I have been intrigued by the reports of the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Initially, Trump Jr. said the meeting did not take place (when he certified that he had had no meetings with Russian officials of any kind during the campaign). Then he admitted it took place, but it lasted only twenty minutes, involved the Russian lawyer's attempt to bring up the question of the suspended adoptions of Russian children, and that nothing came of it. Then it developed that Junior had been lured to the meeting with a promise of damaging information on Hillary Clinton. (This may explain why Manafort and Kushner accompanied him to what would otherwise have been a non-meeting.) Though Junior had emailed the broker of the meeting that he 'loved' the idea of getting dirt from the Russians, he insists that there was nothing to it and they moved on to the little Russian orphans for fifteen minutes. He neglected to mention, however, that there was another person in the meeting, a Washington-based Russian lobbyist. And now, it seems there were others as well. As of this writing, we do not know who they were.
Now, I have tried to avoid the Trump/Russia hysteria which has taken hold of the mainstream media (in particular, CNN, which Trump has assailed relentlessly), but Junior's attempts to evade mention of the meeting and to minimize its importance, and then to misrepresent the reason for the meeting and the number and identities of the participants, sounds so very much like the behavior of any run-of-the mill crook who has been caught that I felt it necessary to look farther into the matter.
I soon found that doing so opens a yawning and putrid rat hole of corruption, espionage and murder. This apparently innocuous non-meeting suddenly begins to look like a John le Carré novel or an episode of Foyle's War.
It all centers on an investigator for a Russian law firm named Sergei Magnitsky. I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of vast, clandestine, corrupt financial goings-on, but what seems to my unschooled mind to have happened is something like this: Magnitsky was tasked by the Russian firm with investigating a case of massive tax fraud carried out by a consortium of Russian government officials, the police, and the Russian mafia. Apparently that rarest of all creatures since the cop in Gorky Park, Magnitsky, an honest investigator, did discover and was foolish enough to report on the theft of 230 million dollars in a baroque and extremely clever tax fraud scheme. His report reached the powers that be, including the very officials he was investigating, and he was summarily arrested and held in a year-long detention without access to a lawyer or a trial. Eight days before he was to have been released, Magnitsky died. Initially the Russian authorities claimed he had succumbed to complications of a liver disease, then they admitted he had been denied adequate health care, and still later, the autopsy proved he had, in effect, been beaten to death in his cell.
It seems pretty clear at this juncture that Sergei Magnitsky was murdered by Russian officials in an effort to conceal their part in the biggest rip-off of the Russian public in history. There was an official Kremlin investigation, and, as would be expected, a handful of minor and mid-level functionaries were indicted, though most of them were either acquitted or the charges against them were dropped. Even the two doctors who "treated" Magnitsky were indicted, though they claimed that they had asked for him to be transferred to a proper hospital and were refused. Magnitsky's lawyer, who continued to press the case for his client even after his death, either fell or was thrown out of the window of his fourth floor Moscow apartment.
Now, how does all this relate to the infamous non-meeting at Trump Tower? The lawyer with whom Junior, Manafort and Kushner met just happens to represent an important Russian official named Pyotr Katsyv, whose son Denis apparently used many millions of the stolen money to buy real estate in New York City. And who is famous as the mogul of Manhattan real estate?
But it may go one step further. The district attorney in New York who was investigating this use of stolen Russian rubles to buy property in Manhattan was Preet Bharara. He had filed a complaint with the New York courts to seize the assets of the Russians, including those of Katsyv and his son. And Bharara, you may recall, was fired when the Trumps took over. Now, I am aware that it is not unusual for an incoming administration to require district attorneys to tender their resignations, and all did so, except Bharara, whom Attorney General Sessions then fired. While it is true that President Trump initially asked Bharara to stay on, when push came to shove, he was shown the door. But let us recall that Bharara was actually moving against Katsyv-and-son, had frozen their assets, and denied them access to the American banking system. And who was the Katsyvs lawyer? Natalia Veselnitskaya, with whom Junior met in the company of Trump's campaign manager and son-in-law.
This is just a gloss of the facts as they continue to come to light, and I do not present it as anything like a definitive version of the events. Producing that will be the responsibility of professionals who do this kind of investigating for a living. I will only say that all of this stinks. It stinks of official corruption, of fraud on a massive scale, of the most rotten kind of international politics, and, ultimately, of the murder of an honest and courageous man. And it was into this filthy morass that Donald Junior strolled for a meeting that never took place.
As a final thought: I suspect that, if it turns out that any of the Manhattan real estate purchased with the stolen Russian funds was owned by or controlled by Donald Trump, the game is over. I have said many times that I do not believe that Trump will survive his first term. This may be the scandal that finishes him. Especially if Vladimir Putin knows about all of this. And I suspect he does.