Judging from the unhinged tone of his tweets—which is nothing new, but still perhaps the best barometer of our 45th president’s mood on any given day—Donald Trump is worried about his future. He should be, as the Special Counsel investigation of his Russia ties inches ever-closer to the president’s inner circle. Since his first day in the Oval Office 19 months ago, our commander-in-chief has employed Twitter as his bullhorn to the public and, in an irony which Trump won’t appreciate until it’s too late, tweeting may prove to be his undoing.
Take President Trump’s recent tweet regarding the infamous June 9, 2016 meeting in Manhattan’s Trump Tower between representatives of the then-Republican presidential candidate, led by Trump’s oldest son, Don Jr., and several Russians, led by Natalya Veselnitskaya, a Moscow attorney who was there due to her Kremlin connections. That meeting has been the focus of attention by the media as well as Robert Mueller and his Special Counsel investigators. From the moment word of the secret encounter went public, Team Trump has stuck to the storyline that the meeting was innocuous, about nothing more than adoptions. The president insisted this was the case, as has Don Jr., who sold that story to the Senate Judiciary Committee last September.
This was the sort of absurd lie that the president and his entourage excel in, and it was only a matter of time before the mendacious cover exploded. Few, however, expected President Trump to set off the fuse, yet that was exactly what he did last Sunday with this: “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!”
One flick of the thumbs blew apart more than a year’s worth of increasingly threadbare lies about the June 9, 2016 meeting which, as the president has now admitted, was an effort to obtain derogatory information on Hillary Clinton from the Kremlin. Trump’s panicked advisers have reportedly urged him to tweet no more about that meeting, but it’s too late, the grievous damage to the president has already been done—by his own feed.
Now that the president has admitted some truth, it’s time to see the Trump Tower rendezvous for what it really was. This was a secret meeting between those close to Candidate Trump and representatives of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Veselnitskaya is a known Russian intelligence operative, as I reported at the beginning of this year, based on a Swiss spy case in which she was directly involved. Moreover, she admitted on camera back in April that she is “an informant” for the Kremlin, establishing that she is no mere attorney. There can be no doubt that the Trump Tower meeting, from Moscow’s viewpoint, was a clandestine intelligence operation.
Neither was Veselnitskaya the only Russian spy in the room. Attendee Rinat Akhmetshin, a naturalized American citizen and Washington, DC lobbyist for pro-Putin causes, was affiliated with Kremlin military intelligence, that is GRU, in his homeland, as he himself admits. Since President Putin has been quite clear that in his Russia “there are no ‘former’ intelligence officers,” we can state with confidence that Moscow considered the Trump Tower rendezvous to be a spy affair.
President Trump insists that this was nothing special, that “oppo” as the pols call it is traded all the time in Washington. This is true. But they do not obtain intelligence on their election opponents from hostile foreign intelligence services. That is simply not done. These are rules that everybody in Washington knows—except our president. Perhaps Candidate Trump had been dealing with shady Russians for so long that he thought there was nothing untoward about obtaining dirty secrets about Hillary Clinton from Moscow’s spy agencies. The Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission are likely to take a different view.
Nevertheless, in one tweet, President Trump shattered his mantra of “NO COLLUSION” that he yelled in so many tweets before. Whatever laws may have been broken on June 9, 2016—we can expect an eventual ruling on that from Team Mueller—by parlaying with Russian spies against the Democrats, that fateful meeting certainly represented collusion with Moscow.
Neither should we take seriously the president’s assertion that he did not know about a meeting in his own building, on a day he admits he was in that building. Leaving aside President Trump’s well-honed micromanagement and his general lack of confidence in Don Jr., it defies belief that he was in the dark. Since everything else Team Trump has stated about the meeting turned out to be a lie, why should the president’s claim of unawareness be any different?
It seems more than coincidental that, two days before that meeting, Candidate Trump boasted at a rally, “I am going to give a major speech on – probably Monday of next week – and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative, and very, very interesting.” That reveal never happened, presumably because Veselnitskaya did not bring the desired kompromat on Hillary to New York with her. The last word here can be left with Steve Bannon, the president’s former ideologist, who deemed the June 9, 2016 event “treasonous” and “unpatriotic,” adding there was “zero chance” that Don Jr. didn’t introduce his father to Kremlin representatives that day.
It’s difficult to portray the president’s legal situation as anything but grim in the aftermath of Sunday’s confessional tweet. However, Donald Trump’s real concern should not be with Robert Mueller and his veteran investigators, but with his amigo manqué in the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin no longer bothers to conceal his disappointment with President Trump. In the aftermath of our president’s embarrassingly obsequious performance in Helsinki, following their long-awaited “one-on-one date” in the Finnish capital, Trump added fuel to the political conflagration by publicly inviting the Russian president to a follow-up summit in Washington—only to have Putin turn him down.
Putin has good reason to be dissatisfied with Trump, in whom the Kremlin invested such high hopes. Everybody mirror-images, and Putin imagined that Trump, once in office, could shift American policy more to Russia’s liking. He didn’t realize that Moscow is not Washington, and our president and his top advisers don’t make all the big decisions by themselves. As a result, U.S. policies towards Russia—on Ukraine, on Syria, on NATO, on sanctions—are unquestionably tougher now than they were under Barack Obama. Congress, the Pentagon, and other key Beltway stakeholders have blocked Trump’s repeated efforts to bring Washington into line with Moscow’s wishes.
Kremlin disappointment with the White House is showing. This week, the administration announced more sanctions on Moscow for its brazen assassination effort in March against Sergei Skripal, a GRU defector living in Britain, and his daughter. The attack left the Skripals near death for a time, and lingering effects from the Russian military-grade nerve agent last month killed an innocent British woman. Moscow’s response to new U.S. sanctions has been furious. Today, Putin’s spokesman denounced the sanctions as “absolutely unlawful,” while a top Russian diplomat at the UN castigated them as “the theater of the absurd,” adding piquantly, “Only one rule: blame everything on Russia, no matter how absurd and fake it is. Let us welcome the United Sanctions of America!”
The Kremlin’s ability to harm President Trump should not be underestimated. Given the president’s longstanding ties to dubious Russians, a matter he has treated with the greatest secrecy, there’s no doubt that Putin possesses kompromat on Trump, including some of a sordid variety, to be released as needed. If the Kremlin believes that Trump has no chance of helping Russia anymore, they will sacrifice him to create ever-greater chaos in America and the West. Keep in mind that Natalya Veselnitskaya’s bombshell interview this spring was only possible with Kremlin permission.
President Trump has more than mere kompromat to worry about here. Under Vladimir Putin, Russian intelligence has embarked on a global assassination spree of a kind not seen in the Kremlin since Stalin’s time. Indeed, the attempted hit on Skripal, employing a nerve agent in an English city without regard for civilian casualties, was more brazen even than what Stalin’s killer spies did. Not to mention that, less than three years ago, Putin’s operatives murdered in the heart of our nation’s capital, just a mile from the White House. That message was hard to miss. Robert Mueller can open the door to Donald Trump’s impeachment and prosecution. Vladimir Putin can do worse and does not need to play by any legal rules.