Trump impeachment chances: Veselnitskaya/Donny/Chaika edition.

Memo That Russian Lawyer Prepared for Donald Jr. Was Approved by Russian Government

Memo That Russian Lawyer Prepared for Donald Jr. Was Approved by Russian Government

The Slatest
Your News Companion
Oct. 27 2017 4:35 PM

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: Memo That Russian Lawyer Prepared for Donald Jr. Was Approved by Russian Government

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Yuri Chaika with Vladimir Putin in 2006.

Denis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty Images

The Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

Remember Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian group let by attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016*? The meeting was set up after a publicist named Rob Goldstone emailed Don Jr. to see if he wanted to hear more about “Russia and its government’s support” for his father, but both Veselnitskaya and Russian officials later claimed she was an independent lobbyist acting only on her own volition.

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Well, about that:

Natalia V. Veselnitskaya arrived at a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 hoping to interest top Trump campaign officials in the contents of a memo she believed contained information damaging to the Democratic Party and, by extension, Hillary Clinton. The material was the fruit of her research as a private lawyer, she has repeatedly said, and any suggestion that she was acting at the Kremlin’s behest that day is anti-Russia “hysteria.”
But interviews and records show that in the months before the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika.

That's from a Friday story in the New York Times, whose work builds on previous sleuthing by Foreign Policy and Business Insider. Chaika is well-known as one of Vladimir Putin’s sleazy enforcers and has been heavily involved in the Russian government’s ongoing efforts to undermine sanctions put in place by the U.S. and other countries after a Russian whistleblower named Sergei Magnitsky was apparently murdered while in official custody. Veselnitskaya has been lobbying against those same sanctions for some time, and as Business Insider had written, the memo Veselnitskaya presented to Team Trump was largely identical to one that Chaika’s office had given to someone else months earlier. What the Times is now reporting is that, as you might suppose, Veselnitskaya and Chaika did in fact coordinate their anti-Magnitsky efforts via personal discussions.

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Here’s the thing, though: Veselnitskaya/Chaika’s memo involved alleged tax evasion committed in Russia by a few relatively obscure Democratic donors, the Ziff brothers. The idea was apparently that the Trump campaign would take a stance against Magnitsky sanctions in exchange for this dirt on the Democrats. But Trump’s operation didn’t ever actually use or publicize the tax-evasion allegations against the Ziffs—which makes sense because they’re not particularly interesting or scandalous. If the Ziff memo was bait, the Trump campaign didn’t take it.

Another way of putting it: The more we learn about the Russian participants in the meeting, the more they come across as shady and dishonest—but at the same time, the more we learn about the contents of the meeting, the more it seems like the Russians delivered a nothingburger.

That said, the existence of Veselnitskaya memo was first disclosed by a lawyer working for the Russian oligarch who helped set up the meeting, and the very reason he did so was to argue that there was nothing untoward going on. Ultimately, the suspicion hanging in the air is that the material about the Ziffs and tax evasion was just cover for an eventual discussion of quid pro quo involving the actually-very-damaging emails that Russian hackers stole from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta. But that’s still just a suspicion.

Today’s meter level is higher than yesterday’s, but only by a little.

*Correction, Nov. 2: This post originally misstated the month in which Donald Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.