On Saturday, the New York Times published a bombshell report on yet another undisclosed meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian, this time with a lawyer who is best known for crusading against a tough sanctions law.
The report says that Donald Trump Jr. set up the meeting between Natalia Veselnitskaya and Trump campaign heavyweights Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and the junior Trump himself.
The Magnitsky Act imposed stiff sanctions on Russian human rights abusers and was met with retaliation by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who ended a popular adoption program in response. Trump's camp admits to taking the meeting and to discussing the adoption issue, which means they were, by definition, discussing those sanctions as well.
On Sunday morning, the White House rolled out its strategy to deal with the report, the latest in a series of undisclosed Russian meetings with Trump associates. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace that while he doesn't “know much about” the meeting, he's sure it was nothing, and also that it's the Democrats' fault:
WALLACE: “Let's start with the breaking news that in June of 2016, there was a previously undisclosed meeting, and let's up all the players on the screen, Donald Trump, Jr., this was during the campaign, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, met at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Why did they meet, and why are we just learning about it?”
PRIEBUS: “Well, first of all, Chris, I don't know much about it other than what I've communicated with various members there on the screen. It was a very short meeting. It was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption, and after about 20 minutes, the meeting ended, and that was the end of it. And as far as nondisclosure, look, Jared Kushner put in his disclosure a little prematurely, he has since amended it. All of that is disclosed, and it was a nothing meeting. And now, what's developing from that meeting, if you look at the article that Circa put out, is that the individual that set up the meeting may have been affiliated with Fusion GPS, which is an opposition research firm that is being subpoenaed and talked to by the Senate Judiciary Committee about their role in putting together that phony dossier that people know about in regard to the president. So this is a developing story. I don't know much about it other than it seems to be — on the end of the Trump individuals — a big nothing burger but may spin out of control for the DNC and the Democrats.”
Priebus seems to have gleaned a lot of detail for a guy who doesn't “know much about it.”
Wallace, to his credit, pressed Priebus on the idiocy of his conspiracy theory, and Priebus again pleaded ignorance, except that this is definitely the Democrats' fault:
WALLACE: “Well, let me ask you about two aspects of that. In terms of the DNC, are you suggesting that this was somehow a setup by Democrats to try and link them or compromise them with the Russians? And this was before there was any Russian interference in election. So why would they have done that?”
PRIEBUS: "Well, look, why was Fusion GPS involved in putting together this dossier? I don't know, Chris. And I don't think too many people know why or how this meeting came about.
However, what I can tell you is in my communication with our team on the subject, there was nothing to it, it was a 20-minute meeting, it ended after everyone was decidedly sitting there saying there's nothing happening here. They moved on. And I think, in the end, what you’re going to find in the story, if you read the Circa column, because I think there's more questions on the Democrat side than anywhere else."
WALLACE: “And one last question about the meeting, why would Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort all want to meet with a Russian lawyer about Russian adoption?”
PRIEBUS: “I have no idea, Chris. You're going to have to talk to them.”
Priebus's claim of ignorance could be a way of shielding himself against ever having to testify about the meeting, but if the participants described it in such detail, right down to the tick-tock, that's going to hold about as much water as the tiny glasses Trump has to use in order to accommodate his Lilliputian mitts.
The connection to Fusion GPS is tenuous, at best, but gives Trump's camp someplace else to point. Priebus doesn't explain, however, what the Democrats have to do with a parade of Trump associates and high officials continually failing to disclose these meetings. Eventually, these people won't have anyone else to hide behind.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.