The Trump-Russia drama escalated last week after the US President’s son released an email chain from June 2016 in which he eagerly discussed plans to receive damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
In the emails, publicist Rob Goldstone tells Donald Trump Jr. that there is dirt on the Democratic candidate that “is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump". The US President’s son replies: "If it's what you say, I love it."
Rob Goldstone is a British-born entertainment publicist who has acted as an intermediary between Russian oligarchs and international businessmen.
After months of noise, low-key bubbling leaks and innuendo about the Trump campaign’s ties to either the Russian government or people close to the Kremlin, the email finally shows a clear, albeit brief, sign that there may have actually been some sort of collusion. However, the scope of the implications remains unclear.
President Trump issued a statement in support of his son, describing him as "a high-quality person". Besides the brief statement, the bombastic reality TV star has been uncharacteristically quiet. Several journalists in the American capital have also reported that the atmosphere in the White House is tense. The Trump Jr. email story has apparently been driven, or at least facilitated by, administration officials leaking information anonymously.
The email exchange led to Trump Jr. meeting with Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. The meeting was also attended by President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort, who were also forwarded the emails that Trump Jr. released. Since the story broke, Veselnitskaya has said she did not have information on the Clinton campaign and has never worked for the Russian government.
Donald Jr. released the email chain on Twitter after the New York Times (NYT) broke the story, “to be totally transparent”. Earlier, the NYT had run a story citing three White House officials as its source.
In an interview with Fox News pro-Trump presenter Sean Hannity, Trump Jr. said he wanted to find out what the contacts knew. "I should hear them out ... This was again just basic information that was going to be possibly there ... I wanted to hear them out and play it out." But he admitted, "In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently".
The release of the emails followed days of evolving accounts from the Trump administration about the nature of the meeting and its purpose. The emails were posted only after news media had already obtained them, and after they had first reported on them.
It could be that the president’s private lawyers have finally got through to him on keeping a low profile when it comes to the Russia story, and specifically the new scandal involving his son.
President Donald Trump and his defenders have insisted that there’s no evidence of “collusion” between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign. In May, the US justice department appointed ex-FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Trump’s alleged cooperation with the Russian government and its associates. This latest news will undoubtedly interest Mueller’s independent investigation. Meanwhile, Trump Jr. will likely appear before the Senate’s intelligence committee to give official testimony. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the committee, said he “absolutely” wanted to speak to him about the meeting and referred to the revelations as “the first time that the public has seen clear evidence” to back up the Trump-Russia theory.
Republican Senator from Maine and member of the committee, Susan Collins, told reporters that “our intelligence committee needs to interview him and others who attended the meeting” as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.
In front of a Senate confirmation hearing, President Trump's pick to lead the FBI, Chris Wray, was asked about the scandal and said that someone in Trump Jr.’s position “would be wise to tell the FBI” when offered compromising information on an opponent by a foreign agent.
These new disclosures signal a turning point. The Trump-Russia story is no longer solely contained to the spectacular, perpetual coverage that CNN depends on for ratings. Reports of panic from Trump’s inner circle, the constant leaks from disgruntled advisors, and the lack of the usual arrogant counter-attack from the US President show that this part of the story could be something that rises above the noise.
If anything, a Trump son, son-in-law and campaign manager (who was already very cosy with prominent Russian officials and businessmen) agreeing to such a meeting shows just how stupid and generally inexperienced the Trump campaign was and administration is.