The communication occurred at a highly sensitive moment for both the Trump presidential campaign and for WikiLeaks, just weeks before election day and at the height of WikiLeaks’ publication of hacked emails belonging to senior Democratic figures at the instigation, US intelligence agencies allege, of the Russian government.
The most politically explosive communication between the two parties, according to the Atlantic, came on and after 12 October 2016.
“Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” the WikiLeaks account, @WikiLeaks, said to Don Jr two days after his father had proclaimed at a campaign rally: “I love WikiLeaks!”
“Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us. There’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it,” the message continued.
The message went on to offer a link to wlsearch.tk – a search tool that facilitates the exploration of the database of leaked emails from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman, that WikiLeaks had by then begun to publish.
Julia Ioffe, author of the Atlantic article, writes that Trump Jr did not reply to the WikiLeaks message. But two days later, on 14 October, he did tweet that same link to wlsearch.tk, encouraging “those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy” exposed by the WikiLeaks emails.
The Guardian contacted WikiLeaks, which referred to a Twitter post by the group’s founder, Julian Assange; he suggested that the Atlantic had selectively edited the messages.
Assange also wrote that the messages from WikiLeaks, including ones urging Trump Jr to release his father’s tax returns through the organization, showed its “chutzpah”.
A lawyer for Trump Jr told the Atlantic: “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.”
On Monday evening, Trump Jr tweeted what he said were copies of the “entire chain of messages with @wikileaks”.
The first contact from WikiLeaks was made on 20 September 2016, the magazine reports. In it the open information website informed Trump Jr that a new political action committee called “putintrump” was about to launch.
Trump Jr replied the following morning: “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around.”
According to leaked information obtained by the Atlantic, Trump Jr shared the news that WikiLeaks had been in touch with him with several members of the inner campaign team. Among those he allegedly told were Steve Bannon, then chief executive of the Trump presidential campaign, as well as the candidate’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
On 3 October there was a further exchange through Twitter in which WikiLeaks encouraged the Trump team to publicize a comment by Clinton about wanting to “just drone” the head of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
“Already did that earlier today,” Trump Jr replied, according to the Atlantic.
Soon after, the businessman sent a second DM to WikiLeaks asking to know more about an upcoming leak from WikiLeaks that had been teased by Roger Stone, the Trump-supporting political agitator.
According to the Atlantic the information flow continued until as late as July this year, although after 12 October 2016 it was entirely in one direction – after that date the younger Trump did not respond to any approaches. Beyond that point, the leak becomes more revealing about WikiLeaks and its maverick founder Assange, holed up in the Ecuardorean embassy in London where he has lived since 2012, than about the circle of the US president.
The most revelatory detail in that regard dates back to 21 October 2016 when the WikiLeaks account – presumably controlled by Assange himself, though the identity of the correspondent is unknown – contacted Don Jr urging him to allow WikiLeaks to publish his father’s tax returns. WikiLeaks suggested the move would be positive as it would undermine suggestions that the organisation was in the pocket of the Kremlin.
“If we publish [the tax returns] it will dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality,” WikiLeaks says. “That means 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.”
On election day itself, 8 November, WikiLeaks contacted Don Jr to make the extraordinary suggestion that should his father lose the contest, as was then widely expected, he should refuse to concede the race and instead turn the spotlight on the media for “rigging” the result.
Even more bizarrely, WikiLeaks wrote again in December, by which time Donald Trump Sr was the president-in-waiting, to ask for support in Assange’s legal battles against the governments of Sweden, the UK and Australia. “It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC.”
The Twitter message added: “They won’t do it but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons.”
The younger Donald Trump did not reply.
This is not the first controversy involving Trump Jr and links to Russia. In June 2016 he met a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, in what was presented to him as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s campaign by providing information that could be used against Hillary Clinton.