Casey, Toomey: Trump Jr. meeting with Russian lawyer 'inappropriate'
Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey joined a growing number of federal lawmakers Tuesday objecting to a meeting Donald Trump Jr. held with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, while a York County Republican official opined that the meeting was part of the "normal course of business" for a presidential campaign.
Trump Jr. eagerly accepted help from what was described to him as a Russian government effort to aid his father's campaign with damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to emails he released publicly on Tuesday.
The email exchange posted to Twitter by Donald Trump's eldest son represents the clearest sign to date that members of the president's inner circle were willing to meet during the campaign with Russians who wanted Trump to prevail. U.S. intelligence agencies have said the Russian government meddled in the election through hacking to aid Trump.
The emails show Trump Jr. conversing with a music publicist who wanted him to meet with a lawyer from Moscow. The publicist describes the lawyer as a "Russian government attorney" who has dirt on Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." In one response, Trump Jr. says, "I love it."
Trump Jr., who was deeply involved in his father's presidential campaign, released the emails along with a statement describing the disclosure as an effort "to be totally transparent."
The emails with publicist Rob Goldstone show that Trump Jr. was told that the Russian government had information that could "incriminate" Clinton and her dealings with Russia.
The messages were the latest disclosure to roil the ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the election and potential collusion with Trump’s campaign.
‘Inappropriate’ meeting: Though Pennsylvania’s two senators in Washington, D.C., stopped short of saying Trump Jr. colluded with Russia, both made it clear they thought his meeting with a Russian national was “inappropriate.”
In a written statement Tuesday, Democrat Casey called Trump Jr.’s emails and the numerous reports about them “very troubling.”
“At minimum, they demonstrate a kind of engagement with a foreign adversary that is inappropriate,” Casey said. “I anticipate Special Counsel (Robert) Mueller will be looking into these matters closely. Anyone who has violated U.S. laws or participated in the Russian meddling into our democracy must be held fully accountable.”
Speaking on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" program Monday, Republican Toomey said he expects to soon know the extent of what happened during the president’s son’s meeting.
When asked whether it was acceptable for a presidential campaign to solicit information from a Russian source, Toomey said, “No, that doesn’t strike me as appropriate.”
Elaborating, Toomey said, “I think it encourages countries to come in and undermine our democratic process. A lot of these countries have great capability to do that sort of thing. I don’t think we want to have that happen.”
“Vladimir Putin is no ally. He is no friend,” Toomey added.
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Not ‘treason’: Alex Shorb, chairman of the York County Republican Committee, said he thinks the meeting was appropriate and “in the normal course of business” for a presidential campaign.
“To me, it’s one of those things that’s being totally blown out of proportion by the media,” Shorb said.
Shorb said the meeting between the president’s son and a Russian lawyer “does not bother me at all,” and Trump Jr. was “well within his rights to investigate” and do political opposition research about information that could be damaging to Clinton.
It’s one thing to talk to a foreign government to influence an election or commit voter fraud, but Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer shouldn’t be viewed the same way, Shorb said.
“Everybody is looking for the smoking gun linking the Trump campaign to Russia. I don’t believe it’s there,” Shorb said. “I really think this is, as much as anything, an attempt to smear Donald Trump Jr.”
On Tuesday, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who was Clinton’s running mate in 2016, said Trump Jr. potentially committed treason by holding the meeting, but Shorb disagreed.
“I think to jump to that conclusion for a meeting like this is blowing this way out of proportion. It doesn’t really jive with reality,” Shorb said. “I think (Democrats) are trying to score political points from a meeting. If we want to scrutinize the actions of every administration to this level of detail, we’ll be going in circles for the rest of our lives.”
Investigation: As congressional committees and Mueller investigate, the emails will almost certainly be reviewed for any signs of coordination with the Kremlin, which the White House and Trump Jr. have repeatedly denied.
A spokesman for Mueller, a former FBI director, declined to comment.
Hours after the emails were released, the president rose to his son's defense.
"My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency," Trump said Tuesday in a statement read to reporters by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Although Sanders declined to answer any questions about the emails, she said the White House stood by its insistence that no one in Trump's campaign had colluded to influence the election.
Although Democrats in Congress voiced outrage and insisted the messages showed clear collusion, members of Trump's party did not join in the condemnation. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he was confident Senate investigators would "get to the bottom of whatever happened," while Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican on the intelligence committee, cautioned that the emails were "only part of the picture."
The players: In the emails, Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr. that the information "would be very useful to your father." Goldstone was working to connect Trump Jr. to Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, who later met with Trump Jr. in New York at Trump Tower. Veselnitskaya has denied that she ever worked for the Russian government.
"If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer," Trump Jr. replied to Goldstone in one of a series of email exchanges the younger Trump posted to Twitter.
The emails, dated early June 2016, show Goldstone telling Trump that singer Emin Agalarov and his father, Moscow-based developer Aras Agalarov, had "helped along" the Russian government's support for Trump.
The elder Agalarov was involved with Trump in hosting the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. The two men also had preliminary discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow that fell through. Trump also appeared in a music video with the younger Agalarov.
In his email, Goldstone says that the "crown prosecutor of Russia" offered to provide the information on Clinton to the Trump campaign in a meeting with Aras Agalarov. There is no such title in the Russian Federation, but Goldstone — who is British — may have been referring to the title given to state prosecutors in the United Kingdom.
In Russia, the top justice official is Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, the equivalent of the attorney general in the United States. Chaika is a longtime confidant of Vladimir Putin, who was directly appointed by the Russian president.
Representatives for the Agalarovs didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Attempts to reach Chaika at his office Tuesday were unsuccessful.
In one of the emails, Goldstone said he could send the information about Clinton to Trump Jr.'s father first directly "via Rhona," an apparent reference to the elder Trump's longtime assistant, Rhona Graff, from his days at the helm of the Trump Organization.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Goldstone described the information as purported evidence of illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee. It's unclear what proof, if any, Veselnitskaya provided during the meeting.
Changing stories: The email release followed days of evolving accounts from Trump Jr. about the nature of the meeting and its purpose. The president's son posted the emails only after they were obtained by The New York Times.
On Saturday, in his initial description of the encounter, Trump Jr. said it was a "short introductory meeting" focused on the disbanded program that had allowed American adoptions of Russian children. Moscow ended the adoptions in response to Magnitsky Act sanctions created in response to alleged human-rights violations in Russia.
A day later, Trump Jr. changed his account, acknowledging that he was told beforehand that Veselnitskaya might have information "helpful" to the Trump campaign and was told by her during the meeting that she had something about Clinton.
In his most recent description of what occurred, on Tuesday, Trump Jr. said he had believed the information he would hear about Clinton would be political opposition research.
"The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official," Trump Jr. said in the Tuesday statement. "And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act."
— Reporter Jason Addy contributed to this story.