Democrats quick to jump on release of emails, calling them 'explosive' and claiming they show collusion between Trump campaign and Russia
President Donald Trump has praised the transparency shown by his eldest son, Donald Jr, in releasing emails where he said "I love it" to what he had been told was an attempt by the Russian government to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential election campaign.
Mr Trump's defence of his son comes despite the fact that the emails increase the pressure on the White House over a number of investigations into potential ties between the Trump team and Russia. The release of the emails, via Mr Trump Jr's Twitter account, appear to have been forced by the fact that reporters were lining up a story disclosing the contents of the messages, amid a mounting controversy about his previously undisclosed meeting last summer with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has been linked to the Kremlin.
While President Trump called his son a "high quality person" in a statement read out by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Democrats jumped on the revelation, calling the emails "explosive". A number of Democrats also claimed that the messages prove there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as part of attempts by Moscow to meddle in the 2016 presidential election - something the White House has repeatedly denied.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday evening, Mr Trump Jr insisted his father had not been made aware of the meeting. "I wouldn’t have even remembered it until you started scouring through this stuff,” he said. “It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame."
But he added that with hindsight, he “probably would have done things a little differently".
Accusations of potential co-operation between the Trump campaign team and Russia, over what a number of US intelligence services have said was hacking of the election with the aim of helping Mr Trump into the White House, have dogged the President's first few months in office. A number of Congressional and FBI investigations into the hacking and any potential links to team Trump are underway - with the latest revelations sure to pile more pressure onto the President.
Both the Senate and House intelligence committees have said they want to speak to Mr Trump Jr, and examine the emails, while the team of Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has taken over the FBI investigation, is also planning to study both the meeting and the emails, according to a report by CNN.
Investigators have been searching for a "smoking gun" over the contacts between the Trump team and Russia, with many of the President's opponents quick to cast the new emails in that light. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said it showed "open, knowing collusion".
"This is a pattern of lies that is deeply deeply disturbing. I think for a long time, we saw a lot of smoke but no fire. You’re seeing the fire today,“ he added.
The meeting between Mr Trump and Ms Veselnitskaya took place on 9 June 2016, with the new emails detailing an exchange between Mr Trump Jr and Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist who works as in New York as a music publicist and helped facilitate the meeting, ahead of that date.
The emails show that Mr Goldstone told Mr Trump Jr that “the crown prosecutor of Russia” had 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”. Mr Goldstone manages Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, whose father, Aras, a Moscow-based property developer, was President Trump's business partner in taking the Miss Universe competition to Moscow in 2013
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump,” Mr Goldstome added
Seventeen minutes later, Mr Trump Jr replied: “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer.”
In a later email, Mr Goldstone described Ms Veselnitskaya as a “Russian government attorney”. Mr Goldstone told The Wall Street Journal his reference to the “crown prosecutor” was also meant to mean Ms Veselnitskaya.
The email chain suggests Mr Trump Jr was forwarding the messages to Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and now White House adviser, and Mr Trump's then campaign manager Paul Manafort. Both Mr Kushner and Mr Manafort attended the meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya.
Ms Clinton's former running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, said the emails "were explosive" and contained “wheelbarrows full of new evidence for the special prosecutor”, referencing Mr Mueller.
Leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi was one of the first to point out what she saw as the serious nature of what the new emails mean. “There’s no escaping it: the Trump Campaign’s inner circle met with an agent of a hostile foreign power to influence the outcome of an American election,” she said.
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went further. "The question is how far the coordination goes. It is now up to elected officials of both parties to stand up and do their duty: protect and defend the constitution,” he said.
Some Republicans urged caution, saying that the investigations should run their course, but others were more forthright. “Any time you're in a campaign and you get an offer from a foreign government to help your campaign, the answer is 'no',” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a frequent President Trump critic, said.
When news of the meeting was broken by The New York Times on Saturday, Mr Trump Jr initially did not mention the potential information about Ms Clinton. He said: “It was a short introductory meeting...we primarily discussed a programme about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
A new statement on Sunday said that the meeting involved a woman who Mr Trump Jr was told "might have information useful for the campaign". In a statement accompanying the emails on Tuesday, Mr Trump Jr said the Kremlin-connected lawyer was not a government official, and that she did not provide any information regarding Ms Clinton.
Ms Veselnitskaya also insisted on Tuesday that she had no compromising information on Ms Clinton to offer. Asked if she had compromising information on Ms Clinton, Ms Veselnitskaya said it was “not true” and Mr Trump Jr “was told so”. However, she previously told NBC that Trump officials "were looking for such information... They wanted it so badly".
“I never had compromising information and could not have had,” Ms Veselnitskaya said, adding that she did “not represent anyone other than myself.”
The lawyer insisted she was “offered to meet with Trump Jr” in a “private setting not connected to the fact that he is the son of the presidential candidate".