On Thursday, President Trump was taking in the sights in Paris. But in a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump was asked about the latest Russia-collusion story — Specifically, whether his son was wrong to have met with a Kremlin associate at Trump Tower last summer. Trump was unapologetic.
"Most people would have taken that meeting", Trump claimed. He continued, "He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer. Not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer."
For connected reasons, both these claims are disingenuous.
First off, the lawyer in question, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is not just a "Russian lawyer." She is a lawyer who has a long-standing relationship with the Kremlin elite. And by Kremlin elite, I mean Russian President Vladimir Putin's crew. Specifically, Veselnitskaya has made her name representing corrupt Russian oligarchs against international criminal proceedings. But what really matters here is the reality of what it means to be a Russian connected to powerful foreign officials like team Trump.
Because it means that you are either directly or indirectly under the supervision of the Russian intelligence services (aka Putin).
Putin revels in using intermediaries or "cut-outs" to engage with foreign individuals. Sometimes the cut-outs are sent to kill an individual, sometimes to drink tea and play nice, sometimes to do both. Yet it should have been obvious to team Trump that a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer offering negative information on Hillary Clinton was not acting in a private capacity.
It's not just that the Russians control this kind of activity. It's that Russians who do act on sensitive matters without government direction are predisposed to early deaths. Whether openly or not, Veselnitskaya was obviously acting on behalf of the Russian government.
Moreover, a basic rule of espionage — and we must consider Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner (who met Veselnitskaya with Donald Trump Jr.) in this category — is the pursuit of opportunity. The Russian intelligence services have an especially aggressive tendency to cast lines in every direction and wait for someone to bite. To be sure, they know that most people will sense Russia's hand at play and stay away. But they also know that others will either be too stupid, or too greedy or too compromised not to bite. Again, the enduring rule of MICE means some people will always bite.
Regardless, the simple point here is that team Trump should never have agreed to this meeting. They knew they were dealing with the Russians, they knew that the meeting affected national security, and they should have known that once you're in bed with the Russians you never out.
That they still went ahead with this meeting proves why the collusion investigations are necessary. Trump's assessment is patently wrong.