So, turns out planning to commit illegal campaign collusion by receiving stolen data is a bad thing, especially when you're Julian Assange and WikiLeaks working with Donald Trump Jr. to get the goods you know they have because the goddamn Russians told you.
Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)
The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”
The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States.
“Over the last several months, we have worked cooperatively with each of the committees and have voluntarily turned over thousands of documents in response to their requests,” said Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Donald Trump Jr. “Putting aside the question as to why or by whom such documents, provided to Congress under promises of confidentiality, have been selectively leaked, we can say with confidence that we have no concerns about these documents and any questions raised about them have been easily answered in the appropriate forum.” WikiLeaks did not respond to requests for comment.
The messages were turned over to Congress as part of that body’s various ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. American intelligence services have accused the Kremlin of engaging in a deliberate effort to boost President Donald Trump’s chances while bringing down his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. That effort—and the president’s response to it—has spawned multiple congressional investigations, and a special counsel inquiry that has led to the indictment of Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, for financial crimes.
Though Trump Jr. mostly ignored the frequent messages from WikiLeaks, he at times appears to have acted on its requests. When WikiLeaks first reached out to Trump Jr. about putintrump.org, for instance, Trump Jr. followed up on his promise to “ask around.” According to a source familiar with the congressional investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 campaign, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, on the same day that Trump Jr. received the first message from WikiLeaks, he emailed other senior officials with the Trump campaign, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, telling them WikiLeaks had made contact. Kushner then forwarded the email to campaign communications staffer Hope Hicks. At no point during the 10-month correspondence does Trump Jr. rebuff WikiLeaks, which had published stolen documents and was already observed to be releasing information that benefited Russian interests.
WikiLeaks played a pivotal role in the presidential campaign. In July 2016, on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee's servers that spring. The emails showed DNC officials denigrating Bernie Sanders, renewing tensions on the eve of Clinton’s acceptance of the nomination. On October 7, less than an hour after the Washington Post released the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, Wikileaks released emails that hackers had pilfered from the personal email account of Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta.
The timing of the Podesta emails, specifically designed to drown the Trump Access Hollywood tape, has to me always been the surest sign that WikiLeaks was directly working to help Trump win. Now we know what Assange wanted in return: Ambassadorship to Australia.
And we know Trump Jr. was listening.
In the winter and spring, WikiLeaks went largely silent, only occasionally sending Trump Jr. links. But on July 11, 2017, three days after The New York Times broke the story about Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with connections to Russia’s powerful prosecutor general, WikiLeaks got in touch again.
“Hi Don. Sorry to hear about your problems,” WikiLeaks wrote. “We have an idea that may help a little. We are VERY interested in confidentially obtaining and publishing a copy of the email(s) cited in the New York Times today,” citing a reference in the paper to emails Trump Jr had exchanged with Rob Goldstone, a publicist who had helped set up the meeting. “We think this is strongly in your interest,” WikiLeaks went on. It then reprised many of the same arguments it made in trying to convince Trump Jr. to turn over his father’s tax returns, including the argument that Trump’s enemies in the press were using the emails to spin an unfavorable narrative of the meeting. “Us publishing not only deprives them of this ability but is beautifully confounding.”
The message was sent at 9:29 am on July 11. Trump Jr. did not respond, but just hours later, he posted the emails himself, on his own Twitter feed.
The Russians have been using WikiLeaks and Assange for quite some time now. We know Donald Trump Jr. is neck deep in this mess too. And we know Mueller is waiting to pounce. Remember, this is all part of a larger operation by the Russians to compromise the Trump regime.
A series of meetings between Russians and three Trump campaign advisers in a six-week span last year provide the strongest evidence yet that the Kremlin had mounted an intelligence operation aimed at infiltrating the campaign, according to former intelligence officials and experts.
The recent acknowledgments by advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos that they talked with Russians and Russian officials around the same time that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin advocate indicates a coordinated effort to recruit Trump associates, possibly for eliciting information and conveying messages, intelligence experts told BuzzFeed News.
“I don’t think there can be any doubt now that the Russians were targeting the Trump campaign, and there were members of the Trump campaign who were receptive to those approaches,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent in New York who now lectures at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
The failure of both Trump Jr. and Papadopoulos to inform US authorities that their Russian contacts said they had incriminating information about Hillary Clinton would have emboldened Russian intelligence to continue reaching out to Trump associates, the experts told BuzzFeed News.
“Their overtures weren't rejected, and there was presumably no reporting of the [Trump Jr.] meeting by the Trump side to the appropriate authorities. They would have felt confident they weren't dealing with a reluctant partner,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who was a CIA intelligence officer for 23 years and director of intelligence and counterintelligence at the US Energy Department.
The contacts illustrate the overlooked role in the 2016 election of Russian intelligence, which has flourished under Putin, a former spy. While President Donald Trump continues to say he's skeptical that Russia interfered in the election and denies that there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian authorities, outside experts say they believe there can now be little doubt that the Russian government was trying to penetrate the campaign.
And that campaign by the Russians has sloppy, gloppy fingerprints all over it.
On Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy’s Citibank accounts and contained a remarkable memo line: “to finance election campaign of 2016.”
That wire transfer is one of more than 60 now being scrutinized by the FBI and other federal agencies investigating Russian involvement in the US election. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry and most contained a memo line referencing the financing of the 2016 election.
The money wound up at Russian embassies in almost 60 countries from Afghanistan to Nigeria between Aug. 3 and Sept. 20, 2016. It is not clear how the funds were used. At least one transaction that came into the US originated with VTB Bank, a financial institution that is majority-owned by the Kremlin.
We're rapidly approaching the point where Trump's hand will be forced, and with it, the GOP. Stay tuned.