In Email, Trump Jr. Responded Eagerly to Russia Meeting
Tuesday was a rocky day for President Trump on the investigative front.
In a terse statement, the president commended his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., for making public a string of emails Trump Jr. exchanged last year before he met with a Russian woman he believed might help his father’s campaign by supplying compromising information purportedly tied to Hillary Clinton.
The content of the June 2016 emails, which the New York Times was hours away from publishing before Trump Jr. unveiled some of the exchanges via his Twitter account, raised new questions about the president’s assertions that neither he nor close campaign confidants colluded with Russia in an effort to win the election.
The White House said Trump first learned in the last few days about his son’s meeting with a Russian attorney during the campaign. On Tuesday, a White House spokeswoman offered no explanations for the conversations included in Trump Jr.’s string of emails exchanged with Russian contacts.
Trump Jr. told Fox News’ Sean Hannity during an interview Tuesday night that the meeting more than a year ago in Trump Tower was brief and produced nothing in the way of opposition research or controversial information that helped his father defeat Clinton in November. He told Fox he never mentioned the meeting to his father because “there was nothing to tell.”
“I wouldn’t have even remembered it until you started scouring through this stuff,” he told Fox. “It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.”
For the third successive day this week, the president has no public events on his schedule Wednesday. He is scheduled to fly to Paris Wednesday night, where he will meet with President Emmanuel Macron and celebrate Bastille Day through Friday. He and Melania Trump are expected to return to New Jersey to spend the weekend at the president’s property in Bedminster.
The president’s legislative agenda and pursuit of a measure to replace or repair the Affordable Care Act is stalled in the Senate, and the Russia investigations are not reassuring to Republicans on or off Capitol Hill. Seeking additional legislative time and a pressure point to help his colleagues focus on business, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that senators must work in Washington in the early weeks of August.
U.S. government officials and lawmakers from both parties have determined that Russia interfered with the U.S. election in an effort to bolster Trump’s chances of defeating Clinton. The resulting investigations underway in Congress and conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller took a turn this week as the Russia controversies ensnared a new cast of characters.
"My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” the president said in a one-sentence statement read by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during an off-camera White House briefing.
Speaking on behalf of the president, Sanders referred Russia questions to private attorneys who are working for Trump Jr. and his father. The vacuum on Tuesday left GOP lawmakers with little political ammunition other than to applaud Trump’s son for posting rather than deleting his emails. Democrats focused on the content of the exchanges and accused Trump and his son of colluding with a foreign adversary and lying about their involvement.
Sen. Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president and the father of a Marine infantry officer, said he was appalled by Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at the recent G-20 meeting, as well as Trump Jr.’s contacts with Russians.
“The notion that we would be deploying our best and brightest in the military thousands of miles away from home to protect against Russian aggression, but then you would have campaign officials excited about meeting with the Russians who were telling them we have an official governmental effort to affect your election, this is very, very disturbing,” he told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.
Sanders said Trump is “frustrated” that the Russia probes continue to dog him and his administration. She said the president “absolutely” wants his relatives and White House advisers to cooperate with investigators. “That's never changed since day one. We'd love to get this matter closed and focus on the big priorities of the American people,” she said.
Some Republican senators joined Democratic colleagues in urging full examinations of Trump Jr.’s activities and communications as part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe.
“We’re still in the pretty early stages of this investigation, but certainly the emails raise concerns that need to be thoroughly investigated,” said intelligence committee Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
The top Democrat on the same panel said the information disclosed by the New York Times and in the emails punched a hole in Trump’s previous denials that he and his campaign were never in touch with Russians about defeating Clinton. “Just plain false,” Sen. Mark Warner said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she wants yet another panel to embark on a probe tied to Russia’s efforts to meddle in the election using hacking, theft of private U.S. information, and fictional “news” disseminated online.
“The committee of jurisdiction is clearly the Judiciary Committee, and I think that hearing [about Russia] should take precedence over all other matters,” Feinstein said she told Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Trump Jr. should be called to testify in his chamber in light of the newest twists in contacts with Russians that included meetings in 2016, phone calls, outreach and contacts with Russian emissaries.
"It’s not only a breach of norms but a breach of civic responsibility,” Rep. Adam Schiff said in reaction to Trump Jr.’s communications.
“I don’t want to see us continue to lower the bar here and say the only question is whether this was illegal. This was unethical. It was in violation of the oaths of citizenship,” Schiff added. “The reality is, conspiracy is against the law and collusion is one form of conspiring.”
Trump Jr.’s correspondence, which he shared at the time with then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was a senior campaign surrogate and adviser, showed that the president’s son was eager to acquire sensitive information that was to be delivered by “a Russian government attorney” flying in from Moscow in June last year. Intermediaries in Russia introduced Trump Jr. to a woman he was told could provide information damaging to Clinton.
The damaging information was not described in the emails Trump Jr. released, and he said over the weekend that Trump’s campaign received nothing useful. But his initial interest was clear.
“I love it,” Trump Jr. told the acquaintance who first approached him about what Russian attorney Natalya Veselnitskaya could disclose to the campaign to help Trump.
Manafort is a central figure in the Justice Department and congressional investigations. Kushner, who has pledged to cooperate with investigators, is considered a “person of interest” in the federal probe. It was Kushner’s recent revised disclosure to the federal government about his contact with Veselnitskaya more than a year ago that put Trump Jr. in the spotlight beginning on Saturday.
Trump Jr. denies any wrongdoing and stated Monday that he will cooperate with the special counsel and congressional investigators. The emails he posted Tuesday indicated that the Russians friendly with the GOP candidate through business dealings asked him if they should approach Trump himself with the “sensitive” information about Clinton.
It remains unclear whether investigators possess evidence to contradict Trump’s insistence that he did not know last year that Russians with ties to Putin interfered with the election and worked to help Trump defeat Clinton.
Some Democrats said it seemed highly unlikely that Trump Jr. would fail to share with his father news of the unusual outreach to the campaign by Russian friends and acquaintances as it was occurring.
"It just doesn’t stand to reason that the president wouldn’t have known about a meeting between the Russian government, his son-in-law, his campaign manager and his son,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
“So either the president knew about this meeting and he’s been lying about it,” Murphy added, “or he’s been running an operation in which he allowed his closest advisers to freelance collusion with the Russian government.”
James Arkin, Rebecca Berg, and Caitlin Huey-Burns contributed to this story.