The White House is in crisis mode following revelations that Donald Trump’s own son openly embraced an effort by the Russian government to peddle information incriminating Hillary Clinton in an attempt to help Trump win the election. On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. personally released a series of emails dealing with a meeting he had in June 2016 at Trump Tower with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and a person described to Trump Jr. as a "Russian government attorney." The meeting has been the focus of a series of articles in recent days by The New York Times. Trump Jr. released the emails shortly after the Times told him they were about to publish the content of the emails. The explosive emails begin with a message from music publicist Rob Goldstone about how the crown prosecutor of Russia had offered to provide the Trump campaign with "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary." Goldstone went on to say, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump." Minutes later, Trump Jr. replied, "If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer." Within a week—on June 9—Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected attorney—Natalia Veselnitskaya—at Trump Tower. The meeting had been kept secret until Kushner recently made reference to it in a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance. This is Donald Trump Jr. speaking out about the meeting on Tuesday.
Donald Trump Jr.: "In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently. Again, this is before the Russia mania. This is before they were building it up in the press."
Also on Tuesday, Trump Jr. said his father knew nothing about the meeting or the email exchange, during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.
Sean Hannity: "Did you tell your father anything about this?"
Donald Trump Jr.: "No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. I mean, I wouldn’t have even remembered it, until you start scouring through this stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame."
But many are questioning Trump Jr.’s claim, pointing to remarks Donald Trump made on the campaign trail just hours after Trump Jr. confirmed the meeting with the Russian attorney.
Donald Trump: "I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting."
That was candidate Donald Trump, speaking on June 7, only hours after his son confirmed the meeting with the Kremlin-linked lawyer. The meeting took place on June 9, two days after this speech.
Earlier this week, Donald Trump Jr. hired a personal lawyer amid the ongoing controversy. The attorney, Alan Futerfas, began his career as a top defense lawyer for the mob. The White House has been almost entirely silent amid the growing scandal. White House press briefings have all been off camera this week. On Tuesday, during another off-camera press briefing, deputy White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a short statement by President Trump, in which he said, "My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency."
President Trump himself has been out of the public view for the last three days, and he’s flying out to Paris tonight for a trip to France for Bastille Day on Friday. Vice President Mike Pence is publicly trying to distance himself from the scandal. On Tuesday, Pence’s spokesperson said the Trump Jr. meeting took place before Pence joined Trump’s campaign.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Republican operatives have reportedly launched a campaign to discredit the journalists reporting on Trump Jr.'s meeting. That's according to The Washington Post, which reports the effort includes scouring through the reporters’ previous work dating back years, demanding corrections and blasting any errors on social media and on right-wing news outlets.