This week’s Russia scandal revelations are a different kettle of fish: Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer offering campaign help from the Russian government, and Team Trump was eager to receive it. The details, including incriminating emails, have led much of the political world to start updating their timelines, noting other developments around the time of the Trump Tower chat.
But of all the attempts to connect various dots, this one, highlighted by the Huffington Post, stood out for me.
Donald Trump promised a “major speech” attacking campaign rival Hillary Clinton last June, just hours after his son, Donald Trump Jr., set up a meeting with a Russian lawyer he was told had compromising information on the Democratic candidate.
In a speech on June 7, 2016, first flagged by Washington Post reporter Philip Bump, then-candidate Trump promised vaguely to discuss “all the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
“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,” Trump said at the time. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
The Republican made this announcement around 9 p.m. on June 7. Around 5 p.m. on June 7, Trump Jr. confirmed a scheduled meeting with the Russian lawyer whom, the campaign believed, had damaging information about Clinton, provided by the Russian government.
And what about the speech the then-candidate promised to deliver the following week, “discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons”? The one that we’d find “very, very informative”? It didn’t happen. Trump instead delivered a speech in New Hampshire on national security.
All of this matters, of course, because it’s important to understand what, if anything, the president was told about his campaign’s cooperation with Russia. The timing in this instance is awfully coincidental.
Stepping back, there’s a bit of an Iran-Contra problem here: if the president knew, it looks bad; if the president didn’t know, that looks bad, too.
It’s possible, for example, that top members of Trump’s inner circle – including his son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman – were offered secrets from Moscow, set up a meeting, and kept all of this hidden from Trump himself. This would lead to questions about what kind of operation the Republican was running.
If, on other hand, top members of his inner circle did keep Trump in the loop – which would help explain the public remarks he delivered on June 7 – then the president not only lied repeatedly about the Russian espionage operation, Trump would also be directly implicated in a series of potential crimes.