WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS, NYTIMES) - Mr Donald Trump's eldest son said on Tuesday (July 11) he did not tell his father about meeting a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election campaign in which he had hoped to get compromising information on Mrs Hillary Clinton.
Mr Donald Trump Jr told Fox News he did not bother to brief his father on his encounter with Ms Natalia Veselnitskaya as it had been a "waste" of time - but wished he had handled things differently in hindsight.
Asked whether he had spoken to his father either before or after the meeting last June in New York, he told the network's Sean Hannity Show: "No. It was just a nothing. There was nothing to tell." "It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame," he added.
Earlier in the day, Mr Trump Jr had released a series of e-mails detailing an agreement to the meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya after an intermediary promised that it could yield "sensitive information" that was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump".
"In retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently," he said in the Fox interview, acknowledging he had been hoping to learn damaging information about Mrs Clinton, his father's Democratic challenger in last year's presidential election.
"For me this was opposition research, they had something you know maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I'd been hearing about, probably under-reported for years not just during the campaign so I think I wanted to hear it out," he said.
"But really it went nowhere and it was apparent that wasn't what the meeting was about."
He also said he would testify under oath in any of the investigations into possible collusion between Russia and his father’s campaign.
The e-mails released on Tuesday had showed Mr Trump Jr embraced Russia’s efforts to support his father’s presidential campaign, admitting he would “love” to get dirt from Moscow on Mrs Clinton.
The e-mail chain was released in its entirety by Donald Jr on his Twitter account, in a move that jolted Washington, and added fuel to the political firestorm swirling over allegations that Mr Trump’s campaign team colluded with Moscow to influence the 2016 election.
Mr Trump Jr had initially dismissed the meeting he arranged with Ms Veselnitskaya, as having to do with adoptions, but then offered shifting explanations as more details emerged.
In the e-mails released Tuesday, Rob Goldstone – a publicist close to the Trumps – tells Mr Trump Jr that he has learned of a Russian offer of compromising material on Clinton from a pop singer he represented, Emin Agalarov.
“The Crown Prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting 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,” Goldstone wrote in a June 3, 2016 e-mail.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin,” he added.
Mr Trump Jr responded less than 20 minutes later, according to the chain of e-mails entitled “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” “Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Ms Veselnitskaya is referred to in the exchange as “the Russian government attorney.” In an interview with NBC News, Ms Veselnitskaya said: “It’s possible that maybe they were looking for such information” about the Clinton campaign.
“They wanted it so badly,” she added.
US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a mass effort to tilt the election in Mr Trump’s favour, including hacking and leaking embarrassing emails from Democrats.
The latest disclosure now thrusts the president’s son to the centre of multiple US investigations by Congress and by the FBI as to whether Mr Trump’s team was in the know.
CNN reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading a criminal investigation at the Justice Department, also planned to look into the meeting.
In a statement accompanying the emails, Mr Trump Jr said he believed the Russian lawyer, “as she has said publicly, was not a government official.”
Mr Trump jumped to his son’s defence, saying in a statement: “My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency.”
Mrs Clinton’s vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine described the revelations Tuesday as moving toward more serious charges of perjury and “potentially treason.”
“This should have set off alarm bells and red lights and instead, what it seemed to do is it activated their salivary glands,” Mr Kaine, a US senator, said in a separate interview with MSNBC.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden went further, saying the e-mails “show there is no longer a question of whether this campaign sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert America’s democracy.” “The question is how far the coordination goes,” Mr Wyden added.
Vice President Mike Pence’s office issued a statement saying he was unaware of the meeting, in what appeared to be a bid to distance himself from the matter.
The New York Times reported that Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, two of Mr Trump’s most trusted campaign officials, also attended last year’s meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya.
The Kremlin has said it “did not know who” Ms Veselnitskaya was.
“We can’t be aware of all the meetings Russian lawyers have abroad,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov.