WH: No Collusion With Russia by Trump Jr. or Campaign

WH: No Collusion With Russia by Trump Jr. or Campaign
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President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a Russian attorney to discuss potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton last June but did not collude with the Russians to influence last year’s presidential contest, a White House spokeswoman said Monday in an effort to keep new smoke from becoming a fire.

“The president’s campaign did not collude in any way,” White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. “I would certainly say Don Junior did not collude with anybody to influence the election. … Our position is that no one within the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election.”

Responding to reports published by the New York Times over the weekend, Trump Jr. described in two rounds of statements a previously undisclosed meeting at Trump Tower June 9, 2016, at which Trump’s inner circle discussed potential political opposition research with a Russian visitor introduced by an intermediary.

Trump Jr. said an offer of information that could be helpful to his father’s campaign persuaded him to arrange a meeting with a Russian woman he did not know. He and Sanders made an effort to describe the meeting as an inconsequential and unremarkable political conversation as the general election was set to begin.

On the afternoon of June 9, Donald Trump upbraided Clinton over her handling of emails and classified information while serving as secretary of state. 

“… Where are your 33,000 emails that you deleted?” the GOP candidate taunted his adversary, referring to emails on Clinton’s personal server, which she said were personal and not official.

On June 27, during a campaign event in Florida, Trump publicly invited the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails and reveal whatever they found. U.S. intelligence and FBI officials later revealed that Russian hacking and election interference in the United States had been underway at least since 2015.

By the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee watched with little recourse as embarrassing communications emerged on the Web just as the party’s national convention was set to take place.

And by October, WikiLeaks became a conduit for emails stolen from the Gmail account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

On Sunday, following the Times reporting, Trump Jr. tweeted: 

Trump Jr. served as an informal adviser and surrogate for his father during the presidential contest. He said he roped in then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the candidate’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to attend the meeting with the Russian woman. Kushner served as the campaign’s primary contact with international representatives interested in Trump’s presidential bid.

Manafort was fired from the campaign in August of 2016. Trump Jr. runs the Trump Organization with his brother Eric. And Kushner is a White House senior adviser with a broad policy portfolio and a security clearance. 

It was Kushner’s and Manafort’s revised disclosures this summer to the government about meetings with foreign nationals that pulled back the curtain on a previously unknown link between Russia and the president’s oldest son.

The June 2016 get-together arranged with a Kremlin-connected attorney through a string of associates with ties to the Putin government is the most direct and publicly acknowledged link between Russia and the Trump campaign team to date. It prompted new questions within the investigations conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as well as by congressional investigators. 

Trump Jr., who retained New York criminal defense attorney Alan Futerfas Monday, tweeted his willingness to cooperate with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence following comments by Republican member Sen. Susan Collins that he would be questioned as part of the panel’s Russia probe.

Ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. Mark Warner, also said the committee will seek to hear from the president’s son. "This is the first time that the public has seen clear evidence of senior-level members of the Trump campaign meeting with Russians," the Virginia senator said.

Trump Jr. tweeted in response:

The Kremlin, through a spokesman, said it has no knowledge of Natalya Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney who visited Trump Tower, or information about her 30-minute meeting last year with Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort.

“No, we don’t know who [Natalya Veselnitskaya] is, and obviously we can’t track the meetings of all Russian lawyers at home or abroad,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday, according to Russia’s state-run media outlet, RT. 

The House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere with the U.S. election, is set to begin closed-door questioning of Democratic and Republican witnesses this week. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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