Donald Trump has repeated the phrase "no collusion" dozens or even hundreds of times, as he denies that he or his campaign worked with the Russian government to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. As recently as Friday, Trump responded to a report by congressional Republicans that purported to clear him of the charge, saying he was "honored" by the report.
The Republican report was sharply criticized by House Democrats for failure "to seriously investigate — or even see, when in plain sight — evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia," according to California Democrat Adam Schiff, the vice-chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
"No collusion, which I knew anyway," Trump said at the White House on Friday. "No coordination, no nothing, it is a witch hunt. The report was very powerful, very strong. There was no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian people."
But just in the past week, strong new evidence that there was, in fact, coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign has emerged, from both the Republican and Democratic House Intelligence Committee reports — both of which may be accessed online at this link — as well as from independent media reporting.
On June 9, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then-Campaign Manager Paul Manafort — who is now under criminal indictment for his Russia-related financial activities — met a group of Russian emissaries in Manhattan's Trump Tower.
They took the meeting on the promise that the Russians would pass on "dirt" about Trump's Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The meeting was also pitched to Trump Jr. as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
The group of Russians was led by 42-year-old lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who this week admitted that she is an "informant" for the Russian government. The admission came in an interview broadcast on Friday with NBC News foreign correspondent Richard Engel. The Russian lawyer had previously denied any links to the Kremlin, and actually testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that she "operate(s) independently of any governmental bodies."
However, as the Inquisitr reported last October, Veselnitskaya had been revealed as a probable Russian agent last year, when emails showed that the memo she brought to the Trump Tower meeting, purportedly with "dirt" on Clinton, was nearly identical to a document she had shared with Russia's top prosecutor Yuri Chaika — the Russian equivalent of the United States attorney general — months before the Trump Tower meeting.
In her interview with NBC News, Veselnitskaya also said that "since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general." She had previously denied any relationship to Chaika.
The Friday interview with Engel marked the first time the Veselnitskaya had openly acknowledged her direct links to high levels of the Russian government.
The revelation was so significant that Trump himself felt compelled to comment on it in a campaign-style rally in Michigan on Saturday. In his attempt to dismiss her claim of being an "informant," however, Trump said that Veselnitskaya took orders directly from Russian President Vladimir Putin, as seen in the video below.
Trump tells Michigan rally that Natalia Veselnitskaya is only claiming she's closely involved with the Russian govt because Putin told her to do so to get back at Trump for being so tough on Russia.While Trump himself is not currently believed to have attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya, a new suggestion that his son may have informed him of the meeting with the Russian government agent came to light in the Democratic report on collusion evidence released this week.
...i.e., he just said Veselnitskaya takes orders directly from Putin.
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) April 29, 2018
According to phone records obtained by the House Intelligence Committee, Trump Jr. made three phone calls immediately following the meeting.
Two were placed to Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop singer who is the son of Russian oligarch real-estate developer Aras Agalarov. The Agalarov family is closely connected to Putin, and the Agalarovs were also Trump's partners in the now-defunct Trump Tower Moscow project — a project that remained active at least until February of 2017 even though Trump repeatedly claimed during the campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia. It was also the Agalarovs who initiated the Trump Tower meeting.
But the third call was placed to a blocked number. Investigators determined that the senior Trump had a blocked phone number at that time — but Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee stymied attempts to investigate whether the blocked number called by Trump Jr. belonged to his father.
Did Trump Jr. know that in Veselnitskaya he was meeting with a Russian government agent? While that answer is unclear, it is known that when Trump Jr. was told in an email that the purpose of the meeting was to pass on "dirt" on Clinton as part of Russia's support for Trump, he replied not with shock or surprise, but by saying, "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."
The question of whether Trump himself knew of the meeting between Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort remains an open question. But two days before the meeting, and four days after Trump Jr. received an email setting up the meeting and promising the "dirt" on Clinton, Trump gave a fiery speech in which he promised that damaging information about Clinton would soon be revealed to the public.
Though Trump in his Saturday speech attempted to dismiss the Veselnitskaya connection, the Russian lawyer and "informant" was a guest at Trump's inauguration in January of 2017.