Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer for dirt on Hillary Clinton was likely the result of a Russian government influence operation, according to a former top spy.
“I believe this was indeed a Kremlin operation,” Daniel Hoffman, a 30-year CIA veteran, told The Cipher Brief. “I see this more as an attempted influence operation rather than traditional intelligence collection.”
The June 2016 meeting was brokered by a former acquaintance of the Trump family under the auspices of providing Russian government provided opposition research on Hillary Clinton to the Trump 2016 campaign. Former Soviet military intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya attended the meeting, along with Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, a presidential advisor to Jared Kushner who was President Trump’s campaign manager at the time.
Hoffman highlighted the presence of the Russian intelligence officer, saying his attendance “would lend credence to the Kremlin’s strategy of creating the impression of Russian government involvement from a distance, and add a measure of intrigue, given he served in the Soviet military.”
“I would assess Russia wanted to create the appearance of collusion even if there was in fact no real evidence any collusion ever took place,” Hoffman told The Cipher Brief. Emails released by Trump Jr himself explicitly mention Veselnitskaya’s supposed connection to the Russian government and cast it as an attempt by the Russians to help the Trump campaign.
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints). pic.twitter.com/z1Xi4nr2gq
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
The meeting may also have been an effort “to induce an investigative process, media coverage, and political infighting with an eye towards negatively impacting our government’s ability to function,” Hoffman added. “This is President Putin’s goal, after having tried to soil our electoral process, he is now turning his attention to interfering and damaging our governing process.”
If Hoffman’s assessment of the meeting’s intention is correct it has certainly had the desired effect. The revelation of Trump Jr.’s meeting has inspired wall to wall media coverage and thrown the White House into a frenzy. Trump has entered the fray to defend his son, and legal proceedings over the matter are likely for some time to come.
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