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The Latest CNN Scoop Doesn’t Prove What Everyone Says It Does

CNN has a story that reports something the evidence it presents doesn’t support, which others are taking to say things that it supports even less.

It claims that a short email thread it shares and five pages of talking points it doesn’t proves that the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Natalia Veselnitskaya and Don Jr (and others) “not about dirt on Clinton.”

An email exchange and talking points provided to CNN are the latest indication of how some of the meeting participants plan to make their case about why the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. did not amount to collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

The new information stands in contrast with the initial email pitching the meeting to Trump Jr., which promised damaging information on Clinton.

The “proof” is an email chain — or perhaps, just five emails from a longer chain, out of context with other emails they relate to — that includes one where Veselnitskaya asks Rod Goldstone, who set up the meeting, permission to include Rinat Akhmetshin in the meeting because he “is working to advance these issues with several congressmen.” From that, CNN suggests, we should understand the meeting was primarily about the Magnitsky sanctions.

But even there, Goldstone’s references to the purpose of the meeting are oblique, wishing only that Veselnitskaya “bring[s] whoever you need in order to make the meeting successful.” Moreover, the talking point document that CNN doesn’t share does include “a passing reference to a possible financer of Clinton’s campaign.” The further discussion of the talking points suggest it was more than a passing reference.

As part of her explanation, Veselnitskaya’s talking points accuse the “Ziff brothers” — three billionaire brothers who had run a hedge fund company together — of violating Russian law, as well as their connections to Democratic politics.

“Ziff brothers participated in financing both Obama presidential campaign, American press dubs them as ‘main sponsors of Democrats,’ ” the memo states, according to a translated version. “It’s entirely possible they also take part in financing Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

Now consider the provenance of the document, which to me is a big part of the story.

It was obtained, CNN explains, by an attorney CNN says represents Aras and Emin Agalarov, and who seems intent on refuting the story publicly told by Rod Goldstone.

The documents were provided by Scott Balber, who represents Aras and Emin Agalarov, the billionaire real estate developer and his pop star son who requested the June 2016 meeting.

Balber, who went to Moscow to obtain the documents from Veselnitskaya, said in an interview with CNN that the emails and talking points show she was focused on repealing the Magnitsky Act, not providing damaging information on Clinton.

The message was muddled, Balber said, when it was passed like a game of telephone from Veselnitskaya through the Agalarovs to Goldstone.

Balber also suggested that Goldstone “probably exaggerated and maybe willfully contorted the facts for the purpose of making the meeting interesting to the Trump people.”

A couple of points about this.

First, in addition to apparently representing the Agalarovs in this matter, and on top of being an early source for details about who attended this meeting, Balber also once represented Trump.

This story comes at a time when we know Akhmetshin has already testified before the grand jury, presumably saying what he said to the FT about Veselnitskaya sharing information developed with the help of corporate intelligence (which is quite likely to be Fusion! which might explain the NDA) on how bad money supported Hillary.

Akhmetshin said he did not read the papers about Hillary Clinton’s campaign funding that Veselnitskaya took to the meeting, but he had seen the Russian version of it before. He says the lawyer developed it with the help of private corporate intelligence and that it was about “how bad money ended up in Manhattan and that money was put into supporting political campaigns”.

Furthermore Richard Burr, last week, suggested that Veselnitskaya may have already met with SSCI investigators.

Sir, is the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump, is she coming before you?

[snip]

Is the Russian attorney going to come through, the Russian attorney that met with Donald Trump Jr, she’s offered to come in open committee. Have you reached out to her, is she one of the 25 on your list?

Burr: How do you know we haven’t already heard from her?

So if this is an attempt to change the spin of the story, it may extend no further than changing the spin of the story publicly, not with Robert Mueller or anyone who matters.

But here’s the bigger question. Why would an American lawyer who has previously represented Trump need to fly to Russia to meet with Veselnitskaya personally? This email chain and the talking points could very easily be sent — but weren’t. So why did Balber need to solidify stories with Veselnitskaya in person? And what is the provenance of the emails as presented, stripped of any forensic information?

So while it’s clear Trump’s former lawyer wants to change the spin around this story, it seems to me the takeaway should be,

Breaking: Lawyer with past ties to Trump flew to Russia to coordinate stories with Natalia Veselnitskaya

Furthermore, given all the focus on Fusion and the emphasis in this story on NDAs, I’d suggest it possible they’re trying to hide the fact that Fusion was working both sides, or even providing dirt on Hillary to the initial funder of the Steele dossier to the Republican that originally paid for it.

Update: Compare this effort to rewrite the story with the flip-flop Don Jr made for his congressional testimony. Not only did Don Jr need to incorporate both adoptions and dirt on Hillary to accord with both his published emails but also with what Pops said, but he could not recall things about what Agalarov said in advance of the meeting.

I’m more interesting in the things the forgetful 39 year old could not recall. While his phone records show he spoke to Emin Agalarov, the rock star son of Aras Agalarov, who has been dangling real estate deals in Russia for the Trumps for some time, for example, he doesn’t recall what was discussed.

Three days later, on June 6th, Rob contacted me again about scheduling a time for a call with Emin. My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

This is important, because those conversations probably explained precisely what was going to happen at that meeting (and how it might benefit real estate developer Aras Agalarov), but Jr simply can’t recall even having a conversation (or how long those conversations were).

Don Jr also claimed not to recall that Ahkmetshin attended the meeting. The focus in the CNN spin on the NDAs served to obscure his presence in a way.

Don Jr Does Not Recall Not Recalling Rinat Akhmetshin at the June 9 Meeting

Don Jr had himself a “Half Hillary” today, upwards of five hours of testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, after which the low-stamina 39 year old called it quits.

Already, Senators Blumenthal and Coons suggest there were gaps or clear lies in his testimony. And apparently after the testimony, Robert Mueller alerted the White House he’ll seek testimony from the people who helped Pops Trump write a misleading statement about the meeting.

The reason for that is obvious: in his statement, Jr changed his story from what the original White House statement was, to offer an explanation for how the Pop-crafted statement makes sense. He knew the meeting pertained to dirt on Hillary, but ultimately it was just about adoption.

In his email to me Rob suggested that someone had “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia” and that the information would be “very useful” to the campaign. I was somewhat skeptical of his outreach, as I had only known Rob as Emin’s somewhat colorful music promoter who had worked with famous pop singers such as Michael Jackson. Since I had no additional information to validate what Rob was saying, I did not quite know what to make of his email. I had no way to gauge the reliability, credibility or accuracy of any of the things he was saying. As it later turned out, my skepticism was justified. The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented. The meeting was instead primarily focused on Russian adoptions, which is exactly what I said over a year later in my statement of July 8, 2017.

Of course, by crafting that nonsensical statement, Don Jr is making it clear a quid pro quo was discussed: Dirt, in exchange for movement on the Magnitsky sanctions.

I’m more interesting in the things the forgetful 39 year old could not recall. While his phone records show he spoke to Emin Agalarov, the rock star son of Aras Agalarov, who has been dangling real estate deals in Russia for the Trumps for some time, for example, he doesn’t recall what was discussed.

Three days later, on June 6th, Rob contacted me again about scheduling a time for a call with Emin. My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

This is important, because those conversations probably explained precisely what was going to happen at that meeting (and how it might benefit real estate developer Aras Agalarov), but Jr simply can’t recall even having a conversation (or how long those conversations were).

He also doesn’t recall whether he discussed the meeting, after the fact, with Jared, Manafort, or (the unspoken “anyone else” here is pregnant) Pops.

The meeting lasted 20-30 minutes and Rob, Emin and I never discussed the meeting again. I do not recall ever discussing it with Jared, Paul or anyone else. In short, I gave it no further thought

Once we find out he did discuss it with Pops and others, he can say he’s stupid and we’ll all believe him.

Most interesting, to me, is his claim to only recall seven participants in the meeting.

As I recall, at or around 4 pm, Rob Goldstone came up to our offices and entered our conference room with a lawyer who I now know to be Natalia Veselnitskaya. Joining them was a translator and a man who was introduced to me as Irakli Kaveladze. After a few minutes, Jared and Paul joined. While numerous press outlets have reported that there were a total of eight people present at the meeting, I only recall seven. Because Rob was able to bring the entire group up by only giving his name to the security guard in the lobby, I had no advance warning regarding who or how many people would be attending. There is no attendance log to refer back to and I did not take notes.

The unstated subtext here is even more pregnant. Don Jr accounts for seven of the participants in this meeting:

(3) Himself, Paul Manafort, Jared Kusher

(4) Natalia Veselnitskaya, her translator, the Agalarov’s real estate invstment executive Irakli Kaveladze, and Rob Goldstone

So what he really means to say is he doesn’t recall the presence of Rinat Akhmetshin, who has ties to Russian intelligence and a history of fending off accusations of hacking.

I’d say those three gaps — what Agalarov told him to expect from the meeting in calls arranged beforehand, what he told Pop about the meeting, and that a suspected spook was there — are pretty interesting things for a young guy like Jr to forget.

The Leakers Get Craftier

Hey, are you all still here?

Thanks to everyone — especially Rayne — for watching after the likker cabinet while I was in Oz. It appears the Donald Administration has only gotten crazier since I was gone.

Last night, the WaPo published yet another big scoop show more lies about Russia. It reveals that President Trump personally dictated the response to the news that Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

Two important details about this scoop: first, as Laura Rozen noted, Trump’s focus on adoption came after he chatted up Vladimir Putin at the spouse’s dinner for up to an hour at the G20 (remember how Trump gesticulated wildly to get Putin’s attention). Given that Trump claims they spoke about adoptions, it makes it more likely (as batshit as this is to contemplate!) Trump looped Putin in on how to respond.

Remember, too, that Rob Goldstone specifically envisioned involving Trump in this matter.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

At this point it’s probably safest to assume all the other claims about this — such as that there was no follow-up — will prove to be lies, too.

I wanted to point one more thing out, though.

The WaPo story is notable for two reasons. First, it features an almost entirely new set of journalists from the three mainstays who’ve published the other big Russian scoops. Just as interesting — in the wake of the unceremonious firing of Reince Priebus and others — the story almost entirely hides the sources for the story. While the story quotes an anonymous Trump advisor and airs the complaint of Jared Kushner’s legal team, the story says nothing about who actually revealed this story. And the story is specifically framed in a way that tees it up for Robert Mueller to ask questions about Trump’s obstruction, personally.

Trump has serially fired his staffers because no one can get a handle on this Russian scandal. But with each firing, Trump also makes it likely new leaks with badly exacerbate the scandal.