The headline makes the story sound worse than it is in substance, especially when you recall that Julian Assange has already claimed publicly to have been in contact with Don Jr. Remember this tweet, from the day this past summer that the NYT exposed Junior’s emails about meeting with the Russian lawyer in 2016 to get dirt on Hillary?
It’s one thing for Assange to have been reaching out to Don Jr this year, it’s another thing to have him reaching out in 2016, amid the great Russiagate collusion mystery that Mueller’s been chasing. When you’ve got evidence of the president’s son in direct communication before Election Day with the outlet that laundered the DNC and Podesta emails for Russia, that’s not a great development for the White House. And that’s what the Atlantic has.
Of note, though: Not only did Wikileaks send many more messages to Don Jr than vice versa, it didn’t reach out to him for the first time until late in the race, September 19, 2016. That was months after the outfit had begun publishing the hacked DNC emails and two weeks before it began publishing the Podesta emails, although the latter only came up once in the Twitter exchanges with Junior. If the DMs between them are evidence of collusion on the emails, why did it take so long for one to contact the other? And why do they never discuss how and when to release the emails? The only reference to them is Wikileaks urging Don Jr in mid-October to tweet out a publicly available link to the already-released Podesta material.
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…
“Hey Don. We have an unusual idea,” Wikileaks wrote on October 21, 2016. “Leak us one or more of your father’s tax returns.”…
Wikileaks didn’t write again until Election Day, November 8, 2016. “Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred—as he has implied that he might do,” Wikileaks wrote at 6:35pm, when the idea that Clinton would win was still the prevailing conventional wisdom.
Wikileaks wanted Trump’s tax return to help create the illusion that it was impartial in the race rather than pro-Trump. In another DM from mid-December, they encouraged Don Jr to have his dad suggest to Australia that, um, it appoint Assange as the country’s ambassador to the U.S., which is so ludicrous that it almost amounts to trolling. I think Guy Benson accurately describes the tenor of the communications between them: “Wikileaks comes off as relentlessly thirsty and needy. Don Jr. comes off as barely interested & rarely responsive.” That’s not the dynamic I’d expect in collusion. It’s the dynamic of someone in a position of influence being pestered for attention by another party that’s desperate to push their agenda.
Here’s the most interesting tidbit:
— Katherine Miller (@katherinemiller) November 13, 2017
The Podesta emails were released on October 7. It’s widely assumed that the cryptic tweet by Roger Stone about something big about to drop on Hillary is evidence that he knew in advance that the Podesta emails were coming. (Stone admits that he had an intermediary in contact with Wikileaks.) But Don Jr apparently didn’t know and the proof is these DMs. How is he guilty of collusion with Wikileaks if he didn’t even get a heads up about the Podesta emails?
But wait. Not everything here cuts in Team Trump’s favor. The fact that Don Jr alerted the rest of the staff on September 20 that Wikileaks had reached out raises the possibility that other Trump campaign officials got in touch with the organization. Junior may not have been involved in colluding with Wikileaks but now we know that Bannon, Kushner, Conway, and Parscale were all aware of the group’s interest. Moreover, that initial DM from Wikileaks to Don Jr was about the fact that the group had cracked the password to an anti-Trump Super PAC’s website and wanted to share that password with him. There’s no evidence that Junior used the password to access the site, but if it turns out he did, he’s in trouble:
At one point, Trump Jr. accepted a password to a website from them. If he used the password to access the website, that’s a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) November 13, 2017
And there’s something else. Maybe it’s pure coincidence but WSJ reporter Byron Tau noticed that within 15 minutes of Wikileaks DMing Don Jr on October 12, 2016, to promote its database of Podesta emails, Donald Trump himself tweeted this:
Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2016
Three possibilities. One: It was a coincidence. Probably Trump was watching “Fox & Friends,” saw something about Wikileaks and Podesta on there, and tweeted about it. No different from any other day, really. Two: Don Jr saw his DM from Wikileaks and pinged dad to promote their Podesta stuff. If that’s what happened, though, it’s odd that Don Jr himself didn’t tweet a link to Wikileaks’s Podesta database until two days later. Three: Maybe … Wikileaks was also DMing with Donald Trump and sent him the same sort of “promote our Podesta stuff!” message that Don Jr got. I wonder if Mueller already has Trump’s DMs or, if not, whether he can obtain them legally. Probably not the messages since January 20 as they may be protected by executive privilege, but the DMs before then? Why not? Imagine if it turns out POTUS himself was secretly communicating with Wikileaks in the final months of the campaign.