Emails released Tuesday revealed US President Donald Trump’s oldest son agreed last year to meet a Russian lawyer who might have information about Hillary Clinton, as part of Moscow’s support for his dad during the presidential election.
The emails, released by Donald Trump Jr, are the most damaging evidence yet that Trump campaign officials welcomed Russian help to win the election.
The messages show that the younger Trump was open to the idea of “sensitive information” from an attorney described as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump” ahead of a meeting on June 9, 2016.
“If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump Jr responded. He released the messages on Twitter after an American papersaid it planned to write about them.
The messages seem to show Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, also planned to attend the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who denies having ties with the Kremlin.
Trump Jr said Veselnitskaya did not provide any damaging information about Clinton and instead wanted to talk about Russian sanctions.
“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr said. “For me, this was opposition research.”
Nevertheless, the emails between Trump Jr and Rob Goldstone, who arranged the meeting, could be used as evidence for investigators probing whether Trump’s campaign worked with the Kremlin.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow tried to help Trump win the election in part by releasing private emails from Democratic Party officials.
“The conversation will now turn to whether President Trump was personally involved or not. But the question of the campaign’s involvement appears settled now,” Cornell Law School professor Jens David Ohlin said. “The answer is yes.”
Moscow has denied any interference, and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia.
Trump Jr said he did not tell his father about the meeting. “There was nothing to tell,” he said.
Along with his younger brother Eric, Trump Jr. oversees the Trump Organization, his father’s real-estate and business empire, and does not have a formal role in the White House.
The emails do not appear to provide evidence of illegal activity, but legal experts say Trump Jr. could run into trouble if investigators find he aided a criminal action, such as hacking into Democratic computer networks, or violated campaign-finance laws by accepting gifts from foreign entities.
Did Donald Trump Jr break the law when he met a Russian lawyer during his dad’s election campaign? Or was he just a naughty boy?
The Senate Intelligence Committee plans to call on him to testify and to provide documents, while the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee wants to interview him and everybody else involved in the meeting, said the panel’s top Democrat, Representative Adam Schiff.
“The American people need to know that our president is acting on their behalf and not acting because he has a fear that the Russians could disclose things that would harm him or his family,” Schiff said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, a Republican, asked the Trump administration how Veselnitskaya was able to enter the United States even though her authorization had expired.
It was also reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading a criminal investigation at the Justice Department, also planned to look into the meeting.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters that the president applauded his son’s transparency in releasing the emails, referring all other questions to their lawyers.
US Vice President Mike Pence, who has said that the campaign had no contacts with Russia, said through a spokesman that he was not aware of the meeting.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told reporters: “This is very problematic. We cannot allow foreign governments to reach out to anybody’s campaign and say: ‘We’d like to help you.’”
Edited by Ginny Wong