Revelations about a meeting between top Trump campaign officials and a Russian attorney have thrown a new light on events that immediately followed that June 9, 2016 conversation.
The Kremlin-linked attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya dangled damaging information about Hillary Clinton — which she apparently offered in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against some of her human rights violator clients under the Magnitsky Act.
Donald Trump Jr. denies getting any of the promised opposition research during the meeting, which also included his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but his father’s ultimately successful campaign seems to have pivoted starting that same day.
The Republican candidate, who was just sewing up the nomination after a primary win in Indiana over Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), made his first Twitter reference that same afternoon about Clinton’s missing 33,000 emails — which became a dominant theme of attack against his Democratic rival.
Also that same day, the conservative Judicial Watch released a 750-page deposition from a top Clinton aide who said she was unable to confirm whether emails were deleted from the former Secretary of State’s private server.
Earlier that morning, Reince Priebus — current White House chief of staff and then-chairman of the Republican National Committee — paid his first visit to Trump Tower, where Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort met at some point with Veselnitskaya.
James Comey, then-FBI director, turned Clinton’s missing emails into a full-blown political scandal on July 5, 2016, when he publicly declared the investigation over and blasted her “extremely careless” handling of classified information.
He revealed in May 2017 that he acted on what he believed to be a fake document created by Russian intelligence, which he wanted to disprove before it influenced the presidential election.
It’s not clear exactly when Comey saw that disinformation, but he said his decision was also motivated by a meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton — which took place June 30, 2016.
On June 15, 2016, less than a week after Trump’s inner circle met with the Russian attorney, House majority whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), was recorded joking to other Republican lawmakers and congressional staffers that Russian president Vladimir Putin was paying off Trump.
In the weeks that followed that June 9, 2016 meeting, the Trump campaign ramped up its digital operation — which was overseen by Kushner and his friend Brad Parscale — who directed voter targeting with the use of a highly sophisticated data bank built by the RNC.
The campaign’s top data officials met in mid-June in San Antonio with RNC officials and representatives from Cambridge Analytica, which turned Facebook into a “propaganda machine” using data harvested from social media users.
During that same period, Democrats and others on the left argued over whether Bernie Sanders should remain in the race — and U.S. intelligence services have determined that Russian-backed hackers later dumped emails stolen from Clinton’s campaign chairman and the DNC to turn the Vermont senator’s supporters against the Democratic nominee.
Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate who paid a controversial trip to Russia in December 2015, gave a June 9 interview that Clinton was essentially the same — if not worse — than Trump.
“We see these draconian things that Donald Trump is talking about, we actually see Hillary Clinton doing,” Stein said, echoing one of her main themes throughout the campaign.
Trump himself made a pitch for Sanders supporters in June, as the campaign narrowed into a two-person race.
The GOP candidate delivered a “surprisingly specific” and detailed June speech on trade, including prepared remarks with 128 footnotes, that The Atlantic described as “populist speech aimed squarely at the supporters of Bernie Sanders.”
Trump appealed to Sanders supporters when he first mentioned the hacked emails posted online by WikiLeaks the day after he accepted the GOP nomination — and four days after the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to favor Russia in its dispute with Ukraine.
“Leaked e-mails of DNC show plans to destroy Bernie Sanders. Mock his heritage and much more. On-line from Wikileakes, really vicious. RIGGED,” Trump tweeted July 23, 2016.
Four days later, Trump directly appealed to Russia and asked hackers to find the emails missing from Clinton’s private server.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said July 27, 2016. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
That same week, a Republican operative named Peter Smith — who boasted of connections to top Trump campaign officials and died in May 2017 — contacted a British cybersecurity expert and asked for help authenticating some documents that may have been stolen from Clinton by possible Russian hackers.
“Smith, however, didn’t seem to care,” said Matt Tait, CEO and founder of the UK-based Capital Alpha Security. “From his perspective it didn’t matter who had taken the emails, or their motives for doing so. He never expressed to me any discomfort with the possibility that the emails he was seeking were potentially from a Russian front, a likelihood he was happy to acknowledge. If they were genuine, they would hurt Clinton’s chances, and therefore help Trump.”