On Sunday. July 9
An ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush blasted Donald Trump Jr. for meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign, saying it “borders on treason.”
“This was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians, who were known to be engaged in spying inside the United States,” Richard Painter said Sunday on MSNBC.
“We do not get our opposition research from spies, we do not collaborate with Russian spies, unless we want to be accused of treason.”
That is unlikely, at least in part because "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court." Russia is not quite recognized as an enemy in the same sense as, say, ISIL, North Korea, or even Iran, although Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort would qualify as two witnesses, so there is at least that.
Things have gotten a little trickier for Trump Jr. now that he has tweeted out an email chain (shortly ahead of publication by The New York Times), which includes a message from music publicist Robert Goldstone, agent of singer-songwriter Emin Agalarov. He informed the candidate's son that the Trump campaign could be provided in a meeting "with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." Donald Trump Jr. replied “Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
This is not exactly exculpatory, as Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) acknowledged when he said “Definitely he has to testify. The email is disturbing." However, Graham added
But what is equally odd to me is the person they met with knew absolutely nothing. I don’t know why they would pick somebody for him to meet with that didn’t have any information about the Clinton campaign. But on its face, this is very problematic.
Yet, we don't know for sure that Natalia Veselnetskaya knew nothing; we know only that she offered the attendees nothing. (Veselnetskaya doesn't clear that up; video, below.) Whether or not she knew anything, the meeting may have been intended to suggest to the Trump campaign that "the Crown prince of Russia," as Goldstone referred in that email to the source of the information, had material which could be made available at the proper price.
Obviously, if that was the intent, Trump didn't pick up on it, which- given insufficient evidence of genius on the part of the men of the family- does not eliminate its possibility.
Even without any information being passed along, the meeting has proven extremely embarrassing, perhaps ultimately legally fatal, to the President's son: especially later in the summer. It is not inconceivable, then, that with the Kremlin's sophisticated understanding of American politics, Moscow would understand that even luring the President's son into such a meeting would be significant.
It would be significant- and a possible source of blackmail. Donald Trump is not generally loyal- consider Attorney General Chrisite, Chief of Staff Giuliani, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Palin- but there is little indication he wouldn't protect his daughter, son-in-law (also present on the occasion), and sons.
Holding this over the head of the President could have been quite useful, though a vigilant American press corps, headed by The New York Times (which on Saturday first reported the event) and The Washington Post, blew their cover. Even now, Trump's State Department has issued 150 "temporary duty visas" to individuals suspected by the FBI of being intelligence operatives. That represents a dramatic reversal of the Obama Administration's approach, in which 35 Russian diplomats were expelled from the USA because of suspected meddling in the election.
This is speculation, of course, as is the argument that candidate Donald Trump knew of his campaign's collusion with Moscow. It is, however, more likely than the notion that this is all one big hoax cooked up by a dark conspiracy of the "liberal media" and the Democratic National Committee.