The transparency organization asked the president’s son for his cooperation—in sharing its work, in contesting the results of the election, and in arranging for Julian Assange to be Australia’s ambassador to the United States.
Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)
The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”
The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States.
“Over the last several months, we have worked cooperatively with each of the committees and have voluntarily turned over thousands of documents in response to their requests,” said Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Donald Trump Jr. “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.” WikiLeaks did not respond to requests for comment.
Though Trump Jr. mostly ignored the frequent messages from WikiLeaks, he at times appears to have acted on its requests. When WikiLeaks first reached out to Trump Jr. about putintrump.org, for instance, Trump Jr. followed up on his promise to “ask around.” According to a source familiar with the congressional investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 campaign, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, on the same day that Trump Jr. received the first message from WikiLeaks, he emailed other senior officials with the Trump campaign, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, telling them WikiLeaks had made contact. Kushner then forwarded the email to campaign communications staffer Hope Hicks. At no point during the 10-month correspondence does Trump Jr. rebuff WikiLeaks, which had published stolen documents and was already observed to be releasing information that benefited Russian interests.
On October 3, 2016, WikiLeaks wrote again. “Hiya, it’d be great if you guys could comment on/push this story,” WikiLeaks suggested, attaching a quote from then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about wanting to “just drone” WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.
“Already did that earlier today,” Trump Jr. responded an hour-and-a-half later. “It’s amazing what she can get away with.”
Two minutes later, Trump Jr. wrote again, asking, “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” The day before, Roger Stone, an informal advisor to Donald Trump, had tweeted, “[email protected] is done. #WikiLeaks.”
“Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us,” WikiLeaks went on, pointing Trump Jr. to the link wlsearch.tk, which it said would help Trump’s followers dig through the trove of stolen documents and find stories. “There’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it,” WikiLeaks went on. “Btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4.”
Trump Jr. did not respond to this message. But just 15 minutes after it was sent, as The Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau pointed out, Donald Trump himself tweeted, “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!”
Two days later, on October 14, 2016, Trump Jr. tweeted out the link WikiLeaks had provided him. “For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: http://wlsearch.tk/,” he wrote.
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