We’ve had a major revelation in the Donald Trump Jr. saga each of the past four days — the latest being his emails setting up that meeting in which he was promised information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
So what’s next? Below are six story lines to watch and questions to ask in light of the new revelations.
1) Rob Goldstone seemed to casually mention the Russian government’s support for Trump, and Trump Jr. didn’t remark on it. Why?
One particular passage in these emails jumped out at me. It was from Goldstone, the publicist for Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, who was setting up the meeting between Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he writes.
For months afterward, the Trumps questioned whether Russia was even meddling in the election — and adamantly scorned the idea that Russia was trying to help Trump. Just a month after this email, Trump Jr. went on CNN and projected astonishment that Democrats would even broach the idea. President Trump himself is still loath to concede this point.
But there it is, in black and white. And perhaps even more notably, Trump Jr. didn’t remark on it in his reply, which came just 17 minutes later. If you had just learned that a large country known for spying was helping your dad, wouldn’t that pique your interest? Did Trump Jr. miss this? Or did he just assume it was the case already? It’s curious that this point seems to have passed without discussion. I would certainly have had questions about what precisely Goldstone meant.
2) Who is the “Crown prosecutor of Russia”?
The information is described in the emails as coming from the Russian government, but there isn’t a ton of detail about its origins besides that — with one exception. At the top of the chain, the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” is mentioned.
“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Goldstone writes. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
The problem is that there is no “Crown prosecutor” in Russia; Goldstone seems to be using a title from his native Britain. So who is this person? Is it the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya? She’s not actually a government lawyer or prosecutor. The equivalent title in Russia for the top justice official is actually “prosecutor general,” and that currently is Yury Chaika. Could this go up to his office?
To be clear: That’s where we begin tracing the origins of this alleged information and possible collusion.
3) How close is Veselnitskaya to the Kremlin?
Veselnitskaya is described in the emails as a Russian government attorney, but as mentioned above, she holds no official title. She has denied she works for the Kremlin, and the Kremlin has denied even knowing her.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters this weekend that the Kremlin “cannot keep track of every Russian lawyer and their meetings domestically or abroad.” He added of Veselnitskaya: “We do not know who that is.”
That’s a pretty broad denial, though, and Veselnitskaya has regularly been described as a lawyer with demonstrated ties to the Kremlin. Precisely how close she is will be a major story line in the coming days.
4) Did Trump Jr. talk to Agalarov about his information?
Goldstone writes about the meeting with the Russian lawyer for the first time as if Trump is already familiar with the idea. (“Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday,” Goldstone writes. “I believe you are aware of the meeting.”) And he does so, notably, after trying to set up a phone call between Trump Jr. and Agalarov. One email was sent 20 minutes before Trump Jr. and Agalarov were scheduled to speak.
The question now is, if they did speak, what did they talk about? Did they discuss this Russian lawyer? The information she would provide? This is a missing link in this whole discussion.
5) Did this information ever get disclosed to the president?
Trump Jr. has said his father was never aware of the meeting, and deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the president only learned about it in recent days.
The emails, though, include an offer to loop the president himself in on this information through his personal gatekeeper, Rhona Graff. “I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first,” Goldstone writes in the first email in the thread.
There is no indication that the emails actually were sent to Graff, but it’s a valid question now. And given that the White House’s claims about this matter have so often been later contradicted, it’s difficult to take its denials of Trump’s involvement at face value.
6) Do Democrats intensify talk of collusion, conspiracy, soliciting foreign contributions, treason, impeachment or all of the above?
The biggest upshot here is that talk about collusion is no longer a circumstantial case; we now have conduct that looks a whole lot like at least an attempt to collude. But exactly what crime Trump’s opponents believe occurred here isn’t very clear.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) threw out a whole bunch of them in an interview with CNN on Tuesday morning, up to and including the T-word: treason. “We are now beyond obstruction of justice,” Kaine said. “This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason.”
Democrats, though, need to be careful about overreaching. We’ve seen what can happen when a party does that (see: Clinton, Bill — impeachment of), and the risk for Democrats is that this never becomes what they allege and Trump emerges stronger because of it.
That said, it has to be tempting for them to jump whole-hog into this, as Kaine did Tuesday morning. And don’t be surprised when we start seeing more and more calls for impeachment.