Donald Trump Jr., a.k.a. "Fredo," has been snared in a web of lies of his own weaving, forced to change his story on the meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives to conform to emerging facts at least five times.
There's one lie, the biggest of them all, that Fredo, Kushner and Manafort must cling to as a man clings to a life raft in a storm tossed sea. It's the grand lie of the meeting being a waste of time, a "nothingburger."
Trump was told, via email, that he would be meeting with a Russian lawyer connected to the Kremlin who was coming to offer the Trump campaign evidence damaging to their opponent, Hillary Clinton. Only, when they arrived, Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard was bare. The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, just wanted to talk about American adoption of Russian babies.
Now try to process that statement from the perspective of a criminal defence lawyer. Look for the incongruous, the inconsistent, the contradictory.
Is there any reason to consider Trump Jr., Kushner or Manafort's accounts credible? No. Are there reasons to consider their claims suspect, untrustworthy? Yes, plenty. Trump has been changing his story like the ebb and flow of the tide. Kushner omitted to even mention the meeting on his disclosure statement for a security clearance. Manafort was compelled to leave the Trump campaign when it emerged that he'd been paid several millions of dollars by pro-Russian Ukrainian gentlemen. It's pretty obvious they've been making up stories as this scandal has gone along.
And what about Natalia Veselnitskaya. Is it even remotely credible that she would lure three top officials of the Trump campaign to a private meeting on the promise of dishing up dirt on Hillary Clinton and then show up empty handed. How would such an outrageous stunt help Veselnitskaya and those she represented? What did she stand to gain by alienating the Trump gang? What might she and those she represented stand to lose by such a boneheaded stunt?
What about Natalia Veselnitskaya in the months following this nothingburger meeting? What price did she pay for misleading the Trump campaign, for playing her dirty trick on Fredo, Kushner and Manafort? Did she beat feet back to Moscow and keep her head down, lay low?
Hardly. Things just suddenly started going her way especially as instructing counsel on a legal battle with the federal government over Russian money laundering in pricey real estate in Manhattan. One. Somebody decided to make Natalia's US immigration struggle disappear. She wasn't granted a visa but she was given "parole" which allowed her the necessary access to New York. Two. Then her nemesis, US Attorney for New York, Preet Bharara, a man who had been praised by Donald Trump, was abruptly fired by Donald Trump. Three. Finally, just two days before trial, Attorney General Jeff Sessions scuttled the $230 million lawsuit, settling for a token six million. The laundered money, or about 97% of it, was released. So delighted was Veselnitskaya that she went back to the Kremlin boasting that the Trump administration had done everything but apologize to her client.
One, two, three - that's a lot of nothingburger.
Then there are the corrupting stubby fingers of the president himself, the guy who abruptly fired FBI director James Comey while his bureau was investigating links between the Trump campaign and some sketchy Russian characters. Remember that Comey complained Trump had sought to compromise his independence? Bharara tells a remarkably similar tale:
In a subpoena from September, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York summoned another figure in the alleged scheme, Andrei Pavlov, to testify before a grand jury in New York. According to the subpoena, which was attached to a court filing, prosecutors wanted Pavlov to bring documents and copies of his correspondence with six people - including Veselnitskaya.
The United States attorney supervising that investigation, Preet Bharara, was fired by Trump in January after what the lawyer said were a series of “uncomfortable” calls in which Trump seemed to be trying to compromise his independence.
For more on Donald Trump's remarkable 30-year involvement with Russia and sketchy Russian figures with fortunes in need of laundering, The New Republic has an excellent article, "Trump's Russian Laundromat."
On the campaign trail Trump routinely boasted how he retained a team of lawyers to sue the pants off anyone who disparaged him. With all the articles, like the Laundromat piece, you would imagine a legion of attorneys spreading out around the land to take down Trump's critics. Only that doesn't appear to be happening. As these exposes close in on Donald Trump he's suddenly fallen silent, almost mute.
Trump Jr.'s cozy little meeting with Veselnitskaya has grown and grown and grown. It's gone from four to five to six and now eight attendees. The latest, Ike Kaveladze, is, just like all the others, a piece of work in his own right.
In a nine-month inquiry that subpoenaed bank records, the investigators found that an unknown number of Russians and other East Europeans moved more than $1.4 billion through accounts at Citibank of New York and the Commercial Bank of San Francisco. The accounts had been opened by Irakly Kaveladze, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1991, according to Citibank and Mr. Kaveladze. He set up more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers and then opened the bank accounts for them, without knowing who owned the corporations, according to the report by the General Accounting Office, which has not been made public. The report said the banks had failed to conduct any ''due diligence'' into identifying the owners of the accounts…The G.A.O. report said nothing about the sources of the money. In view of past investigations into laundering, this wave was highly likely to have arisen from Russian executives who were seeking to avoid taxes, although some money could be from organized crime. More than $800 million was wired from abroad to 136 accounts that Mr. Kaveladze opened at Citibank for Russian clients, and most of that was then sent to overseas accounts, said the report, which was provided to The New York Times by government officials who want to see its findings receive maximum exposure. The report is to be released on Thursday. About $600 million moved through the Commercial Bank, the investigation found.
The latest Republican/FOX talking point is that the large number of people identified as attending the Trump Jr. meeting proves there was no skulduggery between Russia and the Trump campaign. That might pass muster until you look at the attendees individually and then ask what else might have brought that nest of vipers to the same room at Trump Tower? Three from Team Trump including the candidate's first born and namesake, the remaining five from Team Putin. And now Mueller & Company are closing in fast.
This must be a difficult time for the Cheeto Benito.