As is its weekly tradition, the White House is facing yet another grave crisis in the wake of the publication of emails between the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and a go-between for a Russian lawyer. The emails from June 2016 call into question the main pillars of the White House’s defence against allegations of Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
In one of the messages, music publicist Rob Goldstone, who acted as an intermediary in setting up the meeting, said Russian government sources were offering information and documents 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.”
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. told Goldstone in an email six days before the meeting occurred.
Trump Jr. published the emails on Twitter moments before The New York Times released them. In an accompanying statement, the president’s son said he was releasing the emails “in order to be totally transparent.” Why wait so long (and until the Times was about to publish) if Trump Jr. is genuinely concerned about transparency? Also this somewhat voluntarily revelation contradicts Team Trump’s repeated statement that while Russia may indeed have meddled in the election, there was no coordination or communication between Moscow and their campaign. Where was Trump Jr. in the last year? Why was a music publicist involved in this? So many questions. All in all, a classic example of inexperienced people jumping above their heads…
The atmosphere of crisis was apparent at the White House and in the broader Trump orbit, where hatches were battened down amid the storm. At a press briefing that was conducted off camera and lasted 22 minutes, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly parried reporters’ questions on the emails by saying their queries should be directed to the personal lawyers of the people involved. Sanders read a brief statement from the president during the briefing. “My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” the statement read in full. Well, very predictable and Twitter-friendly (under 140 characters).
The president’s Twitter feed remained free of any mention of the controversy enveloping his son, though he did tweet about his efforts to bring the Olympics to the U.S. and about “big wins against ISIS!”
Joe Sandler, an attorney who specialises in election law and who represents Democratic and progressive clients, said that the email from Trump to Goldstone was “direct evidence that [Trump Jr.] solicited something of value, which counts as a contribution from a foreign national” — a potential violation of campaign law. That interpretation is a source of dispute among legal experts. Sandler also poured scorn on the idea that the kind of exchange represented in the emails is commonplace on political campaigns. “It is very common for people on campaigns and people on committees to talk to people who claim to have damaging information about the opponent. But that is not foreign governments,” he said. “That is the key.”
Trump Jr. said Tuesday he would be willing to testify under oath about his election-year meeting with a Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who offered compromising information about Hillary Clinton.
“And you have nothing to hide,” Fox News host Sean Hannity told Trump Jr. during an interview that aired Tuesday night. “That means you’ll testify under oath, all of that?”
“All of it,” Trump Jr. responded. He also said the meeting “went nowhere and it was apparent that that wasn’t what the meeting was actually about. I wouldn’t have even remembered it until you started scouring through this stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame,” he said. Trump Jr. did not rule out the possibility that he spoke about the campaign with other Russians. “I don’t even know. I’ve probably met with other people from Russia but certainly not in the context of actual formalised meetings or anything,” he said. If he is asked to testify, he’ll need to get his story straight, that’s for sure.
In a Tuesday interview with NBC News, Veselnitskaya offered a different account of the meeting. She said she never had any damaging information on Clinton and it was never her intention to secure the meeting under the impression that she did. “It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted,” Veselnitskaya said. Veselnitskaya also denied any connection to the Russian government. The Kremlin has said it does not know anything about the meeting.
Although it is not clear what happened in that meeting, contrary to Goldstone’s assurances, there is nothing to say that Hillary Clinton had any incriminating dealings with Russia. Not a statement the Trump family can use anymore.