Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort in Trump Tower last year brought a memo to the meeting containing information which she had shared previously with Russia’s prosecutor general. The description of the contents of the memo seems to match with the description Trump Jr. gave of the meeting on Sean Hannity’s show in July. From the NY Times:
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…
That congressman was Dana Rohrabacher of California who was given the document in April 2016 when he visited Moscow. The memo claimed an American investment firm had avoided paying Russian taxes while donating heavily to Democratic candidates:
The memo that Ms. Veselnitskaya brought to the Trump Tower meeting alleged that Ziff Brothers Investments, an American firm, had illegally purchased shares in a Russian company and evaded tens of millions of dollars of Russian taxes. The company was the financial vehicle of three billionaire brothers, two of them major donors to Democratic candidates including Mrs. Clinton. By implication, Ms. Veselnitskaya, said, those political contributions were tainted by “stolen” money.
Kremlin officials viewed the charges as extremely significant. The Ziff brothers had invested in funds managed by William F. Browder, an American-born financier and fierce Kremlin foe. Mr. Browder was the driving force behind a 2012 law passed by Congress imposing sanctions on Russian officials for human rights abuses.
The law, known as the Magnitsky Act, froze Western bank accounts of officials on the sanctions list – including Mr. Chaika’s deputy — and banned them from entering the United States. It was named after Sergei L.Magnitsky, a tax lawyer who had worked for Mr. Browder and who died in a Moscow jail after exposing a massive fraud scheme involving Russian officials.
Eventually, the information in this memo was offered to Donald Trump Jr. via Rob Goldstone who presented it in emails as dirt on Hillary Clinton. When Veselnitskaya arrived at Trump Tower she had a memo which the NY Times says included paragraphs taken “verbatim” from the document given to Rep. Rohrabacher a few months earlier.
Donald Trump Jr. appeared on Sean Hannity’s show in July and his description of what was discussed seems to match with the NY Times description of the contents of the memo Veselnitskaya was carrying. However, in Trump Jr.’s telling, he was not at all impressed and didn’t see how it constituted news, much less dirt on Hillary Clinton.
In his televised interview Trump Jr. said, “The pretext of the meeting was ‘Hey I have information about your opponent.'” But, shaking his head, Trump Jr. continued, “It was this ‘Hey, some DNC donors may have done something in Russia and they didn’t pay taxes…I was like, what does this have to do with anything?” Trump Jr. describes the meeting breaking up quickly and says Goldstone apologized for wasting his time.
The Times story does suggest that elements of the Russian government were interested in presenting this information to American lawmakers and people with influence. Russia considered it “extremely significant” but it doesn’t sound as if Trump Jr. agreed. What’s missing from the story is any evidence that the effort by Russia succeeded in any way.
This whole story has lost some of its luster in the wake of the revelation that team Clinton funded the Russia dossier. That document, which is full of far more salacious information, the kind of thing that Trump Jr. was probably hoping to hear when he agreed to the Trump Tower meeting, also came from Russian sources, at least some of whom were being paid. The response from the Clinton team this week has been that everyone does oppo-research and, ‘hey, what’s the big deal?’ Either listening to Russian sources for oppo-research is a big deal or it isn’t.
Here’s the Trump Jr. appearance on Hannity to discuss the Trump Tower meeting. His description of the memo comes at about 5:45 in this clip: