(Via the LA Times.) Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has recalled for questioning at least one participant in a controversial meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, and is looking into President Trump’s misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption, rather than an offer to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Some defense lawyers involved in the case view Mueller’s latest push as a sign that investigators are focusing on possible obstruction of justice by Trump and several of his closest advisors for their statements about the politically sensitive meeting, rather than for collusion with the Russians.
Investigators also are exploring the involvement of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who did not attend the half-hour sit-down on June 9, 2016, but briefly spoke with two of the participants, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-born Washington lobbyist. Details of the encounter were not previously known.
It occurred at the Trump Tower elevator as the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, were leaving the building and consisted of pleasantries, a person familiar with the episode said. But Mueller’s investigators want to know every contact the two visitors had with Trump’s family members and inner circle.
Mueller long has sought to nail down details of the unusual gathering at the height of the presidential race between three of Trump’s top campaign aides — his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort — and Veselnitskaya, Akhmetshin, plus a Russian language translator, a U.S.-based employee of a Russian real estate group, and a British music promoter with Russian business ties who helped bring the group together.
After the New York Times first reported the meeting last July, 13 months after it had occurred, the White House issued a misleading statement while Trump flew back to Washington from the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. It said that Trump Jr. had said he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children,” and was unrelated to the campaign.
Mueller’s team is trying to determine if Trump and others involved in drafting the language aboard Air Force One knew it was inaccurate and whether it was aimed at deceiving federal investigators looking into whether the Trump campaign actively assisted a Russian intelligence operation aimed at interfering in the U.S. campaign.
In August, Trump Jr. released a chain of emails that showed he had agreed to the meeting not to talk about adoptions, but because the music promoter, Rob Goldstone, had assured him that the Russian lawyer had “official documents and information” that would “incriminate” Clinton, “and be very useful to your father.”
Goldstone wrote that the damaging information on Clinton was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“If it’s what you say, I love it,” Trump Jr. replied.
The meeting between Trump’s top campaign aides and the Russians hit the headlines again this week after Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was quoted describing Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort in scathing terms in a controversial new book.
“Even if you thought that this [meeting] was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad …, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon said, according to “Fire and Fury,” which was released Friday.
Bannon speculated that Trump Jr. brought the Russian group upstairs to meet the candidate, a claim that the participants have all denied.
(The LA Times)