Five questions raised by the Trump Jr. emails

Donald Trump Jr. released a bombshell chain of emails Tuesday detailing how he came to meet with a lawyer allegedly connected to Russia.

The meeting in early June 2016 with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya included Trump Jr. and two of the central figures in President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE’s campaign: his son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The emails with music publicist Rob Goldstone show Trump Jr. was lured into the meeting by the offer of “incriminat[ing] information about Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE from Russian government sources.” 

The emails raise several questions about how the Trump campaign operated and who Veselnitskaya actually is. 


Here are five of the biggest unanswered questions.
  1. What did Donald Trump know?

Several figures from the Trump campaign — including Manafort, Michael Flynn, Kushner and Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump: Appointing Sessions was my biggest mistake Nikki Haley blasts Roy Moore's Senate bid: 'He does not represent our Republican Party' Time magazine: Trump threatened reporter with prison time MORE — have acknowledged undisclosed contact with Russian officials.

But there is still no evidence that President Trump had knowledge of what his campaign surrogates were doing.

The Trump Jr. email chain hints that Trump was insulated from Russian contact. 

Goldstone offered to speak directly to Trump about the potential for the Russian opposition research, but also acknowledged that it may be best to shield Trump from the dealings. 

“What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?” wrote Goldstone on June 3, 2016. 

“I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive, so wanted to send to you first,” he added, referring to Trump’s longtime assistant, Rhona Graff. 

  1. Why were Kushner and Manafort included? 

Though Trump Jr. is the focal point of the reporting so far on the Veselnitskaya meeting, Trump Jr. was not part of the campaign staff at the time. Nor is he serving in the current administration, as he is running his father’s businesses alongside his brother, Eric Trump.

But there were two figures in the Trump campaign copied on the Trump Jr. chain who attended the meeting — Manafort and Kushner.  

Almost exactly a year ago — less than two months after the emails and the meeting — Manafort was asked on ABC’s This Week if he or the Trump campaign had any ties to the Russian government.  

"No, there are not," Manafort said. "It's absurd and there's no basis to it." 

Given their presence at the Veselnitskaya meeting, any contacts that Manafort and Kushner had with Russian officials are likely to be closely scrutinized by investigators.

It’s also unclear whether Veselnitskaya brought someone with her to the meeting, as Goldstone at one point stated in an email that he would send Trump Jr. “the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today.”

  1. Did similar contact continue in the future? 

Trump Jr. laughed off the claims that accepting information from a Kremlin-linked lawyer would be irregular, tweeting, “Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent ... went nowhere but had to listen.” 

If he viewed the meeting so casually, was this the only one?

Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya came about a week before the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced it had been hacked and that cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike had attributed that hack to Russia.  

Assuming Trump Jr. had no inside knowledge about the attack on the DNC, the meeting with Veselnitskaya would have taken place before he was aware of the breach. 

If Trump Jr. testifies before Congress, lawmakers are likely to ask whether he had any contact with Russian officials after the DNC hack.

  1. Is Veselnitskaya actually connected to the Kremlin? 

Manafort, Trump Jr. and Kushner took the meeting based on the potential to obtain “high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and … be very useful" to Trump as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” according to an email from Goldstone.  

It is unclear if Veselnitskaya would have been in a position to have that information. She denied to NBC News any connection to the Russian government, as did the Kremlin.

Trump Jr. says Veselnitskaya used Clinton as a pretext to secure a meeting and talk to the campaign “about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act.” 

The Russian government banned U.S. adoptions in 2012 after Congress passed the Magnitsky Act to sanction Russian officials for human rights violations. 

The New York Times describes Veselnitskaya’s ties to the Kremlin as having “clients includ[ing] state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son. … Her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the F.B.I., according to a former senior law enforcement official.”

Veselnitskaya was also once married to a Russian transportation official. 

  1. Did Trump Jr. break any laws? 

Opposition research is a thing of monetary value, so seeking it from a foreign government like Russia could violate campaign finance law, according to some legal experts. 

The group Common Cause filed a complaint Monday with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission alleging that Trump Jr. and the Trump campaign “violated [the Federal Election Campaign Act] ban on soliciting a contribution from a foreign national in connection with a Federal election.” 

In a press statement Tuesday, Common Cause Vice President for Policy and Litigation Paul S. Ryan said the emails released by Trump Jr. proved his case. 

“These e-mails show a clear violation of federal campaign finance law. Trump Jr. received the offer of valuable ‘official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary’ from Russia, responded that he ‘appreciate[d]’ the offer and that he ‘love[d] it’ and enthusiastically requested a call with Russian Emin Agalarov to receive the offered information. …

“Whether or not he actually received that information does not matter in the eyes of the law,” he wrote.