Collusion is back in the spotlight, although President Donald Trump has certainly kept up the stream of legally suspect behavior since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation ended. Now, CNN has revealed details from behind the scenes of Mueller’s probe illustrating a Trump campaign plot that Trump himself was involved in to get the emails that Russian hackers had stolen from Democrats in the time around the 2016 election. The information flatly implodes whatever was left of the claim that the Trump team didn’t at least desperately try to collude with the Russians in their election meddling.
Many of the details come from notes from time that investigators spent with Rick Gates, who worked alongside 2016 Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and then joined the campaign and even the committee handling Trump’s inauguration festivities. Gates explained that a whole array of top figures inside the Trump campaign sought to figure out how to get their hands on emails that hackers stole from Democrats. That list includes, besides Trump himself, Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., eventual Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, Trump campaign manager and adviser Corey Lewandowski, and eventual Trump administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions, among others.
Investigators chronicling an interview with Gates wrote:
‘[Rick] Gates recalled a time on the campaign aircraft when candidate Trump said, ‘get the emails.’ [Michael] Flynn said he could use his intelligence sources to obtain the emails… Flynn had the most Russia contacts of anyone on the campaign and was in the best position to ask for the emails if they were out there… Gates said the priority focuses of the Trump campaign opposition research team were Clinton’s emails and contributions to the Clinton Foundation.’
Gates said that Trump Jr. was among those “focused on opposition topics,” which gives some context to his eager acceptance of an invitation to meet with a Kremlin-connected lawyer he’d been promised would bring dirt from the Russian government on the Clintons.
Besides Gates, longtime but now former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon “told the special counsel’s office how Trump took interest in finding the 33,000 missing Hillary Clinton emails that she said she had erased from her private server,” in CNN’s description. At one point, they note, Trump publicly insisted that Russia should find the emails, which were deleted as part of a clerical mishap, not a conspiracy.
CNN received this new information thanks to a lawsuit they filed against the Justice Department demanding the material, and further disclosures of similar notes will be coming monthly for the near future. The disclosure comes shortly after a federal judge ruled that the Justice Department must provide members of Congress with grand jury material from the Mueller probe because, in the judge’s estimation, their currently ongoing impeachment inquiry warrants the reveal. That case is ongoing — following the ruling, an appeals court issued a temporary suspension of the judge’s order.
Still, the impeachment inquiry is ongoing. Democrats have already subpoenaed more figures for testimony this coming week, including a top lawyer at the National Security Council and Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s chief of staff.