WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that his eldest son was “open, transparent and innocent,” a day after Donald Trump Jr. revealed his eagerness to hear damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government in a meeting last year with an attorney from Moscow.
Defending his son’s conduct, the president again dismissed the ongoing Russia investigation as the “greatest Witch Hunt in political history.” Trump responded after Donald Trump Jr. disclosed a series of emails on Tuesday that marked the clearest sign to date that Trump’s campaign was willing to consider election help from a longtime U.S. adversary.
The email exchange posted to Twitter by Donald Trump Jr. showed him conversing with a music publicist who wanted him to meet with a “Russian government attorney” who supposedly had dirt on Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” The messages reveal that Trump Jr. was told the Russian government had information that could “incriminate” Clinton and her dealings with Russia.
“I love it,” Trump Jr. said in one email response.
The president’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” that Trump Jr. did not violate any laws by accepting the meeting. He said the president had not been aware of Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting and didn’t find out about his son’s email exchange until “very recently.”
Sekulow said the president was not being investigated by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign and its interaction with Russia during the election. “I would know a little bit about it. I’m one of the lawyers,” Sekulow told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
As the emails reverberated across the political world, Trump Jr. defended his actions in an interview with Fox News, blaming the decision to take the meeting on the “million miles per hour” pace of a presidential campaign and his suspicion that the lawyer might have information about “underreported” scandals involving Clinton. Trump Jr. said the meeting “really went nowhere” and that he never told his father about it because there was “nothing to tell.”
“In retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr. said.
Democrats in Congress voiced outrage and insisted the messages showed clear collusion, with California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, declaring that “all of the campaign’s previous denials obviously now have to be viewed in a different context.”
Yet Republicans — who stand the most to lose politically from Trump’s Russia ordeal — did not join in the condemnation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was confident Senate investigators would “get to the bottom of whatever happened.” And Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican on the intelligence committee, cautioned that the emails were “only part of the picture.”
Trump Jr., who was deeply involved in his father’s presidential campaign, portrayed his decision to release the emails as an effort “to be totally transparent.” In fact, they had already been obtained by The New York Times.
Hours after the son posted the emails, the father rose to his defense.
“My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency,” the president said in a statement read to reporters by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Although Sanders declined to answer questions about the emails, she stood by the White House’s longstanding insistence that no one in Trump’s campaign colluded to influence the election.
The messages were the latest disclosure to roil the multiple, ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference in the election and potential collusion with Trump’s campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies have said the Russian government meddled in the election through hacking to aid Trump.
The emails will almost certainly be reviewed for any signs of coordination with the Kremlin, which the White House and Trump Jr. have repeatedly said did not take place. A spokesman for Mueller, the former FBI director, declined to comment.