Trump Jr. was in contact with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election — and Trump praised their Clinton leaks over a dozen times

Donald Trump Jr.

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Donald Trump Jr.
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John Sommers II/Getty Images

  • The anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks was in contact with Donald Trump Jr. multiple times leading up to the election.
  • The group asked Trump Jr. to push its content and to provide it with information like Donald Trump’s tax returns and Trump Jr.’s email correspondence with a British music publicist about meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016.
  • The revelations shed new light on how key events leading up to the 2016 election lined up.

Revelations about contacts between Donald Trump Jr. and the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks shed new light on key events leading up to the November 2016 election.

WikiLeaks, which has drawn scrutiny over its apparently pro-Russia stance, was in touch with Trump Jr. between September 2016 and July 2017, according to documents obtained by The Atlantic.

At the time, Donald Trump was the Republican nominee for president in the 2016 election and was running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Here’s a timeline of WikiLeaks’ correspondence with Trump Jr. leading up to and after the election, and what Trump said about WikiLeaks on the campaign trail:

September 2016

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Donald Trump Jr./Twitter

WikiLeaks first contacted Trump Jr. via Twitter direct message on September 20, 2016 to tell him about a PAC-run anti-Trump website, called putintrump.org, and asked him if he had “any comments” on who was behind it.

WikiLeaks also told Trump Jr. that it had “guessed the password” to the anti-Trump website, and told him it was “putintrump.”

Trump Jr. replied, “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around. Thanks.”

On the day he received that message, Trump Jr. emailed high-ranking campaign officials, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Jared Kushner, informing them that WikiLeaks had contacted him.

Kushner also forwarded Trump Jr.’s email to Hope Hicks, who was a spokesperson for the Trump campaign. She is currently the director of communications at the White House.

October 2016

Julian Assange, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, speaks via video link during a press conference on the occasion of the 10-year anniversary celebration of WikiLeaks in Berlin.

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Julian Assange, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, speaks via video link during a press conference on the occasion of the 10-year anniversary celebration of WikiLeaks in Berlin.
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Thomson Reuters

WikiLeaks touched base with Trump Jr. again on October 3 and told him it would be “great” if the campaign pushed a story about Hillary Clinton published by “True Pundit,” a conservative-leaning outlet that’s been known to spread junk news. According to the story, Clinton said she wanted to “just drone” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Trump Jr. replied that he had already shared the story earlier that day, adding, “It’s amazing what she can get away with.”

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Donald Trump Jr./Twitter

He also asked WikiLeaks about an upcoming WikiLeaks dump that longtime Republican strategist and informal Trump adviser Roger Stone had tweeted about a day earlier. “Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #WikiLeaks,” Stone tweeted, from an account that has since been suspended.

WikiLeaks did not respond to Trump Jr.’s question, and it ultimately published the first batch of hacked emails belonging to Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, on Friday, October 7.

October 3 was the last time Trump Jr. replied to WikiLeaks, according to The Atlantic.

At a campaign rally three days later, Trump said he loved WikiLeaks. “It’s amazing how nothing is secret today when you talk about the internet,” he told the crowd.

He also tweeted about WikiLeaks on October 11, writing, “I hope people are looking at the disgraceful behavior of Hillary Clinton as exposed by WikiLeaks. She is unfit to run.”

WikiLeaks then reached out to Trump Jr. on October 12, telling him that it was “great” to see him and Trump “talking about our publications.” It also “strongly” suggested that Trump tweet out the link wlsearch.tk, claiming the site would help people search through the hacked documents. WikiLeaks also told Trump Jr. it had just released another batch of Podesta’s emails.

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

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Donald J. Trump/Twitter

“This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable,” Trump said that same day, at a campaign rally in Florida. “It tells you the inner heart, you gotta read it.”

The same day, Stone admitted to having “back channel communications” with Assange because they had a “good mutual friend.”

“That friend travels back and forth from the United States to London and we talk,” Stone told CBS’ Miami affiliate. “I had dinner with him last Monday.”

Trump again praised WikiLeaks on October 13, saying at a rally in Ohio that the content the group was pushing was “amazing.”

The next day, on October 14, Trump Jr. tweeted out the link WikiLeaks sent him earlier. “For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: http://wlsearch.tk/,” Trump Jr. tweeted.

Trump tweeted about WikiLeaks several times over the next few days:

On October 21, WikiLeaks wrote to Trump Jr. and asked for Trump’s tax returns. Though they acknowledged that it was an “unusual idea,” WikiLeaks said that it would benefit both the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks if they were the ones to publish the returns.

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Donald Trump Jr./Twitter

Writing that the returns could potentially be leaked by “biased” media sources like The New York Times or MSNBC, WikiLeaks added that the biggest reason – “the real kicker” – it wanted to leak the returns was to “improve the perception of our impartiality.”

“That means that the vast amount of stuff that we are publishing on Clinton will have much higher impact, because it won’t be perceived as coming from a ‘pro-Trump’ ‘pro-Russia’ source,” WikiLeaks wrote.

The group also provided an email address and link where the Trump campaign could send the returns, and added that the same went for any other negative material the campaign feared may leak. “Let us put it out,” WikiLeaks wrote.

Less than an hour after WikiLeaks sent the message to Trump Jr. Trump tweeted about the group, saying it had caught “Crooked [Hillary] in the act – again,” referring to what he called her corrupt activities.

He promoted WikiLeaks again later that evening, writing, “WikiLeaks reveals Clinton camp’s work with ‘VERY friendly and malleable reporters'” and attached a link to a Washington Times article.

Here are all the tweets he sent out about WikiLeaks over the next few days:

Trump hailed WikiLeaks three days later, at a campaign rally in Michigan on October 31. “Another one came in today,” Trump said, referring to a new document dump. “This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”

November 2016

Trump kicked off a rally in Ohio on November 4, four days before the election, by promoting WikiLeaks again.

“Getting off the plane, they were just announcing new WikiLeaks, and I wanted to stay there, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting,” he told his supporters. “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”

On Election Day, WikiLeaks wrote to Trump Jr. saying that if Trump lost, it would be “much more interesting” if he didn’t concede the election and instead contested its results.

At 6:35 p.m. on November 8, when most pollsters and pundits believed Clinton would carry the election, WikiLeaks messaged Trump Jr. and suggested Trump contest the results because it would help him mount an opposition media brand, and that it would expose “media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption, etc.”

Right after midnight on November 9, when Trump was the projected winner, WikiLeaks wrote just one word to Trump Jr.: “Wow.” He did not respond.

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Donald Trump Jr./Twitter

December 2016

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Donald Trump Jr./Twitter

WikiLeaks did not reach out again until over a month later. On December 16, the group told Trump Jr. it would be “real easy and helpful” if Trump, then the President-elect, urged Australia to appoint Assange as ambassador to the US.

It suggested that Trump could frame the request as follows: “That’s a real smart tough guy and the most famous australian [sic] that you have!”

While it acknowledged that Australia would not appoint Assange its ambassador to the US, the request alone would force Australia, the UK, and Sweden to “stop bending” the law “to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons.”

July 2017

WikiLeaks didn’t reach out to Trump Jr. again until seven months later, on July 11, 2017.

The message came three days after The New York Times published a bombshell report detailing a meeting Trump Jr. had with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, at Trump Tower in June 2016. Also present at the meeting from the campaign’s side were then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and adviser Jared Kushner.

Manafort was indicted in November 2017 on 12 counts as part of Mueller’s investigation, and Kushner is currently a senior adviser in the Trump administration. Mueller is also scrutinizing Kusher over his involvement in the Trump Tower meeting; his role in the decision to fire former FBI director James Comey; his meeting with the head of a sanctioned Russian bank with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin; and his involvement in the campaign’s data operation.

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Skye Gould/Business Insider

With respect to the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Trump Jr. initially said in a statement that it was not related to campaign issues and that they had primarily discussed Russian adoptions and the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which Veselnitskaya aggressively lobbies against.

However, Trump Jr. later had to amend the statement after it emerged that he took the meeting after he was offered kompromat on Clinton as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” according to emails between himself and Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist who represented a Russian pop star who initially sought to arrange the meeting.

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Donald Trump Jr./Twitter

WikiLeaks messaged Trump Jr. on Twitter on July 11, after the revelations came out, and said it was sorry to hear about the turmoil surrounding the meeting, and then asked Trump Jr. to send over his correspondence with Goldstone about the meeting.

WikiLeaks argued that it would benefit Trump Jr. and the Trump administration if it were the one to publish the emails, rather than the mainstream media, which WikiLeaks said would spin the story to reflect negatively on the White House.

“Us publishing not only deprives them of this ability but is beautifully confounding,” WikiLeaks said.

Trump Jr. posted the emails to Twitter himself later that day, after The Times informed him that it had obtained them and was going to publish the emails.

Here’s a full, interactive timeline of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, and how the Trump campaign reacted: