President Donald Trump’s son, his former campaign chairman, and his son-in-law were all told that the opposition research they were soliciting on campaign rival Hillary Clinton was coming from the Russian government, according to bombshell revelations made Tuesday morning.
In an email to Donald Trump Jr., a friend offered to connect the president’s eldest son to a “Russian government attorney” who could relay “very high level and sensitive information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“I love it,” Trump Jr. responded in writing. He forwarded the email to campaign chief Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers.
The revelation of these emails immediately sent shockwaves through the White House.
“This is sum of all fears stuff. It’s what we’ve all been dreading,” said one White House official who is now exploring the possibility of retaining an attorney, a step described as purely precautionary.
The email chain, which Trump Jr. posted to Twitter on Tuesday ahead of a New York Times report detailing its contents, is the most concrete evidence to date that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian government agents to tip the election. It also severely complicates months of vehement White House denials that Trump or his associates ever contacted individuals affiliated with the Russian government—let alone worked with them to damage Clinton’s candidacy. The president and his aides have routinely written off media reports to that effect as “fake news” and attempts by Obama-era bureaucrats to tar the president through potentially illegal leaks to the press.
Trump Jr. himself called the allegations of collusion “disgusting” and “so phony.”
The Daily Beast contacted multiple senior White House staffers on Tuesday to solicit defenses of Trump Jr., even anonymously. Each individual immediately referred questions to Junior’s legal and public-relations team, emphasizing that the president’s son is not a federal employee. According to a New York Times report published Monday, Kushner’s representatives referred all requests for comments back to an earlier statement, and stated that Kushner, Junior’s brother-in-law, is officially deferring questions on what happened in that meeting to Trump Jr. himself.
In a statement, Trump Jr. insisted that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the attorney with whom he, Manafort, and Kushner subsequently met, was not “a Russian government official.”
That is not in dispute. But the friend—Rob Goldstone, an entertainment publicist—who put Veselnitskaya in touch with Trump Jr. described the information Veselnitskaya was offering as originating from the “crown prosecutor of Russia.” (Such a position does not exist; though Goldstone claimed on Tuesday that “crown prosecutor” was referring to Veselnitskaya.)
The series of revelations surrounding Trump Jr.’s communications with Russian officials have damaged his standing within the president’s political inner circle. As The Daily Beast reported on Sunday, opinion of Trump’s eldest son among some of Trump’s senior aides, both past and present, is vanishingly low. Since the campaign, a popular, behind-his-back nickname for Trump Jr. among these advisers has been “Fredo,” referring to Fredo Corleone, the insecure and weak failure of a son in The Godfather series who ends up causing major damage to the family.
Over the past week, one senior White House official and a former top Trump campaign aide both independently and bluntly described the president’s son as an “idiot” — one who played a role in the campaign and Trump’s political rise simply because he “shares the same DNA,” the official noted.
Trump Jr. also now finds himself in trouble on Capitol Hill where numerous Senators were insisting that he come testify about his email exchanges.
“When I saw that, it just occurred to me that if I were in a similar situation and that request was made, I would’ve called law enforcement, because I think it does cross a line of a foreign government trying to influence our election,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It was pretty explicit. It was pretty direct.”
No One Wants To Defend The Guy
White House and former campaign officials who were reached by The Daily Beast spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to vent about President Trump’s first-born son. Trump, Jr. did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story and the White House communications office and the president’s outside legal team did not respond either. Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni would only tell The Daily Beast that the former campaign chairman had “nothing to add” as of Tuesday noontime.
Another senior official who appears to have nothing to add for the moment is the president himself who has, in the past, repeatedly stressed that allegations of his collusion with Russian actors were “fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.”
On Monday morning, after much of this news had already broken, @realDonaldTrump made sure to tweet about his daughter Ivanka, Clinton’s daughter Chelsea, James Comey, and even some Fox & Friends clips. As of noon on Tuesday, he had yet to tweet out a single defense of his eldest son.
The president’s legal team hasn’t been keen to defend the first son either. After initial reports on the meeting with Veselnitskaya, Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s outside counsel, replied: "The President was not aware of and did not attend the meeting."
After it was revealed that Trump Jr. was soliciting Clinton oppo from a Kremlin-tied lawyer, Corallo simply copy-and-pasted and blasted out the exact same statement.
But finally, on Tuesday afternoon during the White House press briefing, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a conspicuously brief, dispassionate statement from the president on his son’s situation: “My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency.”
—Andrew Desiderio contributed reporting.
Updated 2:50 p.m. to include statement from President Trump.