Donald Trump; Donald Trump Jr. (AP/Susan Walsh/Matt York/Salon)

Noose tightens on Russia: Donald Jr. to testify as evidence of collusion mounts

Facebook sold ads to Russian "troll farm," Trump lawyer vows not to squeal and Republicans scramble for cover


Heather Digby Parton
September 7, 2017 12:20PM (UTC)

Today is a very big day for Donald Trump Jr. He is going to testify before investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee about his fateful meeting in June of 2016 with a room full of Russians he thought were bearing dirt on Hillary Clinton. This will presumably be the first time Don Jr. has submitted himself to questioning by anyone more aggressive than his father's pal Sean Hannity, although one can assume his lawyers have been drilling him for some time to ensure he doesn't screw the pooch and say something incriminating.

I frankly don't understand why people are still wondering if there was collusion during the campaign. Clearly, Junior was happy to receive information on Clinton from what he was told was the Russian government. His colleagues Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were copied on the same offer, and they attended the meeting where the info was supposed to be turned over. Those are confirmed events. Whether they received any information is still unknown but there is no doubt they were at least willing to collude, which seems like it should be a problem (at the very least) for Kushner, who is currently working in the White House with a top security clearance.

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Furthermore, Trump himself said the very next day:

I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting. I wonder if the press will want to attend. Who knows?

He never held that specific "discussion." But it certainly sounds as if he thought he was getting hold of some serious dirt on Clinton.

Don Jr. is not the most poised of Trump's various offspring, and he has a history of saying untrue things in public while looking like a five-year-old who wet the bed. He won't have to take an oath, but he should resist the temptation to follow in his father's footsteps and lie, because he can still be prosecuted for perjury. Manafort has already testified before congress, and another attendee of that meeting, Russian émigré lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, was called before the grand jury. So at least two other people have already told their version of the story.

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But that meeting is just one investigative thread in this complex scandal.  A major story about the Russia interference in the election hit on Wednesday night, confirming the covert Facebook campaign that had been reported earlier in the year by Time magazine. The Washington Post reported that Facebook had informed the House Intelligence Committee that an internal investigation uncovered advertising bought by a Russian “troll farm” known for disseminating Russian propaganda. Whether that's the only incident is unknown, but what makes this interesting is that the ads were very carefully targeted, which most observers believe must have involved some expertise on the American side. That avenue of investigation suddenly looks much more promising.

Coincidentally (or not) this revelation comes on the heels of a proposal by Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Florida Republican, to limit the Mueller investigation to six months, complaining that it's nothing but a "fishing expedition." DeSantis is one of the congressmen who benefited from the release of hacked internal documents from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an action that also seemed to be based on specific targeting information that Russian hackers would be unlikely to know.

And just to keep things interesting, Rep. Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence chair, who had supposedly recused himself from the Russia investigation after being caught running around in the middle of the night conspiring with the White House to try to prove that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, seems to have jumped back in the fray. According to CNN, Nunes lost his temper at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray for failing to produce documents pertaining to the notorious "Steele dossier," suggesting that he has a funny definition of "recusal."

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Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told CNN that Nunes sent a subpoena to the Department of Justice to try to discredit the dossier -- whose contents, as far as we know, have never been officially confirmed in the first place. Schiff said some Republicans seem to think if they can accomplish this it will undermine the entire investigation, which means they are truly grasping at straws.

Finally, there's the latest strand of the investigation pertaining to Trump's repeated falsehoods about not doing business in Moscow while he was running for president. The stars of this subplot are the colorful Russian-American gangster Felix Sater and his boyhood chum from Brooklyn, Michael Cohen, who is Trump's longtime lawyer. Cohen gave an ill-advised interview to Vanity Fair which was published on Wednesday.

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Cohen, the man everyone sees as the Trumps' Tom Hagen, claims that he's been instructed by counsel not to talk to the president, but he basically said over and over again that there was nothing anyone could do to make him squeal. Nothing. He declared there was "no money in the world that could get me to disclose anything about them,” meaning the Trump family, and promised that he'd "never walk away." At one point he said he'd take a bullet for Donald Trump. The president will surely get the message that his honorary son is honoring the Trump omertà.

Cohen was brought into the Trump Organization by Donald Jr., and like Jr., he has been asked to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Cohen had wanted to testify in public but was talked out of it by people who know he has a hair-trigger temper and was likely to blow up on national television. He told Vanity Fair that he might lose his cool during the committee hearing anyway, because he won't put up with "stupidity," and promised that his transcript would be "interesting to read." All these Trump people sound like they've watched too many episodes of "The Sopranos."

Nearly eight months into the Trump presidency, the various threads of this Russia scandal are slowly being woven into a tapestry that will illustrate what really happened between the president's campaign and the Russian government in 2016. So far it's not looking pretty.

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Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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