Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday released a chain of emails that showed him jumping at the chance for a campaign season meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton — though he denied colluding with her.
The emails, released by President Trump’s eldest son, show that he and other top members of the campaign were offered “high level and sensitive information” that they were told came from within the Russian government and could incriminate Mrs. Clinton.
The younger Mr. Trump said the June 2016 meeting took place before the furor over Russia erupted and that the lawyer didn’t actually have any information to provide.
In an appearance Tuesday night on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” program, though, Mr. Trump acknowledged that regardless of these facts, “in retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently.”
Here's my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints). pic.twitter.com/z1Xi4nr2gq
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
Still the disclosure, which the younger Mr. Trump said was done “in order to be totally transparent,” reignited questions about the Trump operation’s dealings with Russia during and after the campaign.
Several liberal activist groups renewed their calls for the president’s impeachment, while elections analysts said the emails are evidence of violations of campaign finance law. Sen. Tim Kaine, Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, went as far as to say the meeting could rise to the level of treason.
“We are now beyond obstruction of justice,” the Virginia Democrat told reporters. “This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason.”
The White House referred all questions about the meeting to the younger Mr. Trump’s attorneys but issued a statement from the president commending his eldest son for releasing the messages.
“My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” President Trump said in statement read by White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The email chain from June 2016 contains correspondence between the younger Mr. Trump and Rob Goldstone, a former British journalist and Trump associate who arranged the June 9 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
One email from Mr. Goldstone states that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” had met with a previous business partner of the elder Mr. Trump and “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’s support for Mr. Trump,” Mr. Goldstone wrote.
Mr. Trump responded back within minutes, writing that “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Days after the meeting, WikiLeaks released its first batch of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. A month later, the candidate asked for Moscow’s help — his supporters say facetiously — in uncovering missing emails that Mrs. Clinton sent from her secret email server during her time as head of the State Department.
A Justice Department-appointed special counsel team is investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election, including the DNC hacks and any collusion with members of the Trump campaign.
Confirming the date for the meeting, which was held at Trump Tower, the younger Mr. Trump forwarded a copy of the email chain to his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign director Paul Manafort. Both attended the meeting.
The New York Times first reported on the meeting Friday, then reported Tuesday that it had obtained the email chain — which the younger Mr. Trump released on Twitter.
“To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue,” the younger Mr. Trump wrote in a statement accompanying the emails.
The meeting request was passed along to Mr. Trump by Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop music star he knew personally from work on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that was held in Russia. Emin’s father, Aras Agalarov, a wealthy Moscow real estate developer, had worked with the elder Mr. Trump to organize the pageant and later pursued business dealings with him that have since been put on hold.
The younger Mr. Trump said Tuesday that he believed the Russian lawyer would provide political opposition research on Mrs. Clinton. That, he said, didn’t end up happening.
“No details or supporting information was provided or even offered,” the younger Mr. Trump wrote. “It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
Instead, Mr. Trump said much of the 20- to 30-minute meeting was focused on the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that lets American officials withhold visas and freeze financial assets of Russians suspected of human rights abuses.
The law is despised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who banned adoptions of Russian children by Americans in response to the law.
Ms. Veselnitskaya, in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, said she is not connected to the Russian government and “never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton.”
“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,” she said.
But some analysts say Ms. Veselnitskaya’s actions bear the hallmarks of an agent of influence — someone who is not a Russian government official but who works to identify key players who might be open to Russian influence.
“Just taking the meeting indicates you are willing to work with them on some issues,” said Molly McKew, an information warfare specialist and foreign policy consultant.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the meeting could have been a “testing of the waters by the Russians to see if the campaign would be receptive to their engagement and involvement.”
Democratic lawmakers said Congress must investigate the interaction.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called for Congress to create an independent commission.
“The American people need to know exactly what was discussed in this meeting and in any other contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, who was involved in those exchanges, whether then-candidate Trump was involved and what’s happened since the campaign to cover up these ties,” the New York Democrat said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said she hoped Mr. Trump and others would come before the committee to answer questions in an open session.
The government watchdog group Common Cause has filed complaints with the Justice Department’s special counsel, led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, and the Federal Election Commission over the meeting.
The group claimed Mr. Trump violated election law by soliciting opposition research from a foreign national.
“These laws exist to safeguard U.S. national security, and Donald Trump Jr. appears to have violated the law in order to obtain information helpful to his father’s campaign for the presidency,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause.
Even if nothing of value was provided to the Trump campaign, the solicitation could still count as a civil or criminal violation, said Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center.
He said that even though money wasn’t involved, the offer of research could be considered a thing of value and should have been a warning sign to the campaign.
“The proper response would be, ‘I’m sorry; we can’t do this. This is illegal,'” he said.
⦁ Dave Boyer and Dan Boylan contributed to this report.
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