Photo Credit: Courtesy Aaron Klein
Aaron Klein

Timing Of New York Times ‘Rrevelations’ Raises Questions

The New York Times seems to be gloating that its reportage on Donald Trump Jr. and his brief meeting with a Russian lawyer is purportedly negatively impacting the “good feeling” inside the Trump administration following the U.S. president’s diplomatic trip to Europe for the Group of 20 summit last week.

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The last section of the Times’s story on Trump Jr. and the lawyer, titled, “Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign,” claims the story “blunted whatever good feeling the president’s team had after his trip to Europe for the Group of 20 economic summit meeting.”

The Times was referring to its exclusive story published on Saturday citing “confidential government records described to the New York Times” alleging that Trump Jr. arranged a meeting at Trump Tower two weeks after Trump secured the Republican nomination with a Russian lawyer who, the newspaper claimed, “has connections to the Kremlin.”

The Times subsequently published what it says are the contents of correspondence indicating that the meeting with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was set up by third parties who claimed that Veselnitskaya had dirt on Hillary Clinton. It would not be abnormal for a political campaign to take a meeting with an individual claiming to have compromising information on an opponent.

Trump Jr. subsequently released a chain of emails that show how the meeting was set up.

The Times’s story on the subject dropped as President Trump returned to the U.S. from the G20 Summit in Germany on Saturday night and the topic has since dominated the news cycle.

This is not the first such leak or major news media claim about Trump and Russia to be released while Trump was preparing for or returning from trips abroad.

On Tuesday, May 16, six days before Trump was due in Israel as part of his first trip abroad as president and while the White House was coordinating travel plans with Israel, the New York Times quoted a “current and a former American official” saying it was Israel that provided classified intelligence purportedly disclosed by Trump during a White House meeting one week prior with Russian officials.

There was immediate talk that the report could potentially impact the U.S. relationship with Israel. Indeed, the second sentence of the Times article on the subject stated that the information about Israel reportedly serving as the source “adds a potential diplomatic complication to the episode.”

The Times was elaborating on a Washington Post article one day earlier that first reported that Trump allegedly revealed “highly classified information” during a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, according to “current and former U.S. officials.”

The Post article acknowledged that as president “Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.”

Meanwhile, on May 19, the day Trump departed Washington, DC to Saudi Arabia for the first leg of his foreign tour, the Post reported that the Russia investigation “has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.”

The story further claimed the “senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.”

The article once again dominated the news cycle and drew attention away from Trump’s international diplomatic adventure amid a flurry of speculation that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner may be the White House official in question.

Then on May 26, one day before Trump returned from his first international trip, the Washington Post dropped an anonymously-sourced story claiming that Kushner discussed with Russia’s Washington envoy the possibility of establishing a “secret and secure communications channel” between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin.

The Washington Post cited alleged communications from Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to Moscow reportedly intercepted by U.S. intelligence officials. Russian diplomats are known to deliberately place misinformation in communications they believe are being monitored, the Post noted, allowing for the possibility that Kushner never actually asked for a back channel.

ABC News quoted two sources as saying the purported back channel that Kushner and Kislyak were allegedly discussing was supposed to focus on policy issues, including the war in Syria where Russia is highly influential. Fox News quoted a source saying it was the Russians – and not Kushner – who broached the concept of creating a secure line for back channel communications.

The establishment of back channels by incoming administrations is nothing new. Representatives for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign reportedly established a back channel with Iran.

Regardless, the Post’s original story, titled, “Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin,” dominated the news cycle upon Trump’s return.

This instead of news media focus on Trump’s highly successful visit to Saudi Arabia, where he brought the Sunni Muslim leadership together to fight Islamic terrorism and oppose Iran; or his historic trip to Israel, which marked the first time a sitting U.S. president visited the Western Wall and the first time an American president went to the Jewish state on his first foreign tour. Trump also met with Pope Francis at the Vatican before attending a NATO summit in Brussels and a confab with G7 leaders in Sicily.

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