Newly disclosed emails show that an intermediary for a Russian lawyer promised U.S. President Donald Trump's eldest son incriminating information last year about Trump's presidential opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, to bolster Moscow's support of the real estate mogul's candidacy.
Donald Trump Jr. released a string of emails Tuesday that he exchanged with Rob Goldstone, an American music publicist representing Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with the younger Trump in mid-June last year, shortly after his father had clinched the Republican party's nomination for president.
The emails come in the midst of multiple investigations of Russian interference in the U.S. election, both by Congress and a separate criminal probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director. The U.S. intelligence community has already concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign aimed at damaging Clinton's reputation and helping Trump defeat her in last year's presidential vote.
'Very useful to your father'
On June 3, Goldstone told the younger Trump by email: "The Crown prosecutor of Russia ... [has] 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 for Mr. Trump," the email said.
Within minutes, the younger Trump replied, "If it's what you say, I love it, especially [for use] later in the summer."
Days later, Goldstone referred to Veselnitskaya as "the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow" to meet with the younger Trump. Moscow has denied knowing Veselnitskaya and rejected U.S. claims that it meddled in the election.
The New York Times said the younger Trump released the chain of emails after the newspaper told him it was about to disclose them in a story about the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
Hours after his son made public the emails, President Trump released a statement saying, "My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected reporters' other questions about the emails, referring them to the younger Trump's attorney.
As he released the emails, Donald Trump Jr. said during his meeting with Veselnitskaya last year it became obvious to him that she did not have incriminating evidence about Clinton to hand to him. The lawyer quickly turned the conversation to discussions about sanctions the U.S. had placed on Russia, the younger Trump said, and the halt Moscow ordered on the adoption of Russian children by Americans.
On Monday, before the disclosure of Donald Trump Jr.'s chain of emails, the White House defended his meeting with Veselnitskaya, saying that it proved there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to help Trump's campaign because nothing came of the talks.
The younger Trump met Veselnitskaya along with then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the eventual president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka, both of whom are now White House advisers to the president.
Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian attorney is the first known contact between senior Trump campaign officials and Russian interests during the campaign. In response to The New York Times' disclosures about the younger Trump's meeting with the Russian lawyer, his lawyer said Monday those accounts were "much ado about nothing."
White House spokeswoman Sanders said Monday: "The president's campaign did not collude in any way. Don Jr. 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."
With the release of the emails, however, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that the younger Trump "definitely has to testify" before a Senate panel probing Russia's election interference. Other lawmakers said they were disturbed that the younger Trump was willing to accept information about Clinton from a Russian contact.