Trumps’ trou­ble with Wik­iLeaks

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - RE­BECCA BALLHAUS WASH­ING­TON

Don­ald Trump Jr was in com­mu­ni­ca­tion dur­ing the US elec­tion cam­paign with Wik­iLeaks, which pub­lished a trove of dam­ag­ing Demo­cratic emails that the US in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity con­cluded were stolen by Rus­sian hack­ers, ac­cord­ing to an email.

Among the mes­sages ex­changed by the son of the US Pres­i­dent and Wik­iLeaks was a sug­ges­tion that the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­vise Aus­tralia to ap­point the whistle­blower’s founder Ju­lian As­sange, an Aus­tralian, as am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton.

Wik­iLeaks first con­tacted the son of Don­ald Trump through a di­rect mes­sage on Twit­ter on Septem­ber 20 last year to ad­vise him about the pend­ing launch of a web­site that would high­light ties be­tween the el­der Mr Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, ac­cord­ing to the email.

“A PAC run, anti-Trump site putin­trump.org is about to launch,” Wik­iLeaks warned the younger Mr Trump, who was a top cam­paign ad­viser to his fa­ther.

The Wik­iLeaks mes­sage told him it had “guessed the pass­word” be­hind the web­site, and asked Mr Trump Jr: “Any com­ments?”

The Pres­i­dent’s son re­sponded the next day that he was un­aware of the group be­hind the web­site, but would “ask around”, ac­cord­ing to the email, adding, “Thanks.”

He for­warded the email to top cam­paign aides, in­clud­ing then cam­paign chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Ban­non, cam­paign man­ager Kellyanne Con­way, se­nior ad­viser Jared Kush­ner and dig­i­tal di­rec­tor Brad Parscale. “Do you know the peo­ple men­tioned and what the con­spir­acy they are look­ing for could be?” he asked the group.

The ex­change — which was first re­ported by The At­lantic mag­a­zine yes­ter­day and is part of a col­lec­tion of doc­u­ments turned over to con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors by the younger Mr Trump’s lawyers — marks the first ev­i­dence of di­rect con­tact be­tween se­nior Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials and the Swe­den-based Wik­iLeaks.

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors are prob­ing whether Trump as­so­ciates col­luded in Rus­sia’s al­leged ef­forts to in­ter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion. US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in Jan­uary con­cluded that Rus­sia sought to in­flu­ence last year’s cam­paign by hack­ing po­lit­i­cal web­sites and spread­ing false ads on so­cial me­dia pages.

The Pres­i­dent has called the in­ves­ti­ga­tion a “witch hunt” and has de­nied col­lu­sion by him or his cam­paign, and Moscow has de­nied med­dling in the elec­tion.

The younger Mr Trump was ques­tioned by the Se­nate ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee staff in Septem­ber as part of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Alan Futer­fas, a lawyer for the Pres­i­dent’s son, said he had “no con­cerns” about his client’s in­ter­ac­tions with Wik­iLeaks.

“Putting aside the ques­tion as to why or by whom such doc­u­ments, pro­vided to congress un­der prom­ises of con­fi­den­tial­ity, have been se­lec­tively leaked, we can say with con­fi­dence that we have no con­cerns about these doc­u­ments and any ques­tions raised about them have been eas­ily an­swered in the ap­pro­pri­ate forum,” he said.

Mr As­sange said via Twit­ter that he could not con­firm the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween his or­gan­i­sa­tion and the younger Mr Trump.

The Pres­i­dent’s son had been de­nied when he asked for de­tails from the web­site about its pend­ing pub­li­ca­tions of the stolen mes­sages, he said. “Trump Jr. was re­buffed just like Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica,” Mr As­sange wrote.

The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported last week that in June last year the CEO of Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a data firm that at that point had be­gun work­ing as a sub­con­trac­tor for the Trump cam­paign, had con­tacted Mr As­sange to ask him to share the Clin­ton-re­lated emails his web­site was plan­ning to pub­lish. Mr As­sange de­clined.

By Septem­ber last year, the web­site had spent nearly three months pub­lish­ing its hacked emails from the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. The next month, it be­gan pub­lish­ing the stolen mes­sages of John Podesta, the Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man.

The younger Mr Trump yes­ter­day pub­lished his com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Wik­iLeaks on Twit­ter, show­ing the web­site sent him sev­eral mes­sages that he ig­nored. Among those was a re­quest for the el­der Mr Trump’s tax re­turns and the bid to make Mr As­sange the US am­bas­sador.

On Oc­to­ber 12 last year Wik­iLeaks said it was “great to see you and your dad talk­ing about our pub­li­ca­tions” and sug­gested a link for the el­der Mr Trump to tweet if he were to men­tion the web­site, ac­cord­ing to the At­lantic.

Fif­teen min­utes later, the el­der Mr Trump tweeted: “Very lit­tle pick-up by the dis­hon­est me­dia of in­cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by Wik­iLeaks. So dis­hon­est! Rigged sys­tem!”

In Oc­to­ber last year, Vi­cePres­i­dent Mike Pence re­jected the sug­ges­tion the Trump cam­paign was “in ca­hoots” with Wik­iLeaks.

“Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth,” he said to Fox News.

AP

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Don­ald Trump Jr

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