But the Times quickly found three advisers to the White House who countered that, no, Trump Jr. had been informed ahead of time that the person he was meeting had information that could be damaging to the campaign of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the election.
Thus Trump Jr.’s second story: Stunningly, he admitted that he was open to receiving damaging information about Clinton (and thus colluding with Russia), but said his contact simply couldn’t deliver the goods. Trump Jr. said in a fresh statement that he hadn’t been informed who he was meeting, but had been told that she would have information relevant to his father’s campaign. Once in the meeting, the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, dangled evidence that Russians were funding the Democratic National Committee and helping Clinton, but didn’t provide proof and instead talked about adoptions, frustrating Trump Jr.
This was, on its own, a landmark moment in the story of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to influence the election, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating. If entirely true, it is the first example of someone in the Trump inner orbit at least trying to collude prior to Election Day. He had denied that he knew what was going on ahead of time, but in the process, apparently conceded the central accusation about willingness to collude.
Thus story 2A: Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Monday sarcastically suggesting that overtures like the one he received are common on campaigns. In other words, collusion is perfectly normal.
But what if it wasn’t the end of the story? Monday night, the Times struck again: Prior to the meeting, “Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.”
The sourcing for this article is subtly, but perhaps consequentially, different. Rather than citing three advisers to the White House, it attributes the information to “three people with knowledge of the email,” a broader category (though one that could take in sources inside the law-enforcement or intelligence community).
It’s almost beyond belief, as Stringer Bell would note, that anyone would put such a conversation in writing, given how embarrassing such a communication could be. Can the Times’s sources really be correct? Despite Trump Jr.’s sarcastic tweet, campaign veterans told HuffPost that being approached by a foreign agent was unheard of and would have led them to contact law enforcement. Trump Jr. and Kushner were campaign amateurs, on their first rodeo, but Manafort, a veteran operator in both U.S. and foreign politics would, or should, have know better. (If the email existed, it will be a piercing irony: Trump’s repeated impeachment of Clinton’s judgment and honesty during the campaign, based on her careless handling of emails, was a central pillar of his upset victory.)