Turns out one of the Russians in that meeting was absolutely, positively not never a Russian spy…. (More)

“The deal should have been obvious to everyone”

Turns out that, along with Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the God-Prince also met Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born U.S. citizen and lobbyist who was absolutely, positively not never a Russian spy:

Akhmetshin was a controversial figure. In a letter this spring to U.S. government officials, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) described Akhmetshin as a person who “apparently has ties to Russian intelligence.”

Akhmetshin said he never worked as an intelligence agent, but he did say he was drafted as a teenager and served for two years in a unit of the Soviet military that had responsibility for law enforcement issues as well as some counterintelligence matters. He immigrated to the United States in 1993 and gained citizenship in 2009.

“I was not an intelligence officer. Never,” he said.

So despite serving in a Soviet military counterintelligence unit, he was not an intelligence officer, never. Maybe because he held an enlisted rank.

He also had absolutely nothing to do with the hacking operation that he bragged about leading:

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., was told in July 2015 that Akhmetshin had arranged the hacking of a mining company’s private records – stealing internal documents and then disseminating them. The corporate-espionage case was brought by IMR, which alleged that Akhmetshin was hired by a law firm representing a fertilizer producer company called Eurochem.

A New York law firm paid Akhmetshin $140,000, including expenses, to organize a public-relations campaign targeting IMR. Shortly after he began that work, IMR suffered a sophisticated and systematic breach of its computers, and gigabytes of data allegedly stolen in the breach wound up the hands of journalists and human rights groups critical of the mining company. IMR accused Akhmetshin of paying Russian hackers to carry out the attack.

IMR went so far as to hire a private investigator to follow Akhmetshin on a trip to London. That private eye, Akis Phanartzis, wrote in a sworn declaration to the court that he eavesdropped on Akhmetshin in a London coffee shop and heard Akhmetshin boast that “he organized the hacking of IMR’s computer systems.” “Mr. Akhmetshin [noted] that he was hired because there were certain things that the law firm could not do,” Phanartzis said.

Akhmetshin denied the accusation, but admitted passing around a “hard drive” filled with data on IMR’s owners. He said the information was all open-source material that he’d gotten from the former prime minister of Kazakhstan, Akezhan Kazhegeldin.

No word on how this never-an-intelligence-officer got a hard drive from the former prime minister of Kazakhstan. Maybe Kazhegeldin gave them away in swag bags at a birthday party. Or something.

If that’s not passing the smell test for you, join the club. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias puts it bluntly:

But there is still such a thing as common sense. I don’t believe Trump Jr.’s account, and neither should you. He’s a man with negative credibility on this matter, and despite his father’s talismanic invocation of the word “transparency,” he’s been anything but transparent about it.

It’s certainly conceivable that he’s telling the truth and no valuable information changed hands. But when you are caught lying over and over again about a meeting – first by saying it never happened and then slowly being caught out in lie after lie – a reasonable observer is going to doubt you when you claim that this time you’ve fully come clean.

Until Trump Jr. answers a lot more questions and produces a lot more information, there’s no reason to assume good faith on his part. The benefit of the doubt is a valuable commodity, and it’s one that those at the highest levels of Trumpland have squandered.

Writing for the Washington Post, 23-year CIA veteran Rolf Mowatt-Larssen isn’t buying it either:

But everything we know about the meeting – from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded – is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting – and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities – may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election.

His professional analysis is worth reading in full, but this passage stands out for me:

Moreover, Russian intelligence presumably would not have risked passing high-value information through Veselnitskaya. As an untrained asset or co-optee – not a professional intelligence officer by any account – she would not have been entrusted with making a direct intelligence recruitment approach, including the passage of compromising information. Formalizing a relationship with the Trump campaign would be left for another day. If and when that day came, the pitch would be carried out by an experienced intelligence officer in favorable circumstances, with the right Trump associate and on friendly turf.

But even at the soft-pitch stage, standard Russian intelligence practice would require making clear what was on offer. The point is to test the target. Are they open to entering into a compromising relationship? Will they rebuff the mere suggestion of such impropriety? Will they alert authorities and thus stand in the way of Russian efforts?

And here, the deal should have been obvious to everyone. Moscow intended to discredit Clinton and help get Trump elected, and in exchange it hoped the Republican would consider its interests – in sanctions relief and otherwise. The Russian government appears to have signaled its direct involvement and real intention in advance of the meeting, presumably to avoid the possibility that its offer might be misconstrued, perhaps naively, as an innocent gesture of support and nothing more.

From the Russian perspective, the fact that Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting would have been the first promising sign. That veteran political operative Paul Manafort and senior adviser Jared Kushner showed up with him would have furthered the impression that there was strong interest in Russian assistance (and vulnerability to compromise) on the part of the campaign. But, according to standard espionage tradecraft, the most notable achievement of this encounter lay in the campaign’s failure to report it to the appropriate U.S. authorities – as Russia would have realized when there was no immediate, dramatic increase in U.S. counterintelligence scrutiny of its election-related operations.

How did we arrive at this sordid place, where a the son of a major party candidate for president meets with a foreign agent on the express promise of getting dirt on the opposition? The New York TimesDavid Brooks blames the Trump family’s amorality, but the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin uses a wider lens:

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”

Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem – a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.

Indeed, for decades now, demonization – of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. – has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo – leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” – and no coherent policies for governing.

Republicans would love it if, when the shit stops flying off the fan blades, all of this mess is dismissed as a temporary, cult-like devotion to a lifelong scam artist. But Rubin isn’t willing to let them off that easy:

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave – because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not – is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”

This is about entire party unmoored from facts, evidence, law, or ethics … where a partisan columnist can write this:

Politics is war. The objective is to win and take down the opponent. In an industry that does not operate in the black and white, it is often the grey territory in which campaigns work to achieve their goal.

Rubin is right and, if Hillary Clinton made one huge messaging mistake in 2016, it was in casting the God-King as uniquely unfit … rather than showing how he embodies the ugliness and amorality of today’s Republican Party.

Let’s not make that mistake again.

+++++

Photo Credit: Paul Morigi (Getty Images)

+++++

Good day and good nuts