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    President Trump acknowledges that meeting at Trump Towers in 2016 was to garner information on Hillary Clinton 

    Americas: United States 

    President Trump acknowledges that meeting at Trump Towers in 2016 was to garner information on Hillary Clinton 

    Via Twitter, President Donald Trump in early August 2018 admitted that a notorious meeting between members of his inner circle and Russian operatives at Trump Tower in 2016 was for the purpose of gathering damaging information about his election rival, Hillary Clinton.  Trump's expressed acknowledgement of the meeting in those terms stood in direct contrast with earlier accounts by his son, and members of his administration, about the purpose for that encounter. 

    Going back to late July 2018, there were reports that Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, was willing to go on the record with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and assert that then-candidate Trump knew ahead of time about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians were anticipated to hand over damaging material Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. 

    According to Cohen, he was present and Trump was made aware of the Russians’ offer and planned meeting with Donald Trump Jr.; shortly after, Cohen recalled Trump green-lighting the meeting.

    President Trump squarely pushed back against Cohen’s assertion over Twitter: “.....I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!” 

    Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s attorney, assailed Cohen’s character in an appearance on CNN’s Chris Cuomo’s show: "I don't see how he's got any credibility.” Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, stated "We are very confident of the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Mr. Trump, Jr., and on his behalf."

    The Trump Tower meeting was set up following communications between Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, a British publicist with ties to Russia. The publicist stated that a senior Russian official offered to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The nature of the outreach suggested it was part of Russian state-backed support for Donald Trump’s candidacy. Indeed, one email to Trump Jr. was titled in the subject line "Russia — Clinton - private and confidential” and in the body of the email, Goldstone said the damaging information on Clinton was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

    For his part, Donald Trump Jr. responded with eagerness to the proposed meeting.  Of the promise of damaging information about Clinton, Trump Jr. said, "If it's what you say, I love it," and then proceeded to set up the meeting. 

    Trump Jr. was joined by Paul Manafort (Trump’s campaign manager at the time) and Trump's son in law, Jared Kushner, for the meeting with four Russians, which included Natalia Veselnitskaya, an attorney with ties to the Kremlin, a lobbyist with KGB connections, and a businessperson employed by a Russian oligarch.

    Cohen’s assertion stood in contradiction to what President Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s legal team, and Trump’s administration have claimed about Trump’s involvement in the Trump tower meeting. 

    On July 12, 2017, President Trump stated he had “only heard about [the meeting] two to three days ago.” In follow-up comments a week later, Trump reaffirmed that “nobody told me” about the meeting. One consistent theme in all the pushback from Trump and his allies was the notion that Trump was not aware of the Trump tower meeting before and while it occurred. But the most crucial denial came from Donald Trump Jr. himself in a testimony provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017. In that testimony, Trump Jr. stated in no uncertain terms that "He wasn't aware of it," which refers to Trump’s knowledge of the meeting.

    According to sources, Cohen was hoping that his assertion about Donald Trump’s contemporaneous knowledge of the Trump tower meeting would lead to reduced legal troubles for himself. While he was willing to go on the record with Special Counsel Mueller about this assertion, it was worth noting that Cohen's case has been investigated by a federal team in Manhattan following Mueller's referral of the case to them.

    On Aug. 5th, 2018, multiple media outlets reported that President Trump was worried that his son, Donald Trump Jr., could be in legal jeopardy due to the the Trump Tower meeting. The reporting was based on the claims of unnamed sources. 

    President Trump tweeted in response to the reports: “Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!” 

    The President’s response was significant because it constituted an admission that the meeting was to gather damaging information on Hillary Clinton, which contradicts the earliest explanations from Donald Trump Jr., who claimed that he was meeting with Veselnitskaya to discuss a suspended program that allowed Americans to adopt Russian children.  It also stood in contrast to subsequent explanations offered by members of the Trump administration for the meeting.

    Faced with these inconvenient contradictions, one of the president's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, tried to downplay the implications during in an interview with ABC News.  Sekulow suggested that there was nothing illegal taking place at Trump Tower in 2016.  He said, "When you look at a meeting … now two years ago, the question is what law, statute or rule or regulation’s been violated? Nobody’s pointed to one."

    ABC News Host George Stephanopoulos responded by observing that the Trump Tower meeting could spark charges of aiding and abetting conspiracy to defraud the United States.

    Defenders of President Trump have suggested that there was no difference between the Trump campaign's meeting with Russians in the summer of 2016 and the Steele dossier acquired by the Clinton campaign.  In fact, the two were distinct matters and cannot be conflated. 

    One the one hand, there was the case of the Trump Tower meeting that included Donald Trump Jr., campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, with Kremlin-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.  

    What placed the Trump inner cadre in legal jeopardy is the existence of a federal statute, sourced in a 1966 law, which was strengthened in 1974, and further augmented by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, in 2002.  It prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to political campaigns. The federal statute covers everything from cash donations to implied promises of support.

    In the Trump Tower meeting, Veselnitskaya was offering the Trump campaign something of value -- damaging information on Clinton. The campaign's determination of "use value" was not relevant. The decision to meet to procure such information would be regarded as conspiracy of sorts to defraud the United states.  

    Already, there were 12 Russians who had been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States for their attempts to manipulate social media in regard to the 2016 election.  The charges centered on the attempted concealment of these activities, which prevented the Federal Election Commission from enforcing the provisions of the federal statute discussed here. The Trump Tower meeting could be treated the same way. 

    On the other hand, there was the hiring of former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, by a research firm, Fusion GPS, that was contracted by the Clinton campaign to garner opposition research on the Trump campaign.

    Procuring opposition research for fair market value would not be considered a contribution but, instead, a normal commercial transaction.  Of note was the fact that the Clinton campaign paid Fusion GPS directly, and would likely be treated by the Federal Election Commission as a campaign expenditure, which would be legal if it was paid for with legally raised campaign contributions. 

    While Christopher Steele was a British national, it was well within normal legal boundaries for Fusion GPS to contract an expert in the field to garner relevant research.  

    Of additional significance was the fact that the information compiled in the Steele dossier was voluntarily shared with federal law enforcement officials.  There was no attempt to obfuscate its existence or purpose; there were no record of changing or conflicting accounts of circumstances;  instead, the dossier was placed in the hands of United States officials. 

    Returning to the central issue at hand, until Trump's social media admissions in early August 2018, the most damaging admission of potential violations of campaign finance law had come from Donald Trump Jr., who stated over email “I love it” ahead of the Trump Tower meeting that was aimed at procuring damaging information about Clinton, as the Russians attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election in the United States.  Trump's tweet, by his own admission, was not about adoptions.  It was orchestrated for the expressed purpose of acquiring something valuable — damaging information on his political rival, Clinton.  Such a purpose would, quite likely, violate federal law.  

    Of concern to President Trump should be the changing explanations and accounts of the Trump Tower meeting.  Trump Jr.'s statements to Congress on the matter would now come under new scrutiny, and reports that Trump himself helped draft his son's explanations would also come under revived review.  

    To recapitulate: Oo July 31, 2017, the Washington Post reported on the Trump Tower meeting and said that the president “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.”  

    While White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied this in remarks to reporters, asserting that the president “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement, this claim was later upended.  

    In January 2018, two of Trump's lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow dispatched a letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller in which they admitted President Trump's involvement in the stated explanation of the Trump Tower meeting.  Dowd and Sekulow wrote that  “the president dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump Jr.”  

    Regardless of his explanation for the Trump Tower meeting, or of his involvement in any statements regarding the meeting, President Trump has throughout maintained that he did not know about the meeting with the Russians in the first place. 

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