US President Donald Trump said his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., is “a high-quality person” and applauded “his transparency,” after the younger Trump released emails showing he agreed to meet with a lawyer he was told worked for the Kremlin to get information about Hillary Clinton during the election campaign.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a brief statement from the president Tuesday in response to revelations that Trump Jr. agreed to hear damaging information on Clinton as part of the Russian government’s effort to help his father.
“My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency,” Trump said Tuesday in a statement read to reporters by Sanders. Although Sanders declined to answer any questions about the emails, she said the White House stood by its insistence that no one in Trump’s campaign had colluded to influence the election.
The messages were the latest disclosure to roil the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and potential collusion with Trumps campaign. As congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigate, the emails will almost certainly be reviewed for any signs of coordination with the Kremlin, which the White House and Trump Jr. have repeatedly denied.
A spokesman for Mueller, the former FBI director, declined to comment.
The contents of Trump Jr.’s emails brought swift reaction from Democrats including members of the Senate intelligence committee.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the emails show that a congressional investigation into Russian election meddling is “all that more important.”
He dismissed that Trump Jr.’s eager acceptance of help could just be naiveté: “Lying is not a rookie mistake.”
Warner also noted that Trump Jr. said in the exchange that the information could be good “especially later in the summer,” and that Clinton’s hacked emails were released around that time.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, another top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the emails show that Trump’s presidential campaign “sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert America’s democracy.”
“The question is how far the coordination goes,” he said. Wyden called on lawmakers to “stand up and do their duty: protect and defend the Constitution.”
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, said the report about Trump Jr. is “a very big deal.”
Schiff told CNN Tuesday that his committee, which is investigating possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, would summon the meeting participants “to get to the bottom of it.”
Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager Robby Mook said the US is facing a “serious national security crisis.”
He told The Associated Press Tuesday: “They called us liars; They called us disgusting for suggesting Russians were behind this. Then they met the Russians and talked about information about Hillary Clinton.”
Republican senators meanwhile downplayed the revelations that the president’s son agreed to hear damaging information on Clinton as part of the Russian government’s effort to help his father.
Senior Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah called the matter “overblown,” describing Donald Trump Jr. as “a very nice young man.”
Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina appeared at a news conference with seven other GOP senators, insisting that Republicans should not be “distracted” by the latest reports on Russia and instead stay focused on their agenda. None of the other attendees at the press conference responded to a question on the new emails released by Trump Jr.
Senator David Perdue of Georgia said several congressional committees are already looking at the matter.
US Vice President Mike Pence’s office said the vice president was not aware of the meeting between Trump Jr. and the Russian attorney who purportedly had dirt on Clinton.
Pence’s spokesman Marc Lotter said in a statement that the vice president wasn’t focused “on stories about the campaign, especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign.”
Pence was named President Donald Trump’s running mate in mid-July 2016, several weeks after the June meeting involving the president’s son.
Pence’s office said the vice president is “working every day to advance the president’s agenda.”
The emails are the first documentary evidence of a top Trump associate knowingly engaging with what they believed to be a Russian government effort to help Trump in the 2016 election. In one of the emails to Trump Jr., the music publicist seeking to set up a meeting with a lawyer from Russia describes her as a “Russian government attorney.”
Trump Jr. was deeply involved in his father’s presidential campaign. He posted the emails on Twitter and issued a statement describing it as an effort “to be totally transparent.”
The emails with publicist Rob Goldstone show that Trump Jr. was told that the Russian government had information that could “incriminate” Clinton and her dealings with Russia.
Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr. that the information “would be very useful to your father.” Goldstone was working to connect Trump Jr. to Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, who later met with Trump Jr. in New York at Trump Tower. Veselnitskaya has denied that she ever worked for the Russian government.
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. replied to Goldstone in one of a series of email exchanges the younger Trump posted to Twitter. The emails are dated early June.
Here's my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints). pic.twitter.com/z1Xi4nr2gq
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
The email release followed days of evolving accounts from Trump Jr. about the nature of the meeting and its purpose. The president’s son posted the emails only after they were obtained by The New York Times.
On Saturday, Trump Jr. described the encounter as being a “short introductory meeting” focused on the disbanded program that had allowed American adoptions of Russian children. Moscow ended the adoptions in response to Magnitsky Act sanctions created in response to alleged human rights violations in Russia.
A day later, Trump Jr. changed his account, acknowledging that he was told beforehand that Veselnitskaya might have information “helpful” to the Trump campaign, and was told by her during the meeting that she had something about Clinton.
In his third description of what occurred, on Tuesday, Trump Jr. said he had believed the information he would hear about Clinton would be political opposition research. He said that he first wanted to speak by phone, but that when that didn’t work out, he was told that the attorney would be in New York “and I decided to take the meeting.”
“The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official,” Trump Jr. said in the Tuesday statement. “And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act.”