Trump Calls Russia Allegations ‘Witch Hunt’
HITE HOUSE — U.S. President Donald Trump’s eldest son said Tuesday he did not tell his father about a meeting with a Russian lawyer last year, and also dismissed charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as “ridiculous.”
U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated Wednesday his belief that questions about links between his presidential campaign and Russia amount to “the greatest witch hunt in history.”
The comments on Twitter came a day after his eldest son disclosed emails that show how he and others involved in the campaign met with a Russian lawyer in an active search for incriminating information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump Jr. said in an interview Tuesday night on Fox News that he did not tell his father about the meeting, and also dismissed charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as “ridiculous.”
President Trump’s tweets Wednesday praised the interview.
Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!
6:19 AM – 12 Jul 2017
9,397 9,397 Retweets 38,098 38,098 likes
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Before that, his only comments came in a statement read by his press secretary, calling his son “a high-quality person,” while not discussing the ramifications of the email exchange.
VOA’s Capitol Hill correspondents said the disclosure that Donald Trump Jr. eagerly sought damaging information about Clinton ahead of the November election sent shockwaves through Congress and prompted strong reactions from Democratic members in particular.
Donald Trump Jr. ✔ @DonaldJTrumpJr
Here’s my statement and the full email chain
11:00 AM – 11 Jul 2017
16,290 16,290 Retweets 30,735 30,735 likes
Donald Trump Jr. ✔ @DonaldJTrumpJr
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints).
11:01 AM – 11 Jul 2017
12,142 12,142 Retweets 19,410 19,410 likes
Donald Trump Jr. released the emails Tuesday morning after learning that The New York Times was about to publish a story about them. They show an exchange with Rob Goldstone, an American music publicist who was representing Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who met with the younger Trump shortly after his father clinched the Republican party’s nomination for president.
‘High level and sensitive information’
Goldstone told the younger Trump on June 3 last year that “the Crown prosecutor of Russia … 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,” the email said.
Trump Junior Releases Russia Meeting Emails, Denies Wrongdoing
Within minutes, the younger Trump replied: “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially [for use] later in the summer.”
Democratic senators, such as Chris Murphy of Connecticut, said Tuesday’s developments in the tale of Donald Trump Jr. and his meeting with the Russian lawyer “starts to look like collusion … open, knowing collusion with the Russian government” on the part of the Trump campaign team. Republican senators were more cautious in their reaction, VOA’s Michael Bowman reported, but Susan Collins of Maine said “the emails deserve a thorough investigation” by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, saw the email disclosure as a “very significant, deeply disturbing development,” and said he wanted Trump’s son to testify before his committee, VOA’s Katherine Gypson reported.
“This is absolutely not only a breach of norms but a breach of civil responsibility to the country,” Schiff told reporters at a news conference late Tuesday. “When you get approached by a foreign government to interfere in an election, you go to the FBI.”
“We must investigate,” said Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, because the email chain “confirms that the president’s son was both aware of and supported the Russian government’s efforts to help [Trump] get elected.”
White House rejects ‘ridiculous’ speculation
Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House committee that oversees the executive branch of the U.S. government, called the latest account of contacts between the Trump campaign team and Russia “a sad day for our country.”
Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the issue “is problematic” and that the younger Trump “definitely has to testify” before congressional investigators.
Other lawmakers have expressed more pointed comments about the impact of the emails. Asked at the White House news briefing about public figures who are now openly discussing the possibility that investigators might look at the possibility of treason or obstruction of justice, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “those new words are ridiculous.”
In his emails to the younger Trump, Goldstone referred to Veselnitskaya as “the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow.” The Russian government has denied knowing Veselnitskaya and rejects U.S. claims that it meddled in the election.
The subsequent meeting was also attended by then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the future president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Both Kushner and his wife are now White House advisers to the president.
Multiple investigations under way
The June 9 meeting with Veselnitskaya was the earliest confirmed encounter between senior Trump campaign officials and Russian interests during the campaign.
The revelations this week about activities by Donald Trump Jr. last year come amid multiple investigations by Congress and a criminal probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, into Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.
The U.S. intelligence community has already concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign aimed at discrediting the U.S. election, damaging Clinton’s reputation and helping Trump defeat her.
Bradley Moss, deputy executive director of the James Madison Project, told VOA that foreign nationals are barred from making expenditures to advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate.
“An expenditure can be money or it can be something as abstract as ‘something of value.’ Information can qualify as ‘something of value,’ so it’s not too far of a stretch to imagine a charge against Donald Trump Jr. for conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act or other related provisions,” he said.
However, Moss cautioned people “to restrain themselves from leaping to definitive legal conclusions of either guilt or innocence. The entirety of what occurred will be investigated comprehensively by Mr. Mueller, as this squarely falls within the scope of his mandate.” Moss’s James Madison Project was established in Washington in 1998 to promote government accountability and the reduction of secrecy, as well as to educate the public on issues relating to intelligence and national security.
The emails between Trump Jr. and Goldstone, according to Moss, portray the president’s son “as a naive and amateur political operative with no apparent grasp of the legal process that applies to campaigns. A veteran operative would never have agreed to that meeting, and arguably would have reported the issue to the FBI, or at least their in-house attorneys, for guidance.”