President Donald Trumps 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 presidents eldest son to a Russian government attorney who could relay very high level and sensitive information as part of Russia and its governments 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 presidents 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. Its what weve 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 governmentlet alone worked with them to damage Clintons 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 Juniors legal and public-relations team, emphasizing that the presidents son is not a federal employee. According to a New York Times report published Monday, Kushners representatives referred all requests for comments back to an earlier statement, and stated that Kushner, Juniors 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 friendRob Goldstone, an entertainment publicistwho 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 presidents political inner circle. As The Daily Beast reported on Sunday, opinion of Trumps eldest son among some of Trumps 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 presidents son as an idiot one who played a role in the campaign and Trumps 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 wouldve 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 Trumps first-born son. Trump, Jr. did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story and the White House communications office and the presidents outside legal team did not respond either. Manaforts 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, Clintons 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 presidents legal team hasnt been keen to defend the first son either. After initial reports on the meeting with Veselnitskaya, Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trumps 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 sons 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.