WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s eldest son eagerly agreed last year to meet a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have information incriminating Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as part of Kremlin support for his father, according to an e-mail chain released on Tuesday (July 11).
The e-mails in the chain were between Donald Trump Jr., who posted it on Twitter, and Rob Goldstone, a publicist who helped to arrange the June 9, 2016, meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, who says she is a private lawyer and denies having Kremlin ties.
The e-mail chain’s disclosures could provide ammunition for US investigators probing whether there was collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s Republican presidential campaign.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow sought to hurt Clinton and help Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
“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,” said the June 3, 2016, email to Trump Jr. from publicist Rob Goldstone.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump,” according to the email Trump Jr. posted on Twitter.
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. partly replied in the exchange, which he said represented the entire chain of his emails about the meeting.
The exchange includes at least one error. Russia has a prosecutor general rather than a “crown prosecutor”. A spokesman for the prosecutor general declined to comment immediately.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters that the president applauded his son’s transparency in releasing the emails and viewed him as a “high-quality person,” referring all other questions to Trump’s and his son’s lawyers.
Trump Jr. and his younger brother, Eric Trump, run the Trump Organization, which their father headed before going to the White House.
US MARKETS WOBBLE ON NEWS
Financial markets appeared to have been jarred by the email disclosure.
Following his tweets, the S&P 500 Index slid by about 0.6 per cent in about 20 minutes, although it has since retraced about half that move.
The dollar index, the broadest measure of the US currency’s strength, weakened by about 0.25 per cent and US bond yields are at their lows of the day.
“This is going to be another obstacle for President Trump to make progress on his agenda,” said Alan Lancz, president of investment advisory firm Alan B. Lancz & Associates in Toledo, Ohio. “That’s why you’ve had such a severe and quick reaction.”
The New York Times, which over the weekend first reported the meeting with the lawyer, said Trump Jr. tweeted out the emails after being told the newspaper was about to publish their content, rather than responding to its request for comment.
In a statement accompanying the emails, Trump Jr. said he released them “in order to be totally transparent” and played down the meeting, saying the Russian lawyer “had no information to provide”.
Instead, he said she wanted to discuss adoptions and the Magnitsky Act, a US law that sanctioned Russian officials linked to human rights abuses. After Congress passed the law in 2012, Putin banned US adoption of Russian children.
Legal experts are divided on whether Trump Jr.’s participation in the meeting with the Russian lawyer could lead to criminal liability. Collusion in and of itself is not a crime.
But if the younger Trump conspired or aided and abetted a criminal action, such as hacking into American computer networks, that could be grounds for criminal charges.
Several lawyers also said the meeting could run afoul of federal election laws barring campaigns from accepting gifts or things of value from foreign nationals. The emails do not at first glance appear to provide evidence of illegal activity.
TRUMP JR. TESTIMONY SOUGHT
However, Goldstone’s statement that the promise of incriminating information on Democratic presidential candidate Clinton was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” provides new fodder for federal and congressional investigators who are probing Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign in which Trump beat Clinton.
Moscow has denied any interference, and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia.
The disclosure of the emails seems certain to increase both public scrutiny and official inquiries into the question of Russian interference, creating greater political pressure on Trump, whose first six months in office have been dogged by the issue.
Democrats, and even some Republicans, seized on the emails as evidence that the issue of Russian interference in the election deserves greater attention.
“These emails are very explosive,” Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, told MSNBC, saying the Trump associates should have flagged the Russian overture to US law enforcement rather than having the meeting.
“This is very problematic. We cannot allow foreign governments to reach out to anybody’s campaign and say ‘we’d like to help you,’” Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters at the US Capitol. “That is a non-starter.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the matter, as are US congressional committees, including the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence panels.
A Senate source said the Senate Intelligence Committee planned to call the president’s son to testify and that it was seeking documents from him.