On Monday night, the Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe reported that Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the President and a senior adviser to his campaign, had exchanged direct messages on Twitter with WikiLeaks during the course of the 2016 race.
Trump Jr. quickly released his DM exchanges, which amounted to a number of notes sent from WikiLeaks to Trump Jr. and three responses sent from Trump Jr. to WikiLeaks.
“Here is the entire chain of messages with @wikileaks (with my whopping 3 responses) which one of the congressional committees has chosen to selectively leak,” he tweeted. “How ironic!”
Trump Jr.’s obvious attempt to minimize this news – nothing to see here folks!!! – is a bit of a tell. You don’t react – or overreact – this way to something that is truly a nothingburger.
So what does this new reporting prove? It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was direct communication between WikiLeaks and a senior member of Donald Trump’s political inner circle.
That matters – for two reasons.
First, because by the time WikiLeaks was communicating with Don Jr. – late September and early October 2016 – he, and anyone else paying even the smallest amount of attention to the campaign, knew that US intelligence officials were convinced that Russia was responsible for the hacks of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that were being posted on the WikiLeaks website.
In mid-July, The New York Times published a story headlined “Spy Agency Consensus Grows That Russia Hacked D.N.C..” That report came just days after WikiLeaks had published 20,000 stolen DNC emails. Just days after Trump Jr. responded to a WikiLeaks DM asking, “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about,” US intelligence officials confirmed that they believed Russia was behind the hacked DNC emails being published on WikiLeaks.
That same day, WikiLeaks began publishing emails stolen from Podesta’s account.
The second reason the communication matters is because it had long been denied by the Trump campaign – at the highest levels. In an October 14 interview on Fox News, then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence was asked this: “WikiLeaks, some have suggested on the left, all this bad stuff about Hillary, nothing bad about Trump, that your campaign is in cahoots with WikiLeaks.”
Pence replied: “Nothing could be further from the truth. I think all of us have, you know, have had concerns about WikiLeaks over the years and it’s just a reality of American life today, and of life in the wider world.”
(On Monday, in the wake of the news about Don Jr.’s contact with WikiLeaks, a Pence spokeswoman said that the vice president was “never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with WikiLeaks.”)
Communication is now proven. And, by my view, coordination – between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks – is proven too, at least to some extent.
Consider this timeline. (And check out this entire timeline on Russia and the Trump campaign put together by CNN’s Marshall Cohen.)
On October 12, WikiLeaks messaged Don Jr. this: “Hey Donald, great to see your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweet this link if he mentions us” with a link to an archive of its work.
Fifteen minutes later – 15 minutes!!! – Donald Trump tweeted this from his account: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!”
If that isn’t coordination, I am not sure what is. I suppose you could say it was mere coincidence that Trump tweeted about WikiLeaks 15 minutes after the organization asked his eldest son for him to do just that. But, that would be one hell of a coincidence given the timing of the tweets and the fact that we know from the Atlantic’s reporting that Don Jr. let the senior staff of the campaign know that WikiLeaks had made contact back on September 21.
Now, communication and coordination isn’t collusion. Collusion, according to Merriam-Webster, is a “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.”
The second part of that definition is the key – “for an illegal or deceitful purpose.” WikiLeaks had begun publishing hacked DNC emails for several moths before Donald Trump Jr. responded to their direct messages to him. Simply being in communication with WikiLeaks in the fall of 2016 – and even taking direction about a suggested tweet from them (Trump Jr. tweeted a link to the WikiLeaks archive on October 14) isn’t illegal.
What these latest revelations do show is that there is even more smoke in an already very smoky situation. Huge amounts of smoke don’t always equal fire. But, they require further investigation into whether or not fire is present. Which is what special counsel Robert Mueller is in the process of doing.