By Rosalind S. Helderman and John Wagner,
Donald Trump Jr. agreed to take a meeting during the 2016 presidential campaign with a woman he was told was a “Russian government attorney” who could provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of “Russia and its government’s support” for his father’s presidential campaign, according to emails tweeted by the president’s son on Tuesday.
President Trump’s eldest son on Tuesday tweeted what he said was the entire exchange that led to the meeting amid a swirl of controversy about the June 2016 encounter.
The email exchange showed clearly that Trump Jr. understood he was taking the meeting as a way of channeling information directly from the government of a nation hostile to the United States to his father’s campaign. It is the most concrete public evidence to date suggesting that top Trump campaign aides were eager for Russia’s assistance in the campaign.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a campaign to assist Trump, including the release of hacked emails stolen from Democratic officials.
Congress and a special counsel are investigating Russian interference with the presidential election and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign — a charge the president has repeatedly denied.
Democrats were quick to pounce on the latest revelation related to the probe.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that everyone involved in the meeting should be “immediately summoned” to testify under oath between the House and Senate committees investigating Russian meddling.
“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 the American election,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The American people face a White House riddled with shadowy Russian connections and desperate to hide the truth.”
Appearing on CNN, Brian Fallon, the former press secretary for Clinton’s campaign, stressed that the meeting Trump Jr. coordinated also included Paul Manafort, then the campaign’s chairman, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
“I think it’s impossible to believe that the president himself was unaware of this apparent effort by the Russian government that was known to others in the Trump campaign,” Fallon said.
The email came from a music publicist who represented Emin Agalarov, whose father, Aras, is a major real estate developer close to Putin.
“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” publicist Rob Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. in June 2016. “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 support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin,” Goldstone wrote.
Trump Jr.’s response made his enthusiasm clear: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” he wrote.
Goldstone offered to send the information directly to Trump, who had then largely sealed the Republican nomination for president, but said that because the information was “ultra sensitive” he wanted to contact Trump Jr. first instead.
A spokesman for the president’s lawyer has said Trump was not aware of the meeting and did not attend.
Marc Lotter, a spokesman for Vice President Pence, said Tuesday that Pence was not aware of the meeting, which took place before he joined the campaign.
“The vice president is working every day to advance the president’s agenda,” Lotter said. “He was not aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories about the campaign — especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign.”
The emails show that Trump Jr. arranged to meet with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, along with the campaign’s most important advisers.
“It will likely be Paul Manafort (campaign boss) my brother in law and me,” Trump Jr. wrote.
Trump Jr. appeared to have forwarded the entire exchange to Manafort as well as Kushner, who is now a top adviser in the West Wing.
In a statement accompanying his tweets, Trump Jr. said he was releasing the entire chain “in order to be totally transparent.”
“The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research,” Trump Jr. said in the statement. “I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet.”
“I decided to take the meeting. The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official,” he said.
The New York Times reported that Trump Jr.’s tweets Tuesday came after the newspaper informed Trump Jr. that it had reviewed the emails and intended to publish their content.
Veselnitskaya told NBC News on Tuesday that she does not work with the Russian government. A Kremlin spokesman has also denied knowing who she is.
“To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue,” Trump Jr. said.
In a July interview on CNN — the month after the meeting — Trump Jr. vociferously dismissed as “disgusting” and “phony” a suggestion that the Russians were attempting to aid his father’s presidential campaign.
He told The Times in March that while he was sure he had held meetings with Russians, there were “certainly none” in which he “was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
In recent days, Trump Jr.’s explanation for what transpired has evolved.
On Saturday, when the meeting was first reported by The Times, Trump Jr. said that the meeting was about an adoption program that the Kremlin had cut off in retaliation for a U.S. law that targeted Russian human rights abusers.
But in a statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said an acquaintance asked him to meet with someone who “might have information helpful to the campaign.” Trump Jr. said the meeting was set up by an acquaintance and that he was not told the name of the person he was meeting.
“It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information,” Trump Jr. said in his Sunday statement. “She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children.”
Fox News said that Trump Jr. would appear on its network Tuesday night for an interview with host Sean Hannity.
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