Controversy over Trump Jr. meeting shows no signs of losing steam
The controversy over Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last year with a Russian lawyer retained the spotlight Sunday, stretching into a second week as new details continue to emerge and lawmakers raise questions about the meeting’s implications.
A lawyer for President Trump on Sunday made a full-court defense, appearing on all five major Sunday news shows to insist Trump was not aware of the meeting until recently. He also denied the meeting violated any laws.
But the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said news of the meeting elevates the panel’s Russia investigation to a new level.
The meeting — which included Trump Jr., White House adviser Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer, among others — was first reported last weekend. Since then, new details have continued to surface about the interaction.
The White House continues to deny the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow during the presidential election, but some lawmakers have expressed concern over the Trump Jr. meeting and called it a smoking gun in the Russia probe.
“Nothing in that meeting that would have taken place even if it was about the topic of an opposition research paper from the Russian lawyer is illegal or a violation of the law,” Trump’s outside attorney Jay Sekulow said on “Fox News Sunday.”
But Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, raised questions about Trump Jr.’s meeting and said he wants to hear from everyone involved to get the story straight.
It’s hard to believe Trump wasn’t told about the meeting during the campaign, he said.
“It’s a little unbelievable that neither the son nor the son-in-law ever shared that information with their dad, the candidate,” Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Trump has denied knowing about the meeting until recently, something else his attorney emphasized.
“The level of credibility from the senior levels of this administration really is suspect, and I think suspect regardless of what political party you belong to,” Warner added.
Warner also said he thinks news of the meeting moves the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation “to another level.”
“This is the first time that the public has seen in black and white on the email thread clear evidence that the Russians — and particularly there was a Russian government effort to try to undermine [Hillary] Clinton, help Trump,” Warner said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
“And what was remarkable was you saw not only willingness but actually glee from the president’s son as well as involvement of the campaign manager and the president’s son-in-law to say in effect, ‘Yes, bring it on.'”
Trump Jr. hasn’t been forthcoming about his meeting, Warner said, noting the president’s son has changed his story throughout the week. Trump Jr. ultimately revealed on Tuesday a chain of emails exchanged during the organization of the meeting.
Warner also said he wants to hear from everyone who was at the meeting to get their “version of the story.”
“I think we may find out there may have been other meetings as well,” he said. “We don’t know that yet. But what we’ve seen is a constant effort to hide contacts with Russians.”
Trump is not aware of any other meetings that took place between his campaign staff and the Russians, Sekulow insisted during an interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
“He said he has had no meetings, was aware of no meetings with Russians, was not aware of this one until really right before it all broke,” he said.
But this latest revealed meeting, Warner said, plays into this larger context of the campaign’s apparent attempts to hide contacts with Russians.
Trump’s son-in-law Kushner had to amend his federal disclosure form several times to add to the list of foreign contacts, Warner pointed out. He added it seems “strange” that he “conveniently forgot” to put the contacts in his initial filing.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cailf.) on Sunday also said he doesn’t think people can rely on what Trump Jr. says — and that the uncertainty of his witness raises questions about the president as well.
“We can’t accept anything Don Jr. says, and of course, and we can’t accept much the president says about this either, because he has a similar record of not being forthcoming when it comes to Russia,” Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Several investigations are looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race.
Over the course of the past week, many new details emerged about the meeting last year with Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer.
On Tuesday, Trump Jr. released emails detailing his conversations about setting up the meeting with the Russian lawyer whom he was told had damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
The information “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” reads one of the emails from Rob Goldstone, who acted as an intermediary to set up the meeting.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” wrote Goldstone.
On Sunday morning, Trump posted a series of tweets accusing the fake news of “distorting democracy.”
“Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?” he tweeted Sunday morning.
“With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!” he said in a subsequent tweet.