‘There was nothing to tell’ Donald Trump Jr says of Russian meeting
Washington — Donald Trump’s eldest son released e-mails on Tuesday showing that he embraced Russian efforts to support his father’s presidential campaign — a shocking disclosure likely to further fuel speculation over Moscow’s suspected role in the election.
The revelation puts the US president’s son at the centre of a burgeoning scandal involving multiple US investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Moscow in its efforts to tilt the 2016 election in the Republican’s favour.
In a string of e-mails released on Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr was told by an interlocutor that he could get "very high level and sensitive information" that was "part of Russia and its government’s support for Trump." In response, the 39-year-old — who now runs the family real-estate business in his father’s stead — wrote back saying: "If it’s what you say, I love it." He then set up a meeting with a "Russian government attorney", the e-mails show. The e-mail chain was released in its entirety by Trump Jr in a move that jolted Washington, and added fuel to the firestorm swirling over allegations that Trump’s campaign team colluded with Moscow to influence the 2016 election.
Speaking to Fox News, Trump Jr said he didn’t tell his father about the meeting after it failed to yield compromising information about his election rival, Hillary Clinton. "It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell," he said, while appearing to acknowledge the misstep. "In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently," he admitted.
"For me this was opposition research; they had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I’d been hearing about." US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a mass effort to tilt the election in Trump’s favour, including hacking and leaking embarrassing e-mails from Democrats.
The latest disclosure now thrusts Trump’s son to the centre of multiple investigations by Congress and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as to whether Trump’s team was in the know.
In a statement accompanying the e-mails, Trump Jr said he believed the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, "as she has said publicly, was not a government official". Speaking to Fox, he said: "We didn’t know who she was before the meeting." However, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, two of Trump’s most trusted campaign officials, attended the meeting.
Trump jumped to his son’s defence, saying in a statement: "My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency." In an interview with CNN late on Tuesday, Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, stressed that Trump had not been aware of his son’s meeting with Veselnitskaya until "very recently", and did not know about the e-mails.
"The president, by the way, never saw an e-mail — did not see the e-mail — until it was seen today," Sekulow said. "I want to be clear on that." Trump Jr initially said his meeting with the lawyer was related to adoptions, but then offered shifting explanations as more details emerged.
In the e-mails released on Tuesday, Rob Goldstone — a publicist close to the Trumps — tells Trump Jr that he has learnt of a Russian offer of compromising material on Clinton from a pop singer he represented, Emin Agalarov.
"The Crown Prosecutor of Russia met with his father, Aras, this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," Goldstone wrote in a June 3 2016 e-mail.
"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin," he added.
Donald Jr responded less than 20 minutes later, according to the chain of e-mails entitled, "Russia — Clinton — private and confidential." "Thanks Rob, I appreciate that," the son responded. "If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer." Veselnitskaya is referred to in the exchange as "the Russian government attorney." In an interview with NBC News, Veselnitskaya said: "It’s possible that maybe they were looking for such information" about the Clinton campaign. "They wanted it so badly." Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate, Tim Kaine, described the revelations as moving toward more serious charges of perjury and "potentially treason".
"This should have set off alarm bells and red lights and instead, what it seemed to do is it activated their salivary glands," Kaine, a US senator, told MSNBC.
Democratic senator Ron Wyden went further, saying the e-mails "show there is no longer a question of whether this campaign sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert the US’s democracy." Vice-president Mike Pence appeared to distance himself from the matter, with his office saying he was unaware of the meeting.
But some Republicans said the e-mail contact and the meeting raised a red flag. "The fact he took the meeting is problematic. That e-mail is problematic," said senator Lindsey Graham.
The White House refused to answer queries on the matter on Tuesday, referring reporters to his legal counsel.
Adding to the apparent bunker mentality, Trump has no public events scheduled for Wednesday, a third straight day without public engagement.