If we’ve learned anything from months of scandal reporting, the Russians set their sights on two types of people wandering the halls of Trump Tower. There were the self-promoters like Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort who they knew would cooperate based on direct or potential payouts. But the Russians also shopped the second group of Tower denizens, the over-their-heads strivers often compared to the hapless Fredo Corleone. These Fredos—George Papadopoulos and Carter Page—attracted Russian agents like magnets, and were easily manipulated by direct appeals to their stooped egos.
But of all the Fredos occupying Trump world, perhaps Donald Trump Jr. proved to be the easiest mark for the Russians. First, Junior embraced a gaggle of suspicious Russians for a June 2016 meeting in his Trump Tower office on the pretext that they possessed incriminating dirt on Hillary Clinton. Then, as we learned this week from the Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe, Junior became their boy when WikiLeaks tweeted some direct messages at him in the early fall of 2016. The DMs, perhaps authored by Julian Assange himself, connect Junior directly to the Russian thing: U.S. intelligence believes WikiLeaks acted as Russia’s proxy in the 2016 distribution of Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails.
WikiLeaks first contacted Junior on September 20, 2016, and soon Junior used the channel to ask the organization what it knew about the Podesta emails, rumored to be about to drop. “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” he wrote back. A few days before WikiLeaks released the emails, it asked Junior to help publicize its unsupported belief that Clinton had called for Assange’s droning. Then, a couple of days after publication of the first emails, the exchange got cozy: WikiLeaks asked Junior to ask his dad to promote their hacked emails site with one of his tweets. About 15 minutes later, Donald Trump Sr. tweeted, “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” WikiLeaks—and the Russians, if they were even partially in on it—had to be tickled at speaking through the next president’s mouth.
Junior’s intimacy—however brief—with an outfit close to Russia re-stirs the collusion pot that’s already boiling with Flynn’s Russia contacts, Jared Kushner’s Russia contacts, Page and Papadopoulos’ Russia contacts, Manafort’s business dealings with Russians, as well as Donald Trump’s continued Russophilia. “The totality of the messages yet again call into serious question the Trump campaign and White House’s denials of coordination with unsavory characters and even, by extension, Russia,” the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake writes. Junior’s tale also makes Vice President Mike Pence look like either a dupe or a liar for claiming his campaign had no connection to WikiLeaks. According to CBS News, Junior may well earn a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee for his Wiki-correspondence as they seek a “full picture” of his contacts with the organization and his conversations with others in the Trump orbit about those contacts.
Junior isn’t the only family member plagued by a WikiLeaks issue. News broke this week that presidential son-in-law Kushner neglected to give Senate investigators September 2016 emails about his WikiLeaks contacts as well as a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” as a letter sent by two senators to Kushner’s attorney put it. Perhaps we can forgive Kushner who, what with flying to Saudi Arabia on a secret mission late last month, has too much on his plate to comply with Senate requests. But what sort of excuses can Attorney General Jeff Sessions produce for his equally spotty memory?
Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee this week, Sessions offered more excuses than a high schooler who just crashed his mom’s car while skipping classes and drinking behind the wheel. Sessions had originally stated under oath that he knew of no relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign. Then he had to concede two meetings with the Russian ambassador. This week, Sessions updated his original statement again: Reading press accounts about Papadopoulos, recently arrested for lying to the FBI, had triggered fresh recollections about a Trump-Putin meeting Papadopoulos had proposed at a meeting Sessions chaired. The attorney general blamed his poor memory on the “chaos” of the presidential campaign, the ensuing lack of sleep, his busy Senate schedule and heavy travel. Like the D student that he is, Sessions protested that it was unreasonable for the committee to expect him to remember the conversation he had with Trump foreign policy adviser Page about a Russia trip Page had arranged.
I’m not a doctor, but my layman’s analysis is that Kushner and Sessions’ memory symptoms could be successfully treated by any one of a number of cholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine) that doctors give Alzheimer’s patients to sharpen their recall. Side effects from the drugs include diarrhea, drowsiness, headache, indigestion, nausea/vomiting, joint pain, cramping, changes in vision or balance, excessive urination, sweating, weight loss, bruising, dizziness, and fainting spells. All worth it, though, if it improves Kushner and Sessions’ memories!
As Trump Tower scandal-watchers wait for the expected indictments of Flynn and Michael Flynn Jr., two peripheral figures in the scandal are about to enjoy their moments before special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators—Rob Goldstone and Hope Hicks. NBC News reports that entertainment publicist Goldstone, who attended and helped to arrange Junior’s Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, will soon travel to the United States for his interview. He’s always been the weirdest character in our rich pageant (and that includes “The Professor,” Joseph Mifsud, who has recently gone missing). I’m not a lawyer, but my layman’s analysis is that for best results Goldstone should be dosed via gavage with several vials of cholinesterase inhibitors before his interview so that his memory can speak full-throated.
Memory should be no problem for Trump communications director Hicks when Mueller’s gang interviews her, which should happen shortly after Thanksgiving. According to POLITICO, she has spent months cramming for her interview. Outside of Trump’s family, nobody has had a closer perch from which to observe the 45th president over the past few years. She has worked for him as a business aide, on his campaign, and then as a top aide during the early months of his administration.
Hicks is not believed to be a direct target of the investigation, but her role as Trump’s eyes and ears, sounding board in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, his spokesperson, and his go-between may open the aperture on the probe. She has been on the receiving end of Page and Manafort emails and dealt with Roger Stone. She has also been a fount of misinformation: Two days after the election she told the press that his campaign had had no contacts with the Russian government.
For an experienced spokesperson, Hicks hasn’t left much of a discernible trail behind her, leaving us to guess whether she’s a self-promoter like Flynn, a Fredo like Junior, or maybe even a third class of Trump Tower character—the sort of person who avoids intrigue by printing out emails and passing them along to the boss without reading.