Rolf Mowatt-Larssen writes: Donald Trump Jr. is seeking to write off as a nonevent his meeting last year with a Russian lawyer who was said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. “It was such a nothing,” he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday. “There was nothing to tell.”
But everything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting — and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities — may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election campaign.
Let’s start with the interlocutor: Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. When arranging the meeting, music promoter and Trump family acquaintance Rob Goldstone referred to a “Russian government attorney.” Both Veselnitskaya and the Kremlin have subsequently denied any association. What’s beyond dispute is that she has lobbied for the United States to repeal Magnitsky Act sanctions against Russian officials, that she regularly represents the interests of the Moscow regional government and that her clients include the vice president of state-owned Russian Railways. [Continue reading…]