Let's be clear here. Whenever Trump, his family, administration or campaign, or Putin and his envoys, talk about “Russian adoptions,” they're really talking about U.S. sanctions on Russia.
So if Trump, members of family, administration and campaign discussed "adoptions" with Kremlin envoys and with Putin himself, they were really talking about the sanctions, and the possibility of removing them..
Here’s why, and why this matters.
The Magnitsky Act
In 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act to bar Russian officials and businessmen linked to human rights abuses from using the U.S. banking system. This effectively prevents them removing their assets from Russia, and bars their entrance to the U.S.
This law was named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison at age 37, where he was allegedly tortured and denied medical attention after publicly accusing Russian officials of massive tax fraud.
The Magnitsky Act infuriated Putin and some of the billionaire oligarchs closest to him, since they could no longer expatriate their billions abroad and enjoy the fruits of their possibly ill-gotten gains in New York, Miami, London, Paris, or the French Riviera.
In retaliation, Putin decided to punish children by barring American citizens from adopting Russian orphans. Putin and his supporters have repeatedly let it be known that they would likely resume permission for Americans to adopt Russian orphans if the Magnitsky Act and other sanctions are lifted.
As The Washington Post reported, President Trump dictated a statement later made by his son, Donald Jr., to state that he, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the campaign to discuss “a program about the adoption of Russian children.”
This statement was quickly proven false, when Donald Jr.’s email chain, on which Kushner and Manafort were copied, was released by The New York Times. The subject line at the top of the email inviting Trump Jr. to the meeting, which he then forwarded to Kushner and Manafort, was headed “Russia-Clinton-private and confidential.”
This invitation promised Donald Jr. “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump.”
Donald Jr.’s response? “If it's what you say I love it.”
So much for the meeting being about adoptions.
At Face Value
So even we accept the Trumps’ statement that this meeting was about the adoption of Russian children at face value, it’s still potentially incriminating. With the Magnitsky Act in effect, discussing the “adoption of Russian children” with a Kremlin envoy could only mean discussing the possibility of lifting this act and other U.S. sanctions on Russia.
Hence, any undisclosed meeting between a Kremlin-connected lawyer and the Trump campaign to discuss the basis for allowing Americans to again adopt Russian orphans could only mean lifting sanctions.
The media has done little to help the public to understand the tie between “Russian adoptions” and “Russian sanctions.” That will hopefully change.
But it’s doubtful that Robert Mueller doesn’t understand this connection. It’s likely that discussions between the Trump campaign and Kremlin-connected representatives, which are falsely or truthfully claimed to be about Russian adoptions, are already at the front of the mind of Mueller and his investigators.