Ahh, it's Friday News Dump time for more Trump/Russia fun, and this week doesn't disappoint. First up, more news on Donny Junior's meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016:
Natalia V. Veselnitskaya arrived at a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 hoping to interest top Trump campaign officials in the contents of a memo she believed contained information damaging to the Democratic Party and, by extension, Hillary Clinton. The material was the fruit of her research as a private lawyer, she has repeatedly said, and any suggestion that she was acting at the Kremlin’s behest that day is anti-Russia “hysteria.”
But interviews and records show that in the months before the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika. And the memo she brought with her closely followed a document that Mr. Chaika’s office had given to an American congressman two months earlier, incorporating some paragraphs verbatim.
The coordination between the Trump Tower visitor and the Russian prosecutor general undercuts Ms. Veselnitskaya’s account that she was a purely independent actor when she sat down with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul J. Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman. It also suggests that emails from an intermediary to the younger Mr. Trump promising that Ms. Veselnitskaya would arrive with information from Russian prosecutors were rooted at least partly in fact — not mere “puffery,” as the president’s son later said.
In the past week, Ms. Veselnitskaya’s allegations — that major Democratic donors were guilty of financial fraud and tax evasion — have been embraced at the highest levels of the Russian government. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia repeated her charges at length last week at an annual conference of Western academics. A state-run television network recently made them the subject of two special reports, featuring interviews with Ms. Veselnitskaya and Mr. Chaika.
The matching messages point to a synchronized information campaign. Like some other Russian experts, Stephen Blank, a senior fellow with the nonprofit American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, said they indicate that Ms. Veselnitskaya’s actions “were coordinated from the very top.”
The Trump Tower meeting is of keen interest to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as he investigates Russian efforts to help Mr. Trump’s campaign. At least one participant at the meeting has already testified before a federal grand jury.
We're now seeing what was waiting in store for a Clinton administration if Hillary had won: a coordinated GOP push along with Russia to go after the biggest Democratic donors for tax evasion. This was planned from the beginning as part of the arsenal Putin had on hand to bring the US to its knees, buried under disinformation and Republican shamelessness.
As I've said before, the GOP/Russia side has moved to a new level as the Mueller investigation draws closer to completion. The rush to discredit Mueller and Comey as working for the Clintons is laughable, but the goal is to put enough doubt on the side of the balance that the legitimacy of any recommended indictments are thrown into question, enough so that naturally it will be acceptable when Jeff Sessions and the DOJ take no action...and maybe decide instead to take action against Clinton.
Vox's Zach Beauchamp sets up the playing field for story number two on Cambridge Analytica.
The second big piece of news this week concerns Cambridge Analytica, the UK-based company that ran the Trump campaign’s data operation beginning in June 2016. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Cambridge as part of his look into the Trump-Russia mess, with the company’s work with disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn raising a particularly big red flag.
“We know that congressional and DOJ investigators believe that Trump’s campaign might have helped guide Russia’s voter targeting scheme and that Flynn, who worked for Trump’s campaign and with Cambridge Analytica, is suspected of having extensive ties with Russian operatives,” my colleague Sean Illing explains in a vital profile of the group.
The scoop this week, first reported by the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff on Wednesday morning, is that Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix reached out to WikiLeaks head Julian Assange to try to acquire 33,000 emails that had been deleted from Clinton’s private server.
This matters for two reasons. First, it suggests a willingness on the part of Trump allies to reach out to foreign sources with anti-American agendas (Assange is no fan of the USA). Second, it could in theory point to a pathway through which information traveled from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign: We know that Assange published emails Russia passed to him after stealing them from Clinton allies.
“If true, HOLY COW!” tweeted Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who tracks Russian involvement in US politics. “US political campaign seeking help of US adversary doing damage to US, to then damage another American.”
This, like the Post’s Clinton scoop, is legitimately interesting — but is also being overinterpreted by people who believe it confirms their overarching view of the Russia scandal.
First, there’s no evidence (yet) that the Trump campaign was behind Nix’s outreach. While he informed Trump allies of the idea of working with WikiLeaks afterward, there’s no reason to believe they told him to write the email — which suggests it wasn’t a “political campaign seeking help of US adversary,” as Watts wrote.
“No one from the Trump campaign was copied on the email,” CNN reported in a follow-up to the Daily Beast’s piece. “It is not clear whether he sent it before or after Cambridge Analytica was brought onto the campaign.”
Second, and more importantly, there’s no evidence that the Cambridge-WikiLeaks connection actually went anywhere. Assange tweeted that he refused to help Nix; while he’s not especially credible, that’s also what Woodruff’s sources said.
“Assange told the Cambridge Analytica CEO that he didn’t want his help, and preferred to do the work on his own,” she writes.
So while the Cambridge Analytica report is certainly suggestive, it doesn’t on its own confirm very much.
For now, yes. But I'm betting the other shoe drops soon, and this is where things get very nasty for the Trump regime when they do. That this is happening at the same time you're seeing things like former Trump regime adviser Sebastian Gorka all but call for Hillary Clinton to be executed for treason is no coincidence.
The serious stuff is just starting.
And that brings us to the big reveal tonight from CNN.
A federal grand jury in Washington, DC, on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter.
The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are.
This explains the sudden move this week to discredit the Mueller investigation and deflect to "Clinton collusion". They knew the charges were coming. They know somebody's doing the perp walk next week.
Somebody with ties to Trump.
On Friday, top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.
Reporters present saw a flurry of activity at the grand jury room, but officials made no announcements.
We're entering the next phase of the game. The sides are on the field and awaiting the fight. Still don't believe me?
Here we go.