Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What Was the Veselnitskaya Meeting All About?

Today we learned a lot of details about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who had held herself out as a representative of the Russian government (or at least that's the way she was presented to Trump Jr. by my own favorite character in all of this, Rob Goldstone). The conservative line is going to be that Trump Jr. tried to collude with the Russians but failed—Veselnitskaya, the theory goes, didn't actually have anything useful for Trump, and was merely trying to get a meeting with the campaign to serve the interests of her clients (who are suffering under U.S. economic sanctions). How do we know that Veselnitskaya didn't have anything for the Trump campaign? Because that's what Donald Trump Jr. says! Why wouldn't you believe him? That is, aside from the fact that he has consistently lied about the meeting, changing his story several times as new facts have become public.

Clearly some reckless speculation is called for. After all, we have a bit of a puzzle on our hands. What would Veselnitskaya achieve by promising dirt on Clinton and then showing up with nothing? Yes, she got "face time" with Manafort, Kushner, and Trump Jr., but presumably pissing them off would not exactly endear her or her clients to them.

Of course, maybe she did give them dirt, and we just don't know about it for one reason or another. But note that even if Putin wanted Trump to win very badly, he wouldn't necessarily advance that goal by giving the campaign anything. At the time of the meeting, the DNC emails had already been hacked and released. John Podesta's emails had been hacked but not yet released—but when they were released in October and November, they were released by WikiLeaks, not directly by Russia or the Trump campaign. There was no urgent need to give them to the Trump campaign or to reveal their contents. Sure, the campaign might have derived some minor advantage by anticipating particularly embarrassing aspects of the emails, maybe even getting Clinton to contradict them during a debate or something like that. But that's a stretch, and it would also put the campaign at serious risk of being too clever by half and implicating itself.

Here's my answer to the puzzle. Veselnitskaya didn't give the campaign anything, but she told them Russia had the Podesta emails and would release them in good time. What did she accomplish by this? She made sure that Russia would get the credit! Of course Russia couldn't take credit publicly. And if it tried to take credit privately after the fact, then it might lack credibility. After all, anyone can take credit after the fact. Only the actual hacker is in a position to take credit before the emails are released, because only the hacker knows about them!

Was there a quid pro quo? It would make sense, but it's not absolutely necessary. Just earning Trump's general goodwill would be valuable enough. Anyway the timing of everything meant that the most obvious quid pro quo would involve a certain degree of trust—Russia could not wait until after the election to release the emails, or they would do no good, and Trump would obviously have no power to affect government policy before the inauguration.

However, there were a few things the campaign could do before the election to show its willingness to play ball. In particular, it could intervene on Russia's behalf in drafting the Republican platform at the Republican National Convention. And that's exactly what it did with respect to the platform's language on Ukraine. Bear in mind, party platforms are nonbinding—I believe the official GOP platform contains all kinds of nonsense that Trump (like every Republican president before him) feels free to ignore. (By the way I'm not making a partisan point here, I'm sure the Democratic platform has plenty of nuttiness in it too.) The point is that it made no sense to intervene in the drafting process in a pro-Putin (and unpopular) way except as a kind of costly signaling mechanism.

So anyway that's my theory. Veselnitskaya showed up and told Manafort, Kushner, and Trump Jr. that if the Trump campaign/administration played ball, Russia would release the Podesta emails at an opportune time. The campaign went to bat for Russia during the platform drafting process, and the emails were duly released. Trump won, and ever since has sought to promote Putin's interests around the world regardless of whether they coincide with the interests of the United States. Everyone was happy until Kushner realized that evidence of the meeting existed and that lying about the meeting was apt to send him to prison, at which point he decided to update his disclosure forms and things started to unravel.

My theory explains Veselnitskaya's desire to have a meeting. It makes sense of Trump's otherwise inexplicable behavior with respect to the party platform. It is literally what Goldstone's email describes. I think it makes much more sense than the defense so far, which requires smart people (the Russians, or at the very least Veselnitskaya) to have behaved in irrational and/or self-defeating ways. All in all, I think it's the best explanation for the observed facts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, it's also plausible that the actual hacker shopped the emails around. Instead of buying them, you can act as though you had them and get a lot of credit for it from the Trump folks. They, like a lot of Americans of a certain age, likely give Russia credit for more cunning and resources than it actually has post-USSR.

Anyway, the general point seems right.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above is not the real anonymous. They were not anonymous before it went pop.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah but if you're The Anon you're no longer anon, but Pseudonom.

9:13 PM  
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