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The Russia investigations now have a Miss Universe connection

Donald Trump Jr., seen here on Dec. 6,

Donald Trump Jr., seen here on Dec. 6, 2016, has a new lawyer. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Back story is a beaut

As Donald Trump got ready to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013, he wondered on Twitter if Vladimir Putin would attend and “become my new best friend.”

Putin didn’t show up, but billionaire Aras Agalarov, a partner for the pageant, served as a liaison to exchange messages between Trump and the Russian president during the event. Agalarov and Trump also talked about partnering to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital.

It’s one of a web of relationships that led the latest twist in the Russia election interference probes.

Agalarov’s son, Emin, is a pop star. Trump became friends with him — even doing a cameo for one of his music videos. Trump and his son Donald Jr. also got to know Emin’s publicist, Rob Goldstone.

Goldstone said he was acting on Emin’s behalf when he enticed Trump Jr. to have a meeting in June 2016 with a Kremlin-tied lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who said she had dirt on Democrats that could help his dad’s campaign.

In an email to Trump Jr., Goldstone said the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, The New York Times reported Monday night.

Donald Jr. lawyers up

Senators on the Intelligence Committee from both parties say they want to question Trump Jr. for the Russia investigation.

“This is the first time that the public has seen clear evidence of senior-level members of the Trump campaign meeting with Russians” to seek information damaging to Hillary Clinton, said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Trump Jr. tweeted: “Happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know.” The president’s eldest son also hired a New York lawyer, Alan Futerfas, who has handled criminal cases ranging from white-collar defendants to the mob.

A spokesman for the president’s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, has said Trump had not been aware of his son’s meeting with Veselnitskaya.

The White House disputes that Trump Jr.’s interest shows an openness to collusion. It will be up to investigators to see if and how the dots connect. See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

New Kremlinology

On Tuesday, the Times further reports that Goldstone told Trump Jr. in an email that the Veselnitskaya information "was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy."

The newspaper's sourcing is not the email itself but "three people with knowledge" of it. In recent days such reports have essentially been confirmed by the Trump camp.

Nyet, she says

Menwhile, NBC News interviewed Veselnitskaya. She gave a differing account. "I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that,” she said on air in translated Russian. 

“It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted."

 The take-away: Yeah, so?

Sure, he met with a Russian lawyer who wanted to talk about the ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian kids. Oh yeah, he forgot to mention, what really interested him was a claim that the lawyer had information that could muddy up Hillary Clinton. So what?

“Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent ...” said Junior’s sarcastic tweet.

No, but not many have met a lawyer with ties to the government of a U.S. adversary that was mounting a major effort to interfere in an election. That’s why Trump Jr.’s story -- his second version -- is one he will likely have to swear to when questioned by investigators, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Trump’s Chelsea morning

While Trump had nothing to say about Donald Jr. on Twitter, he ended up in a Twitter fight with Chelsea Clinton.

Trump was defending daughter Ivanka and himself after she sat in for him briefly during a G-20 summit meeting.

“If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!” he tweeted.

The former first daughter responded: “Good morning Mr. President. It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving our country away? Hoping not.”

Not the gotcha he touted

Apparently prompted by a bungled Fox News summary of a report in Washington’s The Hill, Trump tweeted that fired FBI director James Comey “leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!”

The report said there was classified information in memos Comey kept about his meetings with Trump. It did not contradict Comey’s account that there was no classified information in the particular memo he passed on to a friend to be leaked to a New York Times reporter.

Comey said Trump tried to pressure him to end the investigation of fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.

What else is happening

  • Trump has delayed delivering on a promise to slap tariffs on foreign steel. The Pentagon has been looking at the impact tariffs would have on national security.
  • Trump cajoled Senate Republicans to find a way to pass a health care bill before the August recess.
  • The federal government is scrapping plans for a new FBI headquarters, leading Trump critics to reflexively assume a link to probes of his campaign.
  • At least 16 people were killed when a Marine Corps refueling tanker crashed 85 miles north of Jackson, Miss. The military has officially described it as a "mishap" thus far.
  • The White House wants changes in a Russia and Iran sanctions bill to give the president more flexibility to waive them.
  • White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is back in Trump’s good graces, scoring points with his nationalist agenda and aggressive moves to bolster Trump’s defenses in the Russia investigation, New York magazine reports.
  • White House legislative affairs director Marc Short accused Senate Democrats of “conducting the slowest confirmation process in American history.” In response, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the administration was slow to make nominations and provide required documents.

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