• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Trump Jr. : Stranger Than Fiction

July 2017


Tis strange but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction: if it could be told, how much would novels gain by the exchange! How differently the world would men behold!

Indeed, what a different world we behold during this extraordinarily abnormal time in American politics. Lord Byron’s words encapsulate the latest and greatest snafu to envelope the White House, almost to the point of aphoristic perfection. A narrative has developed in the Russian campaign hacking imbroglio that exceeds the bounds of imagination. Even a most eminent writer of fiction, say, a Tolstoy, Nabokov, or Dostoevsky, would be pressed to his creative precipice in the casting of a tale the likes of which we see playing out before our eyes.


The Russian hacking scandal has been an undulating tale, but limpid dots have revealed themselves for our connecting. As it stands, the long and short of this story is that there is no long and short. It’s an implausible tale that doesn’t lend itself to brevity.


This most recent chapter of the Trump-Russia story was written over the weekend, with President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., casting an indelible mark on the page. During a vertiginous seventy-two hours, Trump Jr., who first claimed in March not to have ever met with Russians while working as a representative for his father’s campaign, contradicted himself by conceding just the opposite. As it’s come to be, Trump Jr. met with a Russian representative in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York.


His cursory and specious explanation for the meeting was that the involved parties were convening to discuss a policy proscribing the adoption of Russian children in the US. This is a little-known ban Vladimir Putin enacted in response to President Obama’s injurious “Magnitsky Act”. The “Magnitsky Act” sought to seize assets and deny visas to putative Russian human rights abusers, a group of misanthropes quite populous in Moscow. It was a retributive, bipartisan bill enacted in response to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian attorney and whistleblower, who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 under suspect conditions.

Finally, on Sunday, after far too many teeth had been pulled for even a toothless grin to be left intact, Trump Jr. conceded that his meeting with the Russian representative was not concerned with the adoption ban. Rather, he met with a Russian lawyer in his Trump Tower office on the twenty-fifth floor to discuss potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton.


By circumstances yet unknown, The New York Times was able to ascertain this juicy penetralia from someone who must have been uniquely intimate with the scenario. The Times gathered Trump Jr.’s e-mail chain, but deferentially provided him the opportunity to comment before its imminent release. Sensing his grip quickly losing hold of the narrative, Trump Jr. decided to pre-empt the Times by releasing his e-mail cache on Twitter holus bolus. The e-mail salvo was self-initiated but was never likely to obviate him from self-incrimination.


Consequently, many have questioned why he did this voluntarily. His options were undeniably limited; The New York Times had forced his hand, making the days of playing innocently costive impracticable. Others, although representing an admittedly small and dwindling subset of people, have lauded Trump Jr. for his lionheartedness in coming clean. Like I said, had he not, the Times would have.


This leads us to the contents of Trump Jr.’s e-mail exchange. It was not Trump Jr., but an old chum from the bygone Miss Universe days who set in motion these wheels currently hurtling off the track. The poor bloke’s name is Rob Goldstone. Once a marginal and obscure fellow, Goldstone now finds himself in the crux of the tumult. He is a corpulent British tabloid writer and music publicist fond of whimsical displays on YouTube and Instagram. Goldstone is an intriguing figure because, at first glance, he doesn’t appear nefarious in the least. His e-mail correspondence with Trump Jr. were padded with cordiality and general bonhomie. This is not to mitigate his complicity in the whole affair, but to clearly delineate him as an intermediary, or a go-between of sorts.


Goldstone represents Russian “pop star” Emin Agalarov, who is the scion son of the billionaire real estate investor, Aras Agalarov. In Russia’s hospitality industry, Aras is considered Moscow’s version of “Donald Trump”, flaunting grandiose hotels and properties of his own. The two businessmen have an affable history. At one point, not very long ago in fact, the paternal Trump and Agalarov were in discussions over the feasibility of erecting a Trump Tower in Moscow. The project was intended to be the object of Donald Jr.’s oversight (Melania had even flown to Moscow to scout out proposed building sites) but the whole thing was put on ice when Trump unexpectedly succeeded with his presidential ambition.


On June 3, 2016, Goldstone sent this e-mail to Trump Jr., “The crown prosecutor of Russia…offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia…This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump”.

Trump Jr. hastily responded, saying, “I love it…especially later in the summer”. Later in the summer, of course, implied a time nearer the presidential election in the autumn. This would be the moment when inclement exposure about Clinton would be of the greatest utility for the Trump campaign.


A few days later, Goldstone responded by saying that Emin wanted to coordinate a meeting between Trump Jr. and a “Russian government attorney”. This last phrase is what has caused an uproar. Assuming Goldstone did not misrepresent the intended person Trump Jr. was to receive, this Russian attorney would have acted illegally as an unregistered foreign agent attempting to offer information about a political opponent. If this attorney did in fact represent the Russian government, it would be crucial substantiation for Russia’s subversive intentions. It would also conclude Trump Jr.’s willingness to collude directly with the Kremlin.

The alleged “Russian government attorney” was quickly identified as Natalia Veselnitskaya. I know it’s a symptom of language and too many Hollywood flicks, but each new Russian name we come to know in the Trump saga feels increasingly dastardly and villainous. Through no fault of her own, Veselnitskaya’s name is no exception.


Veselnitskaya was quick to denounce any inkling of a Kremlin connection that was quite eagerly explicated and later iterated in Goldstone’s e-mail chain. In a most sympathetic assessment, her loyalties are amorphous. It’s not entirely provable if she has immediate connections to the Kremlin and is working at their behest. It could be that she’s a Russian cut out—someone tenebrously and loosely working for the government but capable of distancing herself if the situation warranted a to be placed wedge between her and the Kremlin.


The meeting’s attendees included not only Trump Jr., Goldstone, and Veselnitskaya, but also Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort. As of today, it has also been revealed that a gentleman named Rinat Akhmetshin was in the audience as well, along with two other attendees whose identities are yet to have been disclosed.


It’s improbable that the meeting’s entrails will come entirely into view, but lusting over this potentiality is a guiltless indulgence. Trump Jr. declaimed the meeting as being quite inutile and a waste of his time. Veselnitskaya echoed her counterpart’s claim, recounting that Kushner and Manafort were aloof and uninterested in what fruits she came to bear. One must bear in mind that all of the attendees have a stake in downplaying the meeting’s significance. Being that all of these people played for the same side during the campaign, one shouldn’t expect any of the aforementioned people to deviate from a narrative that is the least damning, even if it is the least truthful.


Conclusions must be drawn, however, and some are unavoidable. What is beyond dispute is that, prima facie, Trump Jr. was eager to invite collusion, rather blatantly and facilely with a foreign emissary in the hope of benefitting his father’s efforts. One can ascribe to him the label, “political naïf” or any other exculpatory term a man inexperienced and suffering pratfalls might deserve, but one can’t argue his odiously un-American motivations. Questions of criminality have arisen, but Trump Jr. did not commit a felonious act. Legal pundits are examining Trump Jr.’s claim that the conference was little more than your run-of-the-mill political opposition research. If this rationalization is to be accepted, the latitude with which the phrase was once understood requires stretching.


The situation is redolent with the vapors of collusion, but that doesn’t immediately implicate him criminally. The urge to mirandize him is understandably strong, but altogether premature. Trump Jr., for all the irreparable damage he has done, might still have a legal leg to stand on. It is a common practice for nearly all political candidates to conduct this type of political opposition research, but to do so with the unsolicited assistance from a foreign government agent is surely outré. Additionally, the Trump Jr.’s meeting does not instantiate that the Trump campaign ultimately colluded. So long as all parties persist with the claim that the meeting was nugatory (and assuming no other revelations are made), the issue can’t be prosecuted much further beyond its present place.


The lacuna in need of filling is an account of what happened after the meeting. If it is proved that an agreement was forged between Veselnitskaya and the Trump campaign to move forward cohesively against Clinton, an unprecedented and ignominious act of collusion occurred and the election’s legitimacy can be legitimately questioned. This would come at a time when the Left’s epithets, “illegitimate president” and “not my president” have begun becoming increasingly shopworn after a year’s absence of support. If this was just a one-off without follow through, the epithets might remain flaccid.


The situation snickers with another puzzling knot to be untangled. Aside from the unlikely scenario that there were no subsequent attempts at coordination between Trump Jr. and his Russian counterparts, how is it to be believed that President Trump only learned of this whole fiasco mere days ago? Contrary to Corey Lewandowski’s claim that then-candidate Trump was in Florida at the time of the meeting, Trump, in actuality, was in his eponymous tower on the very same day. Trump’s lawyers stated they learned of the June 2016 meeting only three weeks ago, while Trump learned of it a few days ago. This means one of three scenarios is at play. In order of ascending likelihood, they are that Trump’s lawyers deliberately withheld the fact that his son held a meeting with Russian government representatives on the topic of potentially damaging Clinton information from him (something he would’ve salivated to receive); or Trump is lying, an expectancy most have grown accustomed to, and he knew about the 2016 meeting earlier than a few days ago; or that President Trump has known about this meeting all along since the summer of 2016.


Donald Trump is famously devoted to his family and close associates, and his style of filial piety is militantly reciprocated by those who he holds closest. The idea that Trump Jr. withheld this information from his father for more than a calendar year is pure bunk. Neglecting the fact that they (Trump and Trump Jr.) were in the same building on different floors the day of the meeting, the president had undoubtedly become privy to the information quickly after the meeting. In the Trump family, however, blood is thicker than water. This holds true even when the water is rising uncomfortably high and threatening a death by drowning. Trump Jr. still enjoys his father’s aegis, but the course forward will not be smooth.


The question overarching this all is whether or not Trump Jr’s peccadillo will succeed in finally pulling the presidential legs from under his paterfamilias. It’s far too soon to say, but Junior’s disclosure certainly weakens the administration’s crepitus knees. This comes at a time when the cabinet’s importunate “witch hunt” repudiations were beginning to wax in believability. In the midst of the Democratic Party’s annus horribilis, a year in which gubernatorial, congressional, and presidential losses galore have made many an ego sore, opportunities for a death blow to Trump’s legitimacy have been desperately sought after but unfulfilled. This very well may be the cascade that begins sinking the ship.

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