Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday suddenly released the emails setting up his meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the presidential campaign — in which the person who facilitated the sitdown wrote to him, "this is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
The emails are the most significant development in the ongoing, multiple investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to bend the 2016 presidential election toward President Trump.
The meeting took place at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with Trump Jr., Paul Manafort (Trump's then-campaign manager), and Jared Kushner (Trump's son-in-law and now a senior White House adviser) in attendance. They met with with Natalia Veselnitskaya in a session set up by music publicist Rob Goldstone.
"My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency," Trump said in a statement, his first comment on his son's meeting since it was reported.
In an interview with Fox News Tuesday night, Trump Jr. said he never told his father about the meeting that turned out to be "just a nothing. There was nothing to tell."
He also said the meeting was "literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame."
"Someone sent me an email. I can't help what someone sends me," he added. "I read it, I responded accordingly."
During Tuesday's off-camera, audio-only press briefing, deputy White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders repeatedly deferred questions on the matter to outside counsel.
"Once again, to repeat myself, I'm going to refer you to outside counsel, and I don't have anything else to add," Sanders said to one of many questions regarding possible Russian involvement in US elections, President Trump, and his son.
At one point, Sanders did break from the standard line, saying the president was "frustrated" with the latest developments.
"I think that the president is, I would say, frustrated with the process of the fact that this continues to be an issue," Sanders said, adding that he would like to focus on the economy, health care, tax reform, and infrastructure.
"And that's the place that his mind is, and that's what he'd like to be discussing," she added.
The emails have been published in reverse order, with page 4 showing the first email where Goldstone — who Trump Jr. met during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow — offered the Trump campaign information "that would incriminate Hillary."
Goldstone said that the information is "part of Russia and its government’s support of Trump," and Trump Jr. replied, "[I]f that's what you say I love it."
Here are the first emails from the exchange:
June 3, 2016
Rob Goldstone wrote:
Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.
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.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support of Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin.
What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.
June 3, 2016
Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Erin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?
The man referenced in the emails, Emin Agalarov, is an Azerbaijani singer and son of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, who helped Trump bring the Miss Universe to Russia in 2013.
Other emails go back and forth on planning the meeting in Trump Tower, with Goldstone later calling the attorney in the emails "The Russian government attorney":
June 7, 2016
Rob Goldstone wrote:
Hope all is well
Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.
I believe you are aware of the meeting - and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?
I assume it would be at your office.
Trump Jr. also released a statement along with the emails — which he published moments before a New York Times story was posted about them — attempting to preempt the news:
The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Meeting... The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official. And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act.
"To put this is context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue," Trump Jr. added.
He then quoted Goldstone from media reports today, where he called the meeting "the most inane nonsense I ever heard. And I was actually agitated by it."
Paul Manafort's lawyer, Reginald Brown, declined to comment. Lawyers for Jared Kushner and a spokesperson for President Trump's legal team did not immediately return requests for comment.
Peter Carr, the spokesperson for the office of Robert Mueller — the special counsel investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow — said, "We’ll decline to comment on the ongoing investigation" when asked if the emails were provided to his office.
Reactions from members of Congress mostly showed deep concern to a wait-and-see approach. Not many lawmakers were rushing to Trump Jr's defense.
"Trump Jr. was willing to betray US to cheat for his Dad's campaign. Would be foolish to call this 'shocking.' It fits #RussiaHacking pattern," tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat and member of the committee looking into possible Russian involvement into the US presidential elections. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Swalwell said that the emails "fit the pattern of a campaign that had personal, political, and financial ties to Russia which may have converged with Russia's attack on our democracy."
"There's no escaping it: The Trump Campaign's inner circle met with an agent of a hostile foreign power to influence the outcome of an American elections," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement.
Rep. Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was the first to call it treason: "If this isn't treasonous, I'm not sure what is."
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said it was "premature" to call the latest revelations treason but said the developments were "serious."
"It's a dead-bang case that ought to be in front of the Judiciary Committee right now and Mr. Trump Jr. be required to testify and fill in the blanks," Feinstein told reporters on Capitol Hill.
"This is one more example where we had a series of these individuals who said there was no contact during the campaign and nothing was involved with the campaign, and that just proved not to be the case," said Sen. Mark Warner, vice chair of the Intelligence Committee. "But this is a pattern we've seen from senior-level Trump officials that has gone back months, where they deny these contacts or meetings with Russians until the proof comes out and then they have to recant," Warner continued.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, suggested Tuesday that Trump Jr.'s actions could leave the president open to blackmail by a foreign government. If, for example, there were more meetings or interactions between the Trump campaign and any representative of the Russian government, Schiff told reporters it could be used as “kompromat” by the Russians to try to “influence this president’s conduct of American policy.”
“If there were other meetings that the Russians know about, if there are other interactions with the Trump campaign that the Russians are aware of, that is something they can hold over the head of the President of the United States,” Schiff said.
While Schiff said he would like the Intelligence Committee to speak to Trump Jr. he noted that misrepresentations by the administration and Trump family regarding the campaign’s interaction with Russia should be taken into consideration when hearing their explanations.
“We can’t rely on any public representations that are made by the family about their contacts with Russia,” he said.
He declined to say whether Trump Jr. might have violated any laws, but deemed it “a breach of civic responsibility,” “unethical,” and likely “in violation of the oaths of citizenship.”
“The reality is, conspiracy is against the law. And collusion is one form of conspiring,” Schiff said.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, said, "These emails show there is no longer a question of whether this campaign sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert America's democracy."
Richard Burr, a Republican senator and chair of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said, "We're gonna go where the facts lead us."
"I don't form conclusions until I've finished the investigation," Burr added, saying that he has read the emails and The New York Times story about the meeting.
Louisiana GOP Sen. John Kennedy says he's waiting for the FBI investigation to conclude before commenting on the Donald Trump Jr. emails. "I think what it will find is that Russia tried to interfere in our election, duh," Kennedy said. "They've been doing it for decades. Now, if anybody conspired with them, I think they ought to be held accountable, but we don't know anything yet."
"Yeah, I mean, they're problematic on its face," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina. "It's not a Russian government official but it's somebody suggesting the Russian government is interested in helping the Trump campaign, the Trump campaign is interested in being helped," Graham continued. "But the actual meeting was with someone who knew nothing about the Clinton campaign. Which is just completely bizarre. If you're ever approached about getting help from a foreign government, the answer is no... I think we need to hear from Donald Trump Jr."
In a tweet, Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas who also serves on the Intelligence Committee, said that the emails "confirm" that the "Russian govt wanted to help Trump." Castro also said it proved that "[t]here were Russian & American intermediaries" and that "[t]he Trump family participated."
US Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said: "Other shoes will drop."
And US Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who is also on the Intelligence Committee, said, "the most appropriate next step here is to have him come before the committee, as he's expressed a willingness to do and get a better understanding of the context behind all of this."
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch defended Trump Jr., confusingly saying, "Look, I know Donald Jr., he's a very bright young man, he's a very nice young man. I think one of the things that endears the president to me is how nice his children are and they all love him." He added, "He divorced their mothers and they loved him."
"I think that's overblown," Hatch added. "He's the son of the president, and frankly I think that's overblown."
After news of the meeting organized by Trump Jr. broke this week, he vehemently denied that he'd done anything wrong.
Trump Jr. will appear on Sean Hannity's program this evening, a Fox News producer tweeted.
Additional reporting by Zoe Tillman.