The text of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails detailing the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya is troubling enough, but the way the emails fit into the overall timeline of the presidential campaign and the unfolding Russia scandal are even more problematic for the Trump Administration. The emails, released by Donald Trump, Jr., provide confirmation that members of the Trump campaign were open to accepting “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” and actions taken by the Trump campaign may indicate that Donald Trump himself was aware of the offer and intended to use the Russian government’s intelligence information.
The email chain began on June 3, 2016, about a week after Donald Trump had officially secured a majority of Republican delegates to become the presumptive nominee. At this point, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the theft of the emails was not public knowledge.
On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, Donald Trump announced, “I am going to give a major speech on… probably Monday of next week [June13] and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons and I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
The next day, June 8, the @DCLeaks_ Twitter account posted the first links to stolen emails on the DC Leaks website. The DC Leaks website and Facebook accounts apparently debuted the same day.
On Thursday, June 9, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, “The [sic] Russian government attorney” referred to in the emails, in New York’s Trump Tower.
On Sunday, June 12, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on British television that more leaked emails relating to the Clinton campaign would be coming out soon.
Donald Trump did not make his promised “very interesting” speech on June 13, but on June 14, the Washington Post broke the news that hackers had penetrated the DNC network and “gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.” The report, which identified the culprits as “Russian government hackers” even at that early date, also said that “the intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic.” The Post also reported the hackers had targeted Republicans as well. Trump’s speeches from that week did not contain any new and notable information about Hillary.
The next day, June 15, a hacker calling himself “Guccifer 2.0” contacted The Smoking Gun to claim credit for the hack of the Democratic National Committee. Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be a Romanian, but is widely suspected to be a creation of Russian intelligence.
On June 18, the Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign had removed a pledge to provide weapons to the Ukrainian forces fighting the Putin-backed invasion of their country. The report says that the changes were made “last week,” which would mean the platform changes immediately followed the meeting of Trump’s campaign advisors with Veselnitskaya.
On June 27, the first stolen DNC emails were published on the DC Leaks website.
A month later, on July 22, WikiLeaks released a second batch of DNC emails. The FBI announced that it was opening an investigation into the hack shortly after.
It was at this point that Donald Trump publicly asked Russia for help in finding the emails that were deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server. “I will tell you this,” Trump said on July 27 at a press conference, “Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
A few months later, just before the final release of stolen emails by WikiLeaks, Roger Stone, a Trump advisor, seemed to hint that something big was coming. “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel,” Stone tweeted on August 21. In the week before the final email dump on Oct. 7, Stone posted three tweets hinting that something was coming according to Business Insider, including one on Oct. 3 that read “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon.”
While Donald Trump, Jr. claims that nothing of substance emerged from the meeting with the Russian lawyer, his response to the emails and the subsequent actions of the Trump campaign clearly show an intent to use information obtained from a foreign government to discredit a political rival. Such coordination is possibly illegal and certainly unethical.
While there is currently no paper trail that leads directly to Donald Trump, Sr., Trump’s speech on June 7 suggests that he was aware that something was in the wind. Additionally, his July 27 appeal to Russia looks starkly different in view of the revelation that the Russian government had offered its assistance to his campaign a month before.
In addition to the fact that none of the Trump advisors disclosed the meeting and that Donald Trump, Jr. initially lied about what was discussed, the emails create another problem for the Trump Administration. The timing of the meeting and the platform change raise the possibility of a quid pro quo with the Russians. The fact that the Trump campaign changed the Republican Party platform in a way that benefitted the Russian government immediately after the Russians offered dirt on Hillary is something that will be difficult to explain away. It is also a decision that can likely be traced to Donald Trump himself.
Although the Donald Trump, Jr. emails are not a smoking gun to prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but they are close to it.