Denials on Russia grow weaker after shifting stories


Donald Trump Jr. is clearly his father’s son. Just look at the evolving strategies he employed to answer questions on meeting with a Russian Kremlin-affiliated lawyer during the presidential campaign: Denial, deflection and finger-pointing.

First, the junior Donald said no meetings with Russian officials had been “set up,” and none discussed government policies.

Then on Saturday, he said the June 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya was about the adoption of Russian children. He noted that wasn’t a campaign issue, yet he didn’t explain why he invited his father’s then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to “stop by,” along with his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner. He said he hadn’t known who he’d be meeting; an acquaintance arranged it.

On Sunday, after The New York Times reported on the meeting, the junior Donald had a fresh explanation for reporters: He’d met the lawyer because she had information showing Hillary Clinton had Russian support. But Donald Jr. said none of it turned out to be useful or documented, or even made sense.

On Tuesday he tweeted his exchange of emails with Rob Goldstone, the meeting organizer who wrote that Russia’s top prosecutor had offered the Trump campaign documents “that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Having said he got nothing useful on Clinton, Donald Jr.’s then linked to a story claiming DNC operatives worked with Ukrainian officials to get opposition research on Trump. “No outrage???” he tweeted.

“Media & Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a yr, I understand the desperation!” said another tweet.

Unfortunately for father and son, this is far from all we have on the Trumps’ inappropriate and possibly illegal dealings with Russia. Remember last July 6, when the GOP nominee called on Russia at a news conference to hack Hillary Clinton’s private server? His presidential spokesman later called that a joke. But it’s looking less and less like one.

Then there was Manafort, forced to resign last August after it was found his firm had accepted $12.7 million between 2007 and to 2012 in cash payments for secret lobbying on behalf of Russian-allied Ukrainian leaders. One was Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, The New York Times reported. Manafort never registered as a foreign agent, as federal law requires. He denied doing it, but Eric Trump, Trump’s second son, told Fox News, “My father just didn’t want to have the distraction looming over the campaign.”

It wasn’t long after Trump took office that his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was in the hot seat over Russia. Flynn was alleged to have held private talks before the election with Russia’s U.S. ambassador about sanctions the Obama administration was imposing on Russia for interference. Flynn and Trump officials denied it. As FBI Director James Comey has since revealed, the president famously told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. “

Trump finally fired Flynn Feb. 14 — 18 days after Flynn’s conflicting statements. And then the president denied it was because Flynn met with the Russian ambassador. He said Flynn was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and others about this. Trump called Flynn a wonderful man who had been “treated very, very unfairly by the media,” and also blamed a witch hunt by Democrats.

Trump waited despite a warning by acting attorney general, Sally Yates, that Flynn was now subject to blackmail by Russia. He fired Yates first.

And then he fired the FBI director.

In sworn testimony before the Senate intelligence committee June 8, Comey said, “The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did (it) with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government.”

A Jan. 6 report by the director of National Intelligence based on information from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency said “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” and that “Putin ordered an influence campaign” to help him. It said Russian military intelligence gained access to DNC computers and then used WikiLeaks and other similar venues to get leaked emails and documents to the public.

Last October, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said 17 intelligence agencies were confident that “Russia’s senior-most officials” directed the hacking of DNC and party officials’ emails. The president, however, has denied it.

Asked last week before meeting Putin if Russia interfered with the election, Trump said: “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could very well have been other countries, and I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere.”

People close to him certainly seem to have. So what’s the president doing to show his commitment to fair elections? He’s created a commission on election integrity, which is seeking a broad sweep of data, but not on outsiders or campaign officials, but on voters. He wants all kinds of information on each of us. If that doesn’t say Russia, I don’t know what does.

By Rekha Basu

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at [email protected]. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.

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