July 17, 2017

Donald Trump Jr. and the Kremlin-linked lawyer he met with in June 2016 to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton both say now that their get-together at Trump Tower was a bust. But Russian President Vladimir Putin may not see it that way, even if Trump Jr. and the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, really do, NBC's Katy Tur said on Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly. Tur spoke with Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo, critical Trump biographer Tim O'Brien, and John Sipher, a longtime CIA agent who was once station chief in Moscow.

The meeting was likely set up to see how far Trump Jr. was willing to go to break the rules to help his father, Sipher said. "In our world, that's clearly a trap; you're clearly setting someone up so that you can determine whether they bite," he said. "If I send you something that that's blatant, and you bite, then I have a lot of information on what I might be able to use next time. I know that if you're willing to step over the line, I can then push a little further." Offering dirt on Clinton was "like human fishing: They're putting bait out there to see if you're willing to swallow it. And the Trump campaign team swallowed it whole." And Putin, Sipher said, "learned that Mr. Trump is willing to compromise himself, to make a choice that puts him in an awkward and potentially vulnerable state."

Caputo, a longtime GOP political consultant with ties to Trump, said that "Donald Jr. made a mistake" in accepting the meeting, but chalked it up to naiveté and a chaotic, neophyte campaign, not willful collusion. "There was no collusion," Caputo told Tur, who covered the Trump campaign for NBC News. "Do you think that place was organized enough to collude with the lunch counter across the street? It just wasn't." Watch her report below. Peter Weber

July 17, 2017

One of President Trump's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, made the rounds on Sunday's political talk shows to defend Donald Trump Jr. over his June 2016 meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and other Russians apparently promising information on Hillary Clinton that would help Trump Sr. win the presidential election. On ABC's This Week, Sekulow suggested there was nothing "nefarious" about Trump Jr.'s meeting because of the Secret Service. "Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in," he said. "The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me."

Unless Trump, the candidate, was at the meeting, too, the Secret Service would not have done any such thing, the Secret Service noted Sunday afternoon. "Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June 2016," agency spokesman Mason Brayman said in a statement. "Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time." The meeting, at Trump Tower, also included Jared Kushner, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, publicist Rob Goldstone, and at least two other people.

Sekulow, on ABC and other networks, insisted that President Trump was unaware of the meeting; on CNN's State of the Union, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) was skeptical of that claim, telling Jake Tapper, "Frankly, it's a little bit unbelievable that neither the son or the son-in-law ever shared that information with their dad, the candidate." Also evidently skeptical of Sekulow's assertions was Fox News host Chris Wallace, who grilled Trump's lawyer on Fox News Sunday over who's paying the president's legal bills (Sekulow said he doesn't know) and why seeking opposition research from a foreign power is not illegal (it isn't, legally, a "thing of value," Sekulow said):

In the Washington Post/ABC News poll that shows President Trump with a 36 percent approval rating, respondents said by a 63 percent to 26 percent margin that it was inappropriate for Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort to meet with Veselnitskaya and the other Russians last June. Peter Weber

July 14, 2017

Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, who was identified Friday as having attended the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, claims Trump Jr. was possibly left with documents that allegedly proved incriminating rumors about Hillary Clinton, The Associated Press reports. Trump Jr. has claimed that while he sought information from Veselnitskaya, what she offered in the meeting was not fruitful.

During the meeting, Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said.

[…] Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya's documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said. [The Associated Press]

Akhmetshin claims Trump Jr. lost interest in Veselnitskaya when she was unable to provide solid evidence. Akhmetshin added that the mounting scandal surrounding Trump Jr.'s meeting has taken him by surprise. "I never thought this would be such a big deal to be honest," he told AP. Jeva Lange

July 14, 2017

Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who controversially met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016, was accompanied to the meeting by a previously unreported man described as being "a former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence," NBC News reports. NBC declined to give the man's name, saying only that the individual is a "Russian-American lobbyist" and that he denies "current ties to Russian spy agencies."

Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, were also present at the meeting. The New York Times first reported the meeting last weekend and emails, released by Trump Jr. and the Times on Tuesday, revealed Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting after learning he would receive information that would "incriminate" Hillary Clinton and was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Watch the scoop below. Jeva Lange