Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
Three Trump campaign officials walk into
a bar a meeting with a Russian lawyer for the Kremlin… Okay, it’s not a joke. It’s a statement released late Saturday evening by Donald Trump, Jr., fresh off his day of collecting violent CNN memes. After endless speculation into who the Russian contacts may have been that met with Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and any number of Trump campaigners, Trump the Younger confirmed a meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya more than a year ago. That meeting was also attended by Manafort and Kushner, at Junior’s request.
The meeting, held at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian national.
Veselnitskaya is known primarily for her involvement in opposition to sanctions against Russia. Those sanctions have been at the heart of investigations into what the Russians were seeking in the ever-growing list of meetings they turned out to have had with Trump officials during the campaign.
In the statement, first reported by the New York Times, Trump’s son indicated that their discussion was about a Russian adoption program:
We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow-up.”
Clearly Donald Junior was unfamiliar with the program prior to the meeting. The adoption program in question was ended — punishing Russian orphans as a result — by Putin himself, in retaliation for a law passed during the Obama administration called the Magnitsky Act. Named for a low-level financial auditor who died mysteriously in a Russian prison after acting as a whistleblower in a corruption scandal, the Act placed sanctions on Russians who had committed human rights violations. The law actually called those Russians out by name, effectively ending any opportunity for them to do business in America. That cost Putin money and esteem, and he shot back by taking it out on children and their would-be parents.
So let’s recap: Trump Junior said in his statement that they talked about the Russian adoption program. That’s a discussion about sanctions against Russia, which everyone in the investigation thus far has carefully avoided admitting were ever discussed. After Junior’s statement was released, Jared Kushner’s lawyer reiterated that Kushner had disclosed the meeting — though not its context — in his national security application. But Saturday’s revelation puts Kushner at odds with numerous other statements he’s made, insisting that he never discussed lifting Russian sanctions.
Everyone (except Manafort, whose lawyer refused to comment) has, at this point, admitted to both the meeting with Veselnitskaya and the fact that they discussed the adoption program. The Russian lawyer herself told the Times that they specifically discussed the Magnitsky Act, contradicting literally every statement that’s come out of Trump HQ that nobody ever talked about lifting sanctions against Russia — during or after the election.
In fact, when the Times interviewed Donald Trump Junior back in March, he said:
Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did. But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment.”
When asked if he had discussed government policies related to Russia, he was even less equivocal:
A hundred percent no.”
I guess it wasn’t quite a hundred percent.
Featured image via John Moore/Getty Images