U.S. President Donald Trump's eldest son has published e-mails showing he was aware that a Russian lawyer he met with in 2016 had alleged ties to the Russian government, and that he was offered "sensitive information" that could help Trump's election campaign.
Donald Trump Jr. published the material on his Twitter account on July 11 in what was the latest chapter in a dizzying narrative that has put the White House again on the defensive.
Trump's presidency has been dogged by suspicions that Russia interfered in last year's election, and by multiple investigations into that and into interactions between past and present Trump associates and Russian officials.
Last week, Trump met for the first time with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany. According to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump asked Putin about the alleged election interference, and Putin denied it.
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Trump Jr. had met with Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016, as the presidential election campaign was heating up.
The meeting -- which also included Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign head Paul Manafort -- was held three weeks after Trump secured enough delegates to win the Republican Party's nomination and about one month before the party's nominating convention.
It also occurred less than one week before media widely reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and stolen thousands of e-mails.
Trump Jr. initially said his meeting with Veselnitskaya largely concerned the question of American adoptions of Russian children, something that Putin had halted in 2012 in response to a U.S. law known as the Magnitsky Act.
But Trump Jr. later changed his explanation after The New York Times reported that Trump had been offered information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The Times also reported on July 10 that the Russian government was the source of information.
Citing three anonymous sources, the Times reported that a publicist named Rob Goldstone, who helped broker the meeting, had sent Trump Jr. an e-mail saying the potentially damaging information was being provided as "part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy."
On July 11, Trump Jr. published four pages of e-mail exchanges showing Goldstone proposing the meeting and explaining that Veselnitskaya claimed she had information about purported illegal campaign contributions to the DNC and that she thought Trump Jr. might find it helpful.
One e-mail, signed by Goldstone and dated June 3, 2016, said the information "would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."
"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," it said.
Trump Jr. responded shortly after, "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."
In a message accompanying the Twitter post, Trump Jr. said the e-mails bolstered his earlier statement that Veselnitskaya had no information to provide, and merely wanted to talk about U.S. adoptions. He also quoted Goldstone's public comment on July 10 that the meeting was "the most inane nonsense I ever heard. And I was actually agitated by it."
In an interview broadcast on July 11 by U.S. NBC TV, Veselnitskaya also said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Magnitsky Act, the law signed by President Barack Obama imposing sanctions on Russians considered to have violated human rights.
She told NBC that she "never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton" and had no ties to Putin's government.
In an earlier interview with the Times, prior to Trump Jr.'s publishing the e-mail exchange, Goldstone denied knowing the source of the information that was damaging to Clinton.
During Veselnitskaya's meeting with Trump Jr., Kushner, who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka, and Manafort, who was heading Trump's election campaign at that time, were also present.
Veselnitskaya told NBC that Kushner left the room after 7-10 minutes and did not return, and that Manafort did not appear to be paying attention.
Trump Jr. To Testify
The meeting, and the e-mails, add to the growing pile of evidence pointing to some sort of active Russian effort to meddle in the U.S. campaign. In January, the U.S. intelligence community released a report that outright accused Moscow of waging a hacking-and-propaganda campaign to interfere in the election.
Since that time, multiple congressional committees have opened investigations into the question of Russian meddling.
The FBI, meanwhile, opened a criminal probe in July 2016 into whether Trump associates -- including Manafort -- had improper interactions with Russian officials. But the man overseeing that investigation, James Comey, was fired in May 2017 by Trump, who later reportedly bragged to Russian officials that his firing had relieved "great pressure" on him about the Russian probe.
The uproar that ensued ultimately led to the Justice Department appointing a special counsel to oversee the criminal investigation.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr., issued a statement on July 10 saying his client did nothing wrong and had promised to cooperate with investigators.
In Congress, Republican and Democratic senators signaled that they would seek to have Trump Jr. testify.
"This is the first time that the public has seen clear evidence of senior-level members of the Trump campaign meeting with Russians" to obtain information damaging to Clinton, Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.