitskaya proved to be a total non-event when Veselnitskaya came to the meeting with no compromising information about Hillary Clinton to offer, causing Donald Trump Junior after a few minutes to show her the door.
Moreover it turned out that though Donald Trump Junior had been led to believe in email correspondence that Veselnitskaya was a “a Russian government attorney” acting on behalf of “the Crown Prosecutor of Russia”, she was in reality nothing of the sort. Indeed her exact status, and who she was working for, has not been properly clarified to this day.
Veselnitskaya herself has recently changed her story. Originally she corroborated Donald Trump Junior’s account of the meeting and expressed bafflement that Donald Trump Junior had appeared to expect her at the meeting to come up with “dirt” about Hillary Clinton.
Now she is apparently saying that Donald Trump Junior actively solicited “dirt” about Hillary Clinton during the meeting and and hinted that the Magnitsky sanctions would be reviewed if “dirt” was provided and Donald Trump won the election.
However the emails which preceded the email say a different story. They make it clear that it was not Donald Trump Junior who solicited “dirt” on Hillary Clinton; but that he was baited into agreeing to the meeting by that offer. Moreover independent evidence from one other person who attended the meeting – the British producer Rod Goldstone who set it up – corroborates Donald Trump Junior’s denial that any promise to look into lifting the Magnitsky sanctions if Donald Trump won the election was made (see below).
The person who wrote the emails was in fact Rod Goldstone, and he has now come forward and admitted that the deception in the emails about Veselnitskaya’s status and the attempt to pass her off as a “Russian government attorney” acting on behalf of the Russian government was his work.
In Goldstone’s words he “puffed” up the emails in order to get the meeting to happen. Here is the relevant extract from the interview Goldstone has just given to The London Times Magazine, which appeared this weekend
“If I’m guilty of anything, and I hate the word guilty, it’s hyping the message and going the extra mile for my clients. Using hot-button language to puff up the information I had been given. I didn’t make up the details, I just made them sound more interesting.”…..[In] his first email to the younger Trump [Goldstone] appeared to give a very different impression. He wrote matter-of-factly: “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.” Those words, he says now, were simply “puffery” from a publicist seeking to grab Trump Jr’s attention.
“What I was talking about there was that I’d been in Russia many times and I’d seen how both government figures and the public adored and supported Trump, and that included Emin and Aras. But because it’s a rushed email, I understand that the implication sounds like it’s me giving an official statement about Russian government support. But it wasn’t. And with hindsight, yes, I would have written it differently.”
Much has also been made of how Goldstone said Aras Agalarov had met Russia’s “crown prosecutor”. Given that Russia has not had a crown since the 1917 revolution, there was a widespread presumption that Goldstone was referring to Vladimir Putin’s prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika. It has since been reported that the lawyer Veselnitskaya met Chaika in Moscow in the run-up to her trip to New York, sharing with him the talking points that she delivered at Trump Tower. But Goldstone insists Veselnitskaya was the one described to him by Emin as a “well-connected prosecutor” and that in his haste, he had said “crown prosecutor” as that was a British term he used to use as a young reporter.
On the subject of Goldstone’s mistaken use of the expression “crown prosecutor” , here is what I wrote in my article of 12th July 2017
I am not going to try to guess who was the person behind the deception. The one point I would make is that Goldstone is British and that though Russia has no official with the title “Crown Prosecutor of Russia” the title “crown prosecutor” is used in Britain as the official title of state officials roughly analogous to US District Attorneys.
This of course matches exactly what Goldstone now says.
As to where the initiative for the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and Natalia Veselnitskaya came from, Goldstone has now also provided an explanation
It started with a call from Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star and businessman whose singing career he managed and whose father, Aras, is a Moscow property magnate. Goldstone had worked with Emin on the deal to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013 — and with it Trump, who co-owned the pageant, for a visit that is also now at the centre of US investigations. The Agalarovs staged the show at their Crocus property complex and, with other Russian entrepreneurs, laid out $20m to fund the event.
“So when people ask why some music publicist was involved in all this, well, I was always the conduit, the Mr Go-To, between the Agalarovs and the Trumps,” Goldstone says.
Although he was accustomed to unusual requests from his celebrity clients, he says he was still taken aback when Emin called him about the now infamous Trump meeting.
“I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn’t get involved in this. It’s politics, it’s Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It’s not our forte. I deal with music. You’re a singer and a businessman.”
However, Emin was insistent that Goldstone contact the Trumps. “His mantra was always ‘Rob can do it’. All I had to do was facilitate a meeting, he said, after which I walk away from it and whatever comes of it, thank you very much.”
So Goldstone kicked into publicist mode, took the information supplied to him by Emin, “puffed up” the language, arranged the meeting — and thought little of it for more than a year until American journalists started to call his phone as he finished lunch at a Greek taverna in mid-July.
Putting the pieces together, it seems that Veselnitskaya, anxious to meet with someone senior in the Trump campaign, possibly in order to discuss the Magnitsky affair in which she is retained as a lawyer, and knowing of the connection between the Agalarovs and Donald Trump, approached Emin Agalarov, who agreed to arrange the meeting through Goldstone. Goldstone duly arranged the meeting by “puffing up” Veselnitskaya’s importance in his emails. In his own words
I should have listened to that little voice in my head but I never thought in a million years that an email I wrote in about three minutes to Don Jr would be examined by the world many times over. I just needed to get him to respond. I could have said that the Russian attorney believes she found a black hole, or believes Santa is real, it didn’t really matter. So when he replied, ‘If it’s what you say it is, I love it,’ I just thought my teaser had worked.
This scenario – the only plausible one, and the only one which can be reconciled both which Goldstone’s emails and with Goldstone’s and Donald Trump Junior’s account of what happened – excludes any involvement by the Russian government in the whole affair.
The Russian government did not offer Donald Trump Junior “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, and had no role in the meeting between Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Junior. The meeting therefore cannot be used as evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
he Times Magazine interview does not make it fully clear from where the offer of “dirt” about Hillary Clinton originated from: whether it came from Emin Agalarov or Veselnitskaya or was the invention of Goldstone himself.
However Goldstone says in the interview that Veselnitskaya managed to wangle the meeting with Donald Trump Junior by engaging in a ‘bait and switch’ and that after the meeting he apologised to Donald Trump Junior for wasting his time. That strongly suggests that the offer of “dirt” about Hillary Clinton originated with Veselnitskaya, and this does seem to be by far the most likely explanation.
If so then the fact that Veselnitskaya was also retained by Fusion GPS – the company used by the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign as its go-between with Christopher, the compiler of the Trump Dossier – and the fact that is now known to have had meetings with Fusion GPS both shortly before and shortly after her meeting with Donald Trump Junior, lends weight but does not prove the theory that the meeting between Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Junior was – as I discussed in my article of 12th July 2017 – a sting.
There is even a hint of this possibility in The London Times Magazine interview itself, though it does not come from Goldstone
Murkier still, it has now been reported that Fusion GPS, the political research company for which Steele produced his report, was also the source of the negative information that Veselnitskaya wanted to give to the Trump campaign. One of Fusion’s bosses is said to have met her before and after her Trump Tower appointment.
Goldstone knows nothing of that.
As to the meeting itself, Goldstone attended it and his account fully corroborates that of Donald Trump Junior
The three men had carved time out of packed schedules to meet a delegation promising “dirt” on Clinton — a clear signal they were not surprised that the highest echelons of Russian government apparently wanted to intervene to help Trump. Across the table sat four Russians, including a high-powered female lawyer with Kremlin ties and a lobbyist who, it later emerged, was a former Soviet intelligence officer.
Goldstone, a veteran of the realm of show business but new to the world of political intrigue, was the eighth person in the room. He had not even planned to attend, but was encouraged to stay by Trump Jr. His biggest concern, he says, was that if the meeting dragged on, he would be caught in the notorious Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his journey home.
Goldstone tells me that he only half-listened to the presentation from Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer, as he checked emails on his phone. But he insists, as Trump Jr has done, that the meeting ended awkwardly after she switched tack from discussing Democratic funding to US sanctions legislation and Moscow’s retaliatory policy that restricts Americans from adopting Russian children. “It was vague, generic nonsense,” Goldstone says…..
“Within minutes of starting, Jared said to her, ‘Could you just get to the point? I’m not sure I’m following what you’re saying,’ ” Goldstone says.
It was then that she started talking in detail about the provisions of the Magnitsky legislation and adoptions, he says. “I believe that she practised a classic bait-and-switch. She got in there on one pretext and really wanted to discuss something else.”
Goldstone described Kushner as “furious” and said that Manafort did not seem to look up from checking his messages. In an interview in Moscow this month, Veselnitskaya claimed that Trump Jr offered to review the sanctions if his father won the election, and that he had asked for evidence of Russian funding for Clinton. But Goldstone says he recalls no such exchanges.
“Don Jr ended it by telling her that she should be addressing her concerns to the Obama administration, because they were the ones in power.”
As he emerged from the meeting, Goldstone says that he told Trump Jr he was “deeply embarrassed” that it had been an apparent waste of time. It never crossed his mind, he adds, that there would be any fallout about election rules or foreign influence.
As I said in my article of 12th July 2017, there is no reason to disbelieve Donald Trump Junior’s clear and straightforward account of the meeting, which is corroborated by the email chain, the fact that no further meetings between him or anyone else in the Trump campaign and Veselnitskaya subsequently took place, and by the accounts of the meeting originally given by Veselnitskaya herself before she changed her story.
Goldstone has now provided further corroboration for it. There is no reason to disbelieve him, and there is no reason to doubt that this account and Donald Trump Junior’s account of the meeting is true.
In summary, Goldstone’s evidence shows
(1) that Veselnitskaya was not acting on behalf of the Russian government and the claim that she was is his invention;
(2) that the person who first said Veselnitskaya had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton was almost certainly Veselnitskaya herself; and
(3) that Donald Trump Junior’s account of his meeting with Veselnitskaya is true.
This wholly clears Donald Trump Junior of any suggestion of wrongdoing in relation to his meeting with Veselnitskaya.
The meeting between Donald Trump Junior and Veselnitskaya is not evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
On the contrary the fact that Donald Trump Junior, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner took part in a meeting set up under false pretences in which “dirt” about Hillary Clinton was promised but never given is evidence that no such collusion took place.
(2) Ritz Carlton orgy
Goldstone’s evidence is not limited to the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Goldstone also provides new evidence about Donald Trump’s alleged sex orgy in Moscow’s Ritz Carlton hotel which the Trump Dossier alleges took place during Donald Trump’s trip to Moscow to attend the Miss Universe competition in 2013.
Goldstone’s evidence here is not wholly conclusive. He cannot definitely say that no such orgy took place. However what he says does make it unlikely
[Goldstone] does recall Trump’s movements in Moscow back in 2013. He accompanied the US tycoon for many of his waking hours there. He recalls that, after a full first day, Trump headed back to the hotel after midnight following a birthday dinner for Aras Agalarov. By 8am the next morning, he was back with the entourage to film a music video with Emin, then spent the rest of the day on Miss Universe business before leaving on a friend’s private plane following the show and afterparty.
“I can’t comment about the contents of the Steele dossier, but I can tell you that there were only a few hours during a very busy schedule when Trump was back in his room at the Ritz-Carlton,” Goldstone says.
Donald Trump’s bodyguard is said to have testified to Congress that no such orgy took place, and he would presumably know.
Conceivably he is being loyal to his boss. However the evidence against the orgy ever having happened is stacking up, whilst no evidence has been produced outside the Trump Dossier to prove it ever took place.
I don’t think the importance of this is realised.
The Trump Dossier is constructed around the premise that the Russians plotted to install Trump as President because they have leverage (‘kompromat‘) over him.
The implication in the Trump Dossier is that some of this leverage is film the Russians supposedly have of the Ritz Carlton orgy.
No evidence has come to light to support the only other alternative explanation offered to explain this leverage: illegal financial dealings between Donald Trump and Russian financial interests.
That leaves only the film of the orgy and possibly the film of another orgy the Trump Dossier speculates may have happened in St. Petersburg as the only events which could provide the leverage.
The Trump Dossier admits there is no proof the orgy in St. Petersburg. However it asserts the Ritz Carlton orgy in Moscow as fact.
If however no such orgy took place, then the Russians cannot have film of it, and the whole theory of leverage upon which the whole Trump Dossier is based collapses.
(3) Wikileaks’ emails
I have previously written a dismissive article about the story in The Atlantic of the twitter emails Wikileaks sent to Donald Trump Junior during the 2016 election. I stand by every word of it.
However the redoubtable blogger Caitlin Johnstone and Julian Assange himself have delved a little deeper and have struck gold.
It turns out that The Atlantic edited one of the emails Wikileaks sent to Donald Trump Junior and did so in a most misleading way.
The actual email – sent to Donald Trump Junior by Wikileaks on 21st October 2016 and recently published by Donald Trump Junior himself – reads as follows:
3. If we publish them (Donald Trump’s tax returns – AM) it will dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality. This is the real kicker. That means that the vast amount of stuff that we are publishing about Clinton will have much higher impact, because it won’t be perceived as coming from a “pro-Trump” “pro-Russian source”, which the Clinton campaign is constantly slandering us with.
(bold italics added)
The text of this email as published by The Atlantic was edited to remove the highlighted words. It therefore reads as follows
3. If we publish them (Donald Trump’s tax returns – AM) it will dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality. This is the real kicker. That means that the vast amount of stuff that we are publishing about Clinton will have much higher impact, because it won’t be perceived as coming from a “pro-Trump” “pro-Russian source”.
The comma after the words “pro-Russian source” is replaced by a full-stop and all the words after the comma are deleted, with no indication given that the other words were there.
The discrepancy was noticed after the text of the actual email as published by Donald Trump Junior was compared with the text of the email as The Atlantic published it.
A complaint by Wikileaks that it is being slandered by being called a “pro-Russian source” is a denial by Wikileaks that it is a “pro-Russian source”. As Caitlin Johnstone and Julian Assange rightly say, The Atlantic edited the email to make it seem that Wikileaks was admitting the opposite.
Caitlin Johnstone says this is unethical, and I agree.
In my opinion it goes a little further than this.
The collusion allegations that are at the centre of the Russiagate scandal are that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians to publish the stolen DNC/Podesta emails via Wikileaks.
Here however is an email from Wikileaks to Donald Trump Junior – one of the supposed co-conspirators – written just two weeks before the election in which it specifically denies that it is a “pro-Russian source”.
How is that consistent with the Russians, Wikileaks and the Trump campaign working together to publish the DNC and Podesta emails?
Surely if the Russiagate collusion allegations were true Donald Trump Junior and/or other people in the Trump campaign would know that Wikileaks was in fact a “pro-Russian source” being used by Russian intelligence to publish the emails and that what the email was saying was untrue? If Wikileaks really was part of such a conspiracy it would know that Donald Trump Junior and/or other people in the Trump campaign would know that what the email said was untrue? Why in that case send such an email at all?
It is a small point. As Caitlin Johnstone says, at the time the email was sent Julian Assange had no internet access, so the email could not have been sent by him but must have been sent by someone else who perhaps was not fully informed about all that had been going on.
However my original point about the emails Wikileaks sent to Donald Trump Junior is that they are if anything evidence against collusion between the Trump campaign, Wikileaks and the Russians. Here in the actual text of one of the emails is further confirmation of this.
A point I have made repeatedly in my various discussions of the Russiagate affair is that each and every ‘revelation’ which appears about it on close examination turns out to be no such thing. On the contrary more often than not it provides evidence of no collusion having taken place.
The Veselnitskaya-Donald Trump Junior meeting and the emails sent by Wikileaks to Donald Trump Junior are cases in point.
Following Goldstone’s revelations and Caitlin Johnstone’s research it is impossible to take the claims made about them by the Russiagate theorists seriously. On the contrary what they do is provide further evidence that no collusion took place.
On the Veselnitskaya-Donald Trump Junior meeting I think it is possible to go a little further.
Though Goldstone’s evidence does not prove that the meeting was a sting, if the claim to possess “dirt” about Hillary Clinton did originally come from Veselnitskaya as is likely then her meetings immediately before and after the meeting with Fusion-GPS require explanation.
In my article of 12th July 2017 I speculated that the meeting might have been an attempt to provide independent corroboration of the claims which subsequently found their way into the first entry of the Trump Dossier, that the Russians were looking for ways to help the Trump campaign by providing it with damaging information about Hillary Clinton that they had in a secret file they have on her.
Nothing which has appeared since refutes that speculation, which however does not mean it is true.
The fact Veselnitskaya met with Fusion-GPS shortly before and after her meeting with Donald Trump Junior does however lend a certain amount of weight to that speculation. The second meeting in particular does have something of the look of Veselnitskaya reporting about her meeting with Donald Trump Junior to her client, Fusion-GPS.
Unlike the true believers in the Russiagate conspiracy theory I refuse to pile speculation upon speculation. Veselnitskaya’s meetings with Fusion-GPS may have completely innocent explanations and may be wholly unconnected to the Russiagate affair. All I am saying is that Veselnitskaya and Fusion-GPS should be asked questions about them.
Putting that aside, the revelations which appeared last week provide further confirmation of what ought to have been obvious months ago: no conspiracy between the Trump campaign, Wikileaks and the Russians took place.
Attempts to find evidence of such a conspiracy in the sporadic contacts these three very large groups of people had with each other during the 2016 election campaign are going nowhere. On the contrary what these contacts actually show is that no conspiracy took place.
This is now so obvious that it begs the question of why the Russiagate investigation is continuing at all?
As to that I provided what I increasingly suspect is the true explanation in my article of 17th November 2017