/ 14 July 2017

Trump Jr escalates Russia scandal

The three women
The three women

“This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump.”

“If it’s what you say I love it.”

This exchange is part of a four-page email chain between United States President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, and a Kremlin-connected publicist. Trump Jr released it via Twitter early on Tuesday, after learning that the New York Times had obtained a copy of the explosive communications.

According to the documents, Trump Jr expressed interest in meeting a “Russian government attorney” who was said to possess “very high-level and sensitive information” relating to then presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

The email chain, led by the subject line, “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential”, contains a conversation between the president’s son and Rob Goldstone, a publicist he had met during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

In one particular exchange, Goldstone, who represents the son of a businessman linked to the Kremlin, asserts the information is “part of Russia and its government’s support of Mr Trump”.

Trump Jr replies: “If it’s what you say I love it.”

Multiple agencies in the US intelligence community have previously concluded that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin directed a co-ordinated effort to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election. Whether there was collaboration from the Trump campaign officials remains contested largely along partisan lines. More recent investigations into allegations of collusion have raised tensions in Washington.

The US president and his allies have long maintained that the probe into the alleged co-operation is little more than a “witch-hunt”. But his son’s social-media disclosures serve as perhaps the most concrete evidence yet of Trump campaign agents’ willingness to collude with a foreign entity.

After months of flatly denying any campaign interaction with Kremlin associates, Trump administration representatives will now have to modify long-standing talking points.

Trump Jr moved to release the emails only after days of contentious back-and-forths with the New York Times, which first reported on a meeting between the president’s son, the president’s son-in-law, the president’s former campaign manager and a Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, on Saturday.

Trump Jr initially responded by stating the encounter comprised only a short discussion of Russian adoption policy.

Subsequent reporting by that newspaper led Trump Jr to issue a second statement, acknowledging that the meeting also involved some conversation regarding “political opposition research”.

On Tuesday morning, the president’s son released a third statement – this time attached to electronic communications with Goldstone – after journalists from the New York Times informed Trump Jr that they had obtained, and intended to publish, a leaked copy of the emails.

In that statement Trump Jr said he was releasing the entire chain of communication “in order to be totally transparent” and that “the information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research”.

“As we have said,” he continued, “they had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act. To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue,” he said.

At an off-camera press briefing, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement by the president, which read: “My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency.”

Sanders then said all questions related to the email disclosures would have to be directed to lawyers acting for the White House.

Despite Trump’s outward confidence, US-based news outlet Politico reports that many White House aides who previously dismissed “Russia stories” as “conspiracy bullshit” now struggle to call the recent coverage “fake news”.