Moscow’s suspected role in the US election was back to the forefront this week after Donald Trump’s eldest son released emails showing he embraced Russian efforts to support his father’s presidential campaign.
In a string of emails released on Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr was told by an interlocutor that he could get “very high level and sensitive information” that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
In response, the 39-year-old — who now runs the family’s real estate and business empire in his father’s stead — wrote back saying: “if it’s what you say I love it.”
He then set up a meeting with a “Russian government attorney,” the emails show.
Speaking to Fox News, Trump Jr said he didn’t tell his father about the meeting after it failed to yield compromising information about his election rival Hillary Clinton.
“It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell,” he said, while appearing to acknowledge the misstep.
“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” he admitted.
“For me this was opposition research, they had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I’d been hearing about.”
US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a mass effort to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, including hacking and leaking embarrassing emails from Democrats.
In a statement accompanying the emails, Trump Jr said he believed the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, “as she has said publicly, was not a government official.”
Speaking to Fox, he said: “We didn’t know who she was before the meeting.”
However, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, two of Trump’s most trusted campaign officials, attended the meeting.
Trump took to Twitter early Wednesday to defend his son, saying the man was “innocent.”
“My son Donald did a good job last night,” the president tweeted, referring to the interview on Fox News. “He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”
Earlier, Trump said in a statement: “My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency.”
In an interview with CNN late on Tuesday, the president’s lawyer Jay Sekulow stressed that Trump had not been aware of his son’s meeting with Veselnitskaya until “very recently” and did not know about the emails.
Vice President Mike Pence, who has said the campaign had no contacts with Russia, also said through a spokesman he was not aware of the meeting, held before he became Trump’s running mate later that summer.
But the Senate Intelligence Committee plans to call on Trump’s son to testify and to provide documents, according to a Senate source, 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.
Clinton’s vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine described the revelations as moving toward more serious charges of perjury and “potentially treason.”
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden went further, saying the 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.”
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday he wanted to be shown at least one fact proving Moscow’s meddling in the US presidential election.
“I don’t know anything about this fact. It’s amazing that serious people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” Lavrov told a news conference during a visit to Belgium.