News analysis

Donald Trump stands strong despite fresh storm

E-mails released by the US President's son, Mr Donald Trump Jr, have raised the controversy over Russia's alleged meddling in last year's presidential election to a new pitch.

This promises more political drama in the months ahead, ensures that the increasingly murky Russia issue remains an albatross around President Donald Trump's neck, and could be a ball and chain for his agenda.

Yet, it is also clear that the Republican Party remains unwilling to abandon Mr Trump to his political enemies. With just a few exceptions, Republican lawmakers have largely been tepid in their expressions of concern.

In the messages, a go-between who was setting up Mr Trump Jr's meeting with a Russian lawyer in June last year mentioned "Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump". It was said that the lawyer had information damaging to Mr Trump's Democratic Party rival, Mrs Hillary Clinton.

Mr Trump Jr went ahead with the meeting, accompanied by brother-in-law Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

On Tuesday, he released the entire e-mail correspondence just ahead of the New York Times revealing it.

"My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency," the President said in a brief statement after his son released the e-mails, jolting Washington political circles.

The revelations have deepened the sense of crisis that has surrounded the presidency amid the country's increasingly toxic political divide.

Later, he tweeted that his son "is a great person who loves our country".

Appearing on pro-Trump Fox News anchor Sean Hannity's show on Tuesday night, Mr Trump Jr maintained that nothing came of the meeting. Mr Hannity lashed out at the "destroy Trump media".

Yesterday morning, the President said in a Twitter post: "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!"

Mr Trump Jr, Mr Kushner and Mr Manafort are likely to be called to testify before a Senate committee looking into allegations of Russia's influence in the election.

Under American election campaign rules, it is illegal to knowingly solicit, accept or receive any "contribution" from a foreign national or foreign government.

Mr Glenn Altschuler, professor of American studies at Cornell University, told The Straits Times: "The revelations raise questions that will provide fodder to investigators for months to come."

But he added : "The likelihood that this will erode President Trump's approval (rating), at least at the moment, is fairly low."

Mr Trump's approval rating among Republicans has held steady at 85 per cent since February. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 73 per cent of Republicans were unwilling to believe that he had colluded with Russia.

Republican Senator Roger Wicker told the Fox Business TV channel soon after the release of the e-mail chain: "Is it the end of the world? No. Is it a terrible distraction that takes us away from getting healthcare done? Yes. It is another little stumbling block."

But as the Senate prepares to sit for at least an extra two weeks into summer vacation time to get the signature healthcare legislation passed, the revelations have deepened the sense of crisis that has surrounded the presidency amid the country's increasingly toxic political divide.

"It does look awful," Republican strategist and commentator Evan Siegfried told ST. "It has not risen to the level of proving collusion. However, it makes it clear that Trump Jr was willing to listen to a foreign power." He added: "Democrats are already fairly convinced President Trump is hiding something and Republicans… are getting tired of new revelation after new revelation.

"They don't want to talk about it, it harms their ability to get our agenda passed, and it is starting to paralyse the United States government."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Trump stands strong despite fresh storm'. Print Edition | Subscribe