This week, the Trump-Russia scandal blew up. The New York Times revealed that Donald Trump Jr. took a meeting with a potentially government-connected Russian lawyer in hopes he would receive politically damaging information about Hillary Clinton. With the long-rumored collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, this tidbit has raised questions about what President Donald Trump knew about the Russia emails.
It’s no longer a matter of debate whether Trump Jr. was aware of the Russian effort to aid the Trump campaign, because the man himself released a string of emails on Tuesday morning verifying just that. When told by associate Rob Goldstone about the possibility of the Trump campaign receiving dirt on Clinton by way of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Trump Jr. left no ambiguity about what he thought of the idea. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” he replied. This raises the question of what the president knew, especially considering his eldest son, his son-in-law, and his campaign chairman all showed up to the meeting that was arranged around the suggestion of this information being handed over.
What was precisely discussed in the meeting is not clear, though the email seems to show pretty plainly that Trump Jr. was receptive to getting politically damaging information on Clinton from a foreign power, and knew that the Russian government explicitly supported his father’s campaign. Before releasing the emails, Trump Jr. insisted that the meeting was primarily about the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law blacklisting a number of wealthy Russian oligarchs from entering the U.S. or accessing the American banking system ― a claim Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer he met with, echoed.
However, as the New York Times progressively deepened its reporting on the meeting, key elements of Trump Jr.'s story changed. In March, he insisted no meetings were set up with Russian nationals, and that while he might have spoken to a Russian, he'd never done so as a representative of the Trump campaign.
So did the president know about the email, or the meeting between Veselnitskaya, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and his eldest son? It's impossible to say for sure just yet, as there's no public evidence to suggest one way or the other. Trump's personal lawyer denies that he knew about any of this until this very week. But their observers are suspicious about it, and not only because the meeting involved some of the most central people in Trump's campaign.
Shortly after Trump Jr. confirmed the meeting ― just hours later on June 7, 2016 ― then-candidate Trump promised during a press conference that he'd soon be giving a speech about "all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons."
I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we are going to be discussing all the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.
The Trump Tower meeting reportedly took place on June 9, 2016, days after he confirmed the meeting. The following Monday Trump referred to was June 13, four days after the meeting with Veselnitskaya. There's no evidence that she actually provided useful information in the meeting, however ― Trump Jr. insists she didn't, and she denies having had any. By the time "next Monday" rolled around, that "major speech" was nowhere to be found.
About a month and a half after the meeting, Trump made another headline-grabbing statement when he asked Russia during a press conference to release Clinton's deleted emails:
It would be interesting to see, I will tell you this: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see if that happens.
That was his final press conference of the campaign, despite still being months away from Election Day. It was an abrupt shift from earlier in the summer, when he held such events with relative regularity.
It's too early to say what Trump knew about this meeting, and whether he was open to collusion with the Russian government, since there's no direct evidence. But given the timeline of events and Trump's conspicuous public statements, the scrutiny figures to be intense.