Republicans on Capitol Hill have reacted understandably to the seemingly pointless subpoena of Donald Trump, Jr. by the GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee. Typical responses have ranged from “Somebody didn’t get the memo? There was no collusion” to “Get over it. Time to move on.”
While these reactions make perfect sense, another round of testimony from Trump, Jr. would afford a valuable opportunity to ask probing questions. I suspect we already know the answer to the top question I would suggest. But the value lies in asking it, and getting that answer, in light of everything we now know about what led to the meeting in Trump Tower on 9 June 2016.
As a refresher, the bare facts of the meeting are that it was set up by an acquaintance of Donald Trump, Jr., the British publicist Rob Goldstone (about whose role we have never learned very much).
The principal visitor was Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya, who was working for the Russia-linked company Prevezon Holdings, which was fighting U.S. criminal charges and needed ways to impugn one of the key witnesses for the prosecution, William Browder. Browder, in turn, was an investment fund executive and close associate of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, for whom the U.S. Magnitsky Act is named.
The meeting was baited for Trump, Jr. with the promise of negative information about Hillary Clinton, which Veselnitskaya supposedly could connect him with.
But in the meeting, Veselnitskaya had nothing to say about such information. Instead, she wanted to talk about the effects of the Magnitsky Act on U.S.-Russia relations, and in particular, the subject of adoptions — i.e., adoptions of Russian children by Americans, which Vladimir Putin had prohibited because of the Magnitsky legislation.
So, to recap: two topics, dirt on Hillary and the Magnitsky Act. A Russian lawyer who came ostensibly to talk about one, and then talked about the other.
A meeting that, as we know, was ended quickly by Trump, Jr. when it was obvious this was some weird outreach that didn’t make sense.
Except that it did. Working for Prevezon at the time, through Prevezon’s (then) American attorneys at BakerHostetler, was Fusion GPS. Fusion principal Glenn Simpson met with Veselnitskaya both before and after the meeting in Trump Tower. Fusion was doing opposition research on William Browder, and Simpson was also in Washington, D.C. a few days later when Browder gave testimony before Congress, a session attended by Veselnitskaya.
Fusion GPS was also working, at the same time, for the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, compiling opposition research on candidate Donald Trump. In fact, the oppo on Trump was a high priority at the time; Christopher Steele had been hired to assemble what became known as the “dossier” on Trump, and the first installment of it was dated 11 days after the Trump Tower meeting, 20 June 2016.
The obvious Senate committee question for Donald Trump, Jr., therefore, would be this one: “Mr. Trump, were you ever informed that the lawyer who came to meet with you on 9 June 2016 in Trump Tower was a client of the same opposition research firm that was trying to unearth as much dirt as possible on your father, the candidate for president of the United States?”
I’m pretty sure we know the answer. The wonder, in hindsight, is that the public dialogue has treated all this as a sort of benign curiosity for so long, instead of the strong indicator it actually is of sneaky machinations against the Trump campaign. Such is the power of a media narrative, and the convention of bowing down to it as if discussing a topic in any other terms makes us conspiracy theorists.
The question outlined is a fair question, and a necessary question, to which Donald Trump, Jr. is one of only a handful of people who know the answer. Let’s start by getting it asked.