Donald Trump Jr. was offered “high level and sensitive information” in June 2016 as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” according to emails he released Tuesday.
The emails said a person described as a Russian government attorney had “official documents and information” that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton “and be very useful to your father.”
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. responded.
The messages from Rob Goldstone, a music promoter with business dealings in Russia who is a friend of Trump Jr.’s, led within days to a meeting at Trump Tower with Trump Jr. and two other high-level campaign officials, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, and Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman at the time.
The emails provide striking evidence that well-connected Russians were reaching out to the Trump campaign at least as early as June 2016, using the offer of damaging information against Clinton to gain access to the top levels of the campaign.
Notably, nothing in the emails shows any surprise on Trump Jr.’s part over the reference to official Russian “support for Mr. Trump,” something the Trump campaign and administration have vehemently denied for nearly a year.
Instead, the messages show that top campaign officials were eager to receive the information, even after being told that it came from a foreign government.
Trump Jr. has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the meeting and said he received no useful information from the attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
“The entire meeting was the most inane nonsense I ever heard,” he wrote, quoting a statement Goldstone made recently.
The emails, which Trump Jr. released at nearly the same time as The New York Times published them, undermine several of his previous statements.
On Sunday, Trump Jr. said in a statement that he had “asked Jared and Paul to attend” the meeting with Veselnitskaya, “but told them nothing of the substance.”
The email chain, however, shows that he sent both Kushner and Manafort a message with the subject line “Russia-Clinton-private and confidential.” The message they received may have included the full email chain, although the emails Trump released do not make that entirely clear.
In July 2016, several weeks after the meeting, Trump Jr. denounced Democratic charges that Russians were helping the Trump campaign, calling the allegations “disgusting” and “phony.”
It remains unknown whether the Trump campaign ultimately did receive information from the Russian government intended to damage Clinton or whether anyone involved in the campaign shared information with the Russians.
But a U.S. intelligence assessment released in January concluded with “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized a campaign to interfere in the American vote with the aim of aiding Trump.
Democrats quickly denounced Trump Jr.’s actions, with some lawmakers referring to his conduct as “treasonous.”
In a statement, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that the latest disclosures show that “the Trump campaign’s inner circle met with an agent of a hostile foreign power to influence the outcome of an American election.”
“The American people face a White House riddled with shadowy Russian connections and desperate to hide the truth,” she wrote.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the emails make clear that “the highest levels of the Trump campaign walked, eyes open, into a meeting designed to advance the Russian government’s support for Donald Trump.”
“There is no longer a question of whether this campaign sought to collude with a hostile foreign power,” he added. “The question is how far the coordination goes.”
Republican lawmakers’ initial response was to seek to change the subject.
“That’s the very thing we need to not get distracted by,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, referred to Trump Jr. as a “nice young man” and insisted the accounts of his meeting with the Russian lawyer were “overblown.”
Trump Jr.’s friend, Goldstone, runs a public relations company called Oui 2 Entertainment. He met the Trumps while working on the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant, which held a competition in Moscow in 2013.
He alerted Trump Jr. to the offer of help from the Russian government in a June 3, 2016, email that said he was acting on behalf of a client, Emin Agalarov, an aspiring pop star living in Moscow.
Agalarov’s father, Aras Agalarov, is a wealthy oligarch originally from the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. He had met with Russian officials who offered to provide the Trump campaign with damaging information about Clinton, Goldstone said in the initial email.
“Emin just called me and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Goldstone wrote. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
It is unclear what the reference to the “crown prosecutor” was intended to mean. There is no such office in Russia, although that is the term used for prosecutors in Britain, which is where Goldstone is from.
The Trumps knew the Agalarov family from the Miss Universe competition. The senior Donald Trump once appeared in a music video for Emin Agalarov’s single “In Another Life,” portraying an angry boss.
Trump Jr. initially responded to the offer of information by suggesting a telephone call with Emin Agalarov, the emails show. Four days later, he agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Veselnitskaya after Goldstone said “the Russian government attorney” was “flying over from Moscow.”
“Great,” Trump replied, noting that Manafort and Kushner would likely attend the meeting.
In a statement accompanying the emails, Trump acknowledged knowing that information about Clinton was the intended reason for the meeting.
“The information they suggested they had about Hilary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research,” he wrote. “I decided to take the meeting.”
He added that Veselnitskaya “had no information to provide” and shifted the conversation to the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law imposing sanctions on Russian businessmen. For several years, Veselnitskaya has been involved in lobbying efforts to overturn the law, which Putin bitterly opposes.
In an interview Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show, Veselnitskaya said it was the Trump campaign that was eager for information about Clinton.
“It’s quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information. They wanted it so badly,” she said, speaking in Russian from Moscow. “I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton.”
Kushner left the meeting early when it became clear she had no information about Clinton, and Manafort stared at his phone the entire meeting, she said.
Asked if she had connections to the Kremlin, she replied, “Nyet.”
Trump Jr. played down the episode in his statement: “The woman, as she has said, was not a government official” and noting that the meeting had occurred “before the current Russian fever was in vogue.”