The Don Jr – WikiLeaks Emails Are Underwhelming

Julia Ioffe has a big scoop on the content of DMs between Don Jr and WikiLeaks turned over to Congress (unless it came indirectly from Don Jr, as it may have, it’s another inappropriate leak that will discredit whatever source turned them over).

And I have to say, the DMs are more telling for what they don’t include than what they do. Most notably, Ioffe cites no DM showing Julian Assange explaining to Don Jr that his source wasn’t Russia, which given more recent efforts to pitch that story, you might have expected.

Just as notable, when Don Jr asks Assange what emails will be coming out the week of October 7 — one of the moments when, Democrats have speculated, some coordination between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign may have occurred — Assange doesn’t answer.

On October 3, 2016, Wikileaks wrote again. “Hiya, it’d be great if you guys could comment on/push this story,” Wikileaks suggested, attaching a quote from then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about wanting to “just drone” Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

“Already did that earlier today,” Trump Jr. responded an hour-and-a-half later. “It’s amazing what she can get away with.”

Two minutes later, Trump Jr. wrote again, asking, “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” The day before, Roger Stone, an informal advisor to Donald Trump, had tweeted, “[email protected] is done. #Wikileaks.”

Wikileaks didn’t respond to that message, but on October 12, 2016, the account again messaged Trump Jr. “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” Wikileaks wrote. (At a rally on October 10, Donald Trump had proclaimed, “I love Wikileaks!”)

The exchange is interesting for a number of reasons: given my questions about uncertainty over whether these would be Clinton Foundation emails or something else, there’s no discussion from either side about content. Don Jr seems to have gone to Assange rather than Roger Stone to find out about the impending dump. And there’s no talk about other impending dumps — not the Access Hollywood tape, not the Intelligence Community report blaming Russian for the hack.

All in all more exonerating than inculpating, particularly given the expectations around that week.

The other thing that doesn’t appear in these DMs is any hint that Don Jr knew of Peter Smith’s efforts to find and send to Wikileaks hacked copies of emails from Hillary’s server.

It is definitely the case that Assange was trying to gain some value from Trump, but Don Jr, at least, didn’t comply (indeed, as Ioffe notes, with just a few exceptions Don Jr didn’t respond). But (unless Don Jr withheld DMs that Twitter would have already turned over to Mueller) this in no way backs the narrative that Democrats suggested might have happened.

Here are the DMs Ioffe describes:

September 20: Wikileaks warns about PutinTrump (Don Jr promises to ask around, and emailed four people on the campaign telling them WikiLeaks had made contact)

October 3: Wikileaks asks for pushback on Hillary’s threat to drone Wikileaks (Don Jr says he had already done so)

October 3: Don Jr asks about the impending dump (Wikileaks doesn’t respond)

October 7: IC statement tying Wikileaks to the Russian operation

October 12: Wikileaks thanks Don Jr for his dad talking up Wikileaks, provides a preferred link (Don Jr tweets out the link two days later); Shortly after the original tweet, Don Sr tweeted out praise for Wikileaks, but didn’t use the link Assange wanted him to use. [Update: Some caution is due on this last point. While it indeed looks like Don Sr’s tweet closely follows the exchange, the DMs we have are printouts, meaning we can’t check the actual timestamps of the exchanges to verify what time zone they were set to.]

October 21: Wikileaks asks for a tax return to publish, trying to establish impartiality

November 8: Wikileaks suggests Trump not concede and challenge media corruption

November 9: Wikileaks tweets “wow”

December 16: Assange asks to be appointed Australian Ambassador to DC

July 11: Wikileaks offers to publish Don Jr’s Veselnitskaya email (Don Jr posts them himself)

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

68 replies
  1. harpie says:

    One part of the October 12 exchange I find interesting is the following from Assange:

    “There’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it,”

      • bmaz says:

        You are just incapable of talking in actual English that the community YOU have chosen to engage with can understand, aren’t you?

        Seriously, If you cannot have the common courtesy to talk in language we can all understand, why are you here? Just to hear yourself speak and act like you know some shit other people do not?

        You would be surprised at who comments and reads here, much less posts. You have taken it upon yourself to occupy a great deal of our commentary. That is fine. But if you cannot do so where the community can possibly understand, you are worthless.

        So, SLF, do you want to be an informative member of this community, or just yammer at yourself in the mirror with silly little hacker shit? The choice is yours. Be a valuable information source, or be a nerd in the corner talking into the mirror. The call is yours.

        What even is “TSB speak”? Stop this too cute by a half horse manure. The people here may not always agree, but we have been here for far well over a decade before you blessed us with your brilliant presence. We can deal. Can you? Can you be a functioning and informative member, or not? Maybe try to deal with us as people and friends, and not Bynars off of 11001001. We’ll see how you do with that Mr. Digibyte.

    • harpie says:

      Maybe a dumb question: What does “your follows” mean? Was it a typo for “followers” as the Atlantic seems to assume? Is it people who follow Jr., or people whom Jr. follows?

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        It is the fake broken english that TSB (The Shawdow Brokers) are so fond of using as part of their misdirection.

  2. Player X says:

    Portions of written communication can never be judged solely, there is always the potential for coding and trigger words within messages. Of course you know this, but in a Russia – U.S. entanglement I think the assumption has to be any communication at all provides ample opportunity for clandestine conversation.

    It’s not what they say, but it’s also not what they don’t say: it’s the fact that they’re communicating.

  3. Robert says:

    The messages do show that Assange was anything but impartial – he was hoping to be well rewarded.

    Also, I have a difficult time believing that his Russian hosts were unaware of what he was scheming.

  4. Arbed says:

    Can I just point out that the tweets after October 12 cannot be from Assange himself, as Ecuador cut off his access to the internet after pressure from the Obama administration? Wikileaks was still complaining two weeks after the election that his internet had not yet been restored, and I think it may not have been restored until well into December. The first confirmation that Assange was back online came on 23rd December.

  5. pseudonymous in nc says:

    One question worth asking: did Uday have posting privileges on his father’s Twitter account?

      • JoeP says:

        Unfortunately the statement of fact in our lawsuit against POTUS & Co. only cover time since inauguration, but in that period – no. Scavino is the only other person to have access to the @realdonaldtrump account such that he can actually post under the president’s name.

        • pseudonymous in nc says:

          Post-inauguration, I’m comfortable with the idea that it’s the man himself or the golf caddy doing the posting.

          During the campaign, there was a certain amount of sleuthing around different client IDs (Android/iPhone/web) on posts and there was a suspicion that Most Favored Daughter might have posted once or twice, as well as dictating tweets to papa. It was definitely a looser collective setup.

          EW’s timestamp analysis suggests that enough time passed for Junior to tell his dad, so this may all be moot in this instance, but it’d still be worth knowing who had posting privileges to establish how far up the campaign hierarchy certain communications would have to go in order to certain tweets as indicative of knowledge of those communications.

        • greengiant says:

          Thanks, Barbara Wong’s narrative on 2016 is Trump’s “twitter account is all his” http://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-40852227/the-digital-guru-who-helped-donald-trump-to-the-presidency   Not that I believe that, just keeping track of the story lines.

  6. orionATL says:

    the story here does seem to be weak tea with respect to don, jr.

    but with respect to wikileaks, i don’t think that is the case.

    the quote below (initially, [email protected]:03p above) establishes that wikileaks was acting as a strong partisan, not the neutral media source it loved to claim to be. i would expect this quote, indeed the entire interchange with don, jr., to show up at any assange trial that occurs outside president trump’s reach. julian assange just lost his “hey, i just another mediaman reporting to the world” camoflage. that was a key revelation to me.

    “… “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” the WikiLeaks account, @WikiLeaks, said to Don Jr two days after his father had proclaimed at a campaign rally: “I love WikiLeaks!”

    “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us. There’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it,” the message continued.

    The message went on to offer a link to wlsearch.tk – a search tool that facilitates the exploration of the database of leaked emails from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman, that WikiLeaks had by then begun to publish… ”

    quote from:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/13/donald-trump-jr-communicated-with-wikileaks-during-final-stages-of-election

    as for who gave wikileaks the dnc/clinton campaign emails, i assume everyone understands it was the russians. my choice for a cutout (to get data to the russian’s cutout of wikileaks) was one of the brexit gang in england. i think there was close, continuous contact between british brexit in and americsn trump/bannon

    bannon white nationalism – certainly both loved to deploy the brown boys bogeyman.

    • orionATL says:

      1. actually, the comment from the wikileaks account (which may or may not be assange’s personal speech) that could cause assange the greatest legal problem is the comment not to accept the results of the election.

      most americans would find that comment unacceptable advice to give a presidential candidate – though probably a trump doj would not :)

      2. the twitter account is apparently a wikileaks account. whether assange did or did not have a an active “personal” internet connection at the time does not seem relevant.

      • maybe ryan says:

        I want to underline this idea that Assange was telling the Trumps to contest the election.  This was lost in the focus on whether Don’s replies constitute collusion, something which, although I may believe it, would be very tough to sell a jury on.

        But Assange’s advice to contest the election is a really big deal.

        By the way, I was the one who accidentally posted as “ruan” above.  I shouldn’t try to post from a phone.  The other result of phone-typing is that I didn’t make my point clear.  My point was that it’s possible Wikileaks leaked these emails to the Atlantic, rather than Don Jr or a Congressional committee source.

  7. Beth says:

    One crucial point: Julian Assange couldn’t have sent any messages between 10/16 & around 12/23; his internet access had been cut off.

    • TGuerrant says:

      Assange was communicating freely with the rest of WL during that time, though, and they were communicating his thoughts to others, so Assange could have been giving dictation to continue the messaging with Junior.

      • X says:

        “Could have” being the key phrase. It doesn’t prove anything without a doubt. You are making assumptions and also did not mention that it “could have” been someone else communicating to Don Jr. without Assange’s knowledge.

  8. Charles says:

    I agree with OrionATL that the major story here is about Wikileaks. Promoting stories through a campaign pretty much discredits Wikileaks as a journalistic organization.

     

    But I do not see any exoneration, as Marcy seems to think. First, the leaks are probably by Don Jr. or congressional friends and are likely to be incomplete. Second, since WL had pretty much already been declared a hostile non-state actor, one would have to be pretty stupid to get into any detailed conversations with them. Finally, in top down organizations, once the head man makes his desires known, underlings look in all directions to fulfill them. It makes it much easier for the boss to gain protection from criminal liability if, once he says, I’d like to have better relations with the Russians, he knows that underlings will rush off to do all sorts of things in furtherance of that. If one of them gets caught doing something criminal, he can wash his hands of it. But one of them will make the right contacts, get the right information, make the right deals.

      • Charles says:

        Her reply below makes it clear that she believes that the leaks of the Don Jr-Wikileaks exchange is complete. It may be. It may also not be.

    • emptywheel says:

      1) I doubt these were incomplete. All the players know Twitter will hand over a separate copy.

      2) WL’s involvement was deemed “consistent with a RU info op” on October 7. Don Jr engages just once after that, then stops altogether. Don’t project the designation made in April back on October.

      3) I’m not sure what you mean by the top-down stuff. Trump, obviously, continued to call out WL, after Don Jr stopped responding to Assange’s approaches. But that, of course, is all public, which is one reason this is not all that new.

      • Charles says:

        We’ll see about how complete they are. You may be right, of course, but so may I.

        I am not projecting anything onto anything.Just because Wikileaks was officially deemed a foreign intelligence operation in October 2016 did not mean that it wasn’t widely understood to be a target of American intelligence.  They published CIA Director John Brennan’s private e-mails in October 2015. The XX Committee branded it a front for Russian intelligence in August 2015. These are a few of the examples of why any American citizen in contact with Wikileaks would be under suspicion and would know s/he was under suspicion. Discussing the hacked e-mails of a former SecState–or even John Podesta– would get very close attention.  Don Jr. might not be the brightest bulb, but I am pretty sure that he would know that.

         

        Finally, you ask “I’m not sure what you mean by the top-down stuff. ” It’s a matter of understanding management style. By observing how Trump has done things that we know about, we can infer how he went about things we don’t know about. It’s extremely likely that Trump talked to a number of subordinates about his eagerness to make discreet contacts with Russians, that he talked to subordinates about oppo, and that he did so in a way that he believed that him getting blamed for them connecting the two would be deniable.

         

        Remember how Nixon in effect directed Watergate while making it almost impossible to directly charge him with it.  Just think stupid Nixon and you have Trump.

  9. Savannah says:

    “Assange doesn’t answer.”

    I find what you’ve said here (and “exculpatory,” what you said on twitter) to be a rather odd reading of that exchange.  To me, that’s just one more example of a moment like the Trump Tower meeting where the campaign associates expressed a brazen interest in collusion and the other side gave a tamped down response.  I think a much more natural reading of why Assange didn’t answer would be that he knew that if Donald Trump knew the detailed contents of the coming email dump there was a decent chance he could say something stupid that would unambiguously give away foreknowledge of WLs actions (just as Trump has repeatedly made stupid and self-incriminating statements throughout this whole process).

    The problem Russian intelligence and its allies seem to have consistently dealt with in this operation is a Presidential campaign that was almost a little too eager to collude.

  10. GKJames says:

    Is this the same Wikileaks that many Republicans (as well as Clinton) have wanted to designate a “foreign terrorist organization”, and whose founder the US wants to prosecute on espionage charges?

  11. Ruby says:

    Appointed ambassador to Australia? That’s mental illness or an awkward attempt at humor.

    Also, yes, internet access is relevant.

    • harpie says:

      Can’t believe I’ve just spent 30 minutes reading comments on the chart thread…lol. If that chart resembled reality in any way, it would have been possible for me to read those comments instead of suffering through the hearing today, even though they didn’t even exist yet.

      [sorry about the double post—comments doing weird things.]

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Nope. Just like one should not assume that Twitter can not be hacked and therefore no bad actors can forge tweets that look legit.

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        Also, note that a forged DM (Direct Message) is even worse! Normally, only the recipent can view it (sans NSA). So no third party can point out to the recipient that the message may be forged. If it was a public tweet, others could point out that the text is unexpected from the sender.

        A forged DM can trick the recipent, and unless they check with the sender, may trust it.

        This is basically the same problem with faked emails, especially emails with attachments.

        Just because it ‘sure looks like’ it came from one of your contacts, does not mean it really did. It could be pure forgery.

  12. orionATL says:

    feeling soft and fuzzy and forgiving about the ussrussia?

    think again – about a masterplan to slowly dissolve the european union and likewise the united states.

    i was confident the russians had played the british citizenry as they had played the american, using the new digital technology of the internet combined with social networking companies like facebook and twitter and google youtube – with those corps’ whole hearted, money-seeking cooperation – but i had not seen any published info to support that. now i have:

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/14/how-400-russia-run-fake-accounts-posted-bogus-brexit-tweets

  13. Sudo says:

    Just the tip of the iceberg. Just like Wikileaks, they’ve only released a small portion of the info in order to control the narrative.

  14. orionATL says:

    i may not be that interested in the kushner-wikileaks mail exchange, but senators grassley and feinstein definitely are. they are put out that young jared forgot to include them in docs he and his lawyer sent to the senate judiciary committee:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/senate-judiciary-panel-kushner-had-contacts-about-wikileaks-russian-overtures-he-did-not-disclose/2017/11/16/402586b4-cb05-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html?

    of far greater interest to me is another wapo report from last march cited in the above story:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/who-is-source-d-the-man-said-to-be-behind-the-trump-russia-dossiers-most-salacious-claim/2017/03/29/379846a8-0f53-11e7-9d5a-a83e627dc120_story.html?

    this is a report on one sergei millian who is an american citizen who immigrated from russia and has had some business associations with donald trump and his business.

    most interestingly, sergei millian has been identified as the individual whose claim that trump “associated” with russian prostitutes was cited in the steele dossier.

    now we are left to explain to ourselves why a business acquaintance of trump with no obvious ax to grind would say something like that about trump. if in fact he did say that.

    or, if the report is in fact false, to explain to ourselves why anyone else would attribute it to millian.

    in any event, millian is another of many individuals in trump’s circle of acquaintances who travel back and forth between the u. s. and russia. and another of the russian emigrees who are trump hangers-on.

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