Donald Trump Jr. speaks at a campaign stop with his father, then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, in April 2016 in Indianapolis, Ind.
The White House is defending Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last year with a Kremlin-connected attorney who purported to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton that could have been helpful to President Trump’s campaign.
"Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday.
"The only thing I see inappropriate about the meeting was the people that leaked the information on the meeting after it was voluntarily disclosed," Sanders added during the daily press briefing, which was not televised.
The June 2016 meeting between President Trump’s eldest son and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya surfaced following a weekend report from the New York Times. Trump Jr. put out a statement on Saturday saying the meeting had happened but that it focused on a Russian adoption program. On Sunday, following another Times story that the meeting was set up because Veselnitskaya might have damaging details on Clinton, Trump Jr. conceded in another statement that the meeting initially happened because he "was told [Veselnitskaya] might have information helpful to the campaign."
The meeting was also attended by Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — who would later briefly serve as campaign manager — and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who now serves as a White House senior adviser.
After dismissing such a meeting as routine opposition research gathering that typically happens during campaigns — although typically such meetings wouldn’t happen with foreign government — Trump Jr. also tweeted Monday that he would be happy to "pass on what I know" to Senate and House Intelligence Committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. That statement came after Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins said the president’s son needs to speak to the committee.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., told reporters at the Capitol Monday that he "absolutely" wanted to talk to Trump’s son, calling it part of a "continuing pattern we’ve seen since the election of Trump campaign and Trump administration officials who have conveniently forgotten meetings with Russians."
"If I was a campaign manager and had been contacted by what may be an agent of a foreign power and was told that agent may have damaging information about a potential candidate, I think I would remember that meeting," Warner said. "And I think it’s also a little strange, as a candidate, if my son or son-in-law met with an official or an agent of a foreign power I think I’d probably want to hear about that information."
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the president’s son on CNN Monday morning, emphasizing that there was "no action taken. Nothing" that resulted from the meeting.
"Don Jr. has very explicitly stated he didn’t even know the name of the person with whom he was meeting," Conway said. "He agreed to the meeting based on a contact from the Miss Universe Pageant." That contact was music publicist Rob Goldstone, who told the Washington Post that he had arranged the gathering.
Politico reported that Trump Jr.’s actions and statements "put him potentially in legal cross hairs for violating federal criminal statutes prohibiting solicitation or acceptance of anything of value from a foreign national, as well as a conspiracy to defraud the United States," and he, Manafort and Kushner "may have also exposed themselves to future blackmail threats," according to legal experts.
Trump Jr. has hired New York attorney Alan Futerfas to represent himself in matters regarding the Russia investigations, Reuters reported on Monday. The Daily Caller reported that Futerfas has previously represented Nikita Kuzmin, a Russian national who was found guilty of creating a malware virus that infected over 40,000 U.S. computers, including ones at NASA.