‘this is obviously very high level and sensitive information’
This week in Russia
Donald Trump Jr. arranged a meeting with “a Kremlin-connected lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton,” according to a New York Times report, despite being informed in an email beforehand that “the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy.” Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting, which took place on June 9, 2016. At Monday’s daily press briefing, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended Trump Jr., claiming he “did not collude with anybody to influence the election,” and Kellyanne Conway appeared on CNN later that day to assert that Trump Jr. “didn’t even know the name of the person with whom he was meeting…he agreed to the meeting based on a contact from the Miss Universe Pageant” – a reference to the music publicist Rob Goldstone, who told the Washington Post that he had arranged the meeting “at the request of a Russian client” whom he wouldn’t name. In a later interview with the Associated Press, Goldstone “confirmed he set up the meeting on behalf of his client, Russian singer Emin Agalarov.”
On Tuesday, “after being told that the Times was about to publish the contents of emails setting up” the meeting, Trump Jr. posted the email chain to Twitter, which does appear to confirm the involvement of the Russian government, along with Trump Jr.’s knowledge of it. In one email, Goldstone wrote that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin Agalarov’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary…this is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Following the release of the email chain, Trump Jr. spoke with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, claiming that “in retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently.”
On Wednesday, Trump defended his son’s actions on Twitter, saying “he was open, transparent and innocent,” and then speculating in an interview with Reuters that “many people would have held that meeting,” and claiming he did not know about it until this week.
According to Reuters, Trump Jr. has hired Alan Futerfas, a New York lawyer “who specializes in criminal defense,” to represent him. In the past, Futerfas represented “a Russian national named Nikita Kuzmin,” according to The Daily Caller, “who created a malware program…which infected nearly 40,000 U.S. computers, including computers at NASA.”
The Hill reports that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer at the center of this latest controversy, was initially granted access into the United States by the Obama-era Justice Department under “extraordinary circumstances” before “embark[ing] on a lobbying campaign last year that ensnared the president’s eldest son, members of Congress, journalists and State Department officials.” Veselnitskaya engaged in lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, which “imposed financial and other sanctions on Russia” and which, according to The Hill, “Russian President Vladimir Putin has reviled and tried to reverse.”
Senate tries again with revised healthcare bill
The latest draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BHCA) looks a lot like the first, with two notable differences: (1) it leaves untouched the Affordable Care Act’s tax on wealthy individuals and “uses that money to reduce the number of people left without insurance coverage by the law’s changes,” and (2) it allows insurance companies to offer “stripped-down policies that cover fewer conditions and offer fewer benefits than currently allowed under the law.”
“Within hours,” according to the Washington Post, “it was clear that Senate leaders still didn’t have the votes” to pass the bill, as various Republicans signaled doubt about whether the new measures were enough to win them over, and two Republicans – Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine – outright opposed the bill. Complicating matters was an alternative healthcare proposal released by Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), in which “the billions of dollars the federal government now receives in taxes under the ACA [would be directed] to the states.”
At The Atlantic, Russell Berman explains how the revised bill might never make it to the Senate floor for a vote.
On Monday, a Marine Corps refueling tanker crashed in a soybean field in Ittta Bena, Mississippi, killing at least 16 people.
Donald Trump backed away from his suggestion that the US and Russia establish an “impenetrable” cyber security unit “so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded,” after the idea attracted intense backlash from Republicans, claiming instead that just because they discussed it “doesn’t mean I think it can happen.”
This week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to the Gulf region to meet with the leaders of Kuwait and Qatar, “to explore possibilities for sparking negotiations” that would resolve the ongoing dispute. In June, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, accusing it of funding terrorism and making a list of demands for Qatar to meet in order to re-establish relations, both of which Qatar rejected.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Christopher Wray, the nominee to replace James Comey as head of the FBI, claimed “that if the president improperly pressured him to drop an investigation, he would first try to talk him out of it – and if that failed, resign.” Wray, a former Bush administration official, also commented on the special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller – saying he did not consider it to be “a witch hunt” – and Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential election, claiming, “I can’t imagine a situation where, as FBI director, I would be giving a press conference on an uncharged individual, much less talking in detail about it.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) formally introduced articles of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday. The measure, HR 438, “accuses Trump of obstruction of justice and seeking to ‘use his authority to hinder and cause the termination’ of an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.” As the Los Angeles Times reports, House leadership is currently opposed to the impeachment process, “hoping instead to focus on the economy, healthcare and the investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.”
On Thursday, President Trump flew to Paris to meet with French president Emmanual Macron. Both leaders acknowledged “sharp differences” in climate policy but claimed such differences should not keep them from working closely together on other issues. According to the Chicago Tribune, Trump and Macron spoke about “tackl[ing] potential solutions to the crisis in Syria and discuss[ing] broader counterterrorism strategies.”
According to a couple of Reuters articles published Thursday, the Trump administration is considering “secondary sanctions” on “small Chinese banks and other firms doing business with Pyongyang within weeks” as a step toward drying up funding for North Korea’s nuclear missile program. Two senior officials claim the sanctions could come within weeks. Trump is also considering placing quotas and tariffs on Chinese steel, in order to deal with the “big problem” of steel dumping.