WASHINGTON — It’s not an anti-Trump conspiracy and it’s not fake news. It’s a basic fact no longer in dispute: Donald Trump’s campaign tried getting help from Vladimir Putin’s government to win an American election, as revealed in emails released Tuesday in a watershed moment following a year-long controversy over suspected Russian election-meddling.
Emails released by the president’s own son, Donald Trump Jr., show that he was invited last year to meet a woman described as a Russian government lawyer, and was told this woman had dirt collected by the Russian government, in an attempt by them to smear Hillary Clinton and influence the U.S. election.
The president’s eldest son responded to the invitation by setting up a meeting at Trump Tower, inviting his brother-in-law and current White House staffer Jared Kushner and bringing along Kremlin-linked campaign manager Paul Manafort.
”We have some time (to meet),” Trump replied to his friend.
”If it’s what you say I love it.”
The Trump team has spent a year denying ties with Russia, and denying collusion. But the president’s son released four pages of emails Tuesday, after the New York Times had reported on them.
Trump Jr. has agreed to testify before a congressional committee, pending an invitation.
The sudden twist in the Russia affair came after the newspaper reported on a meeting set up at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, by a globe-trotting music impresario who knows the Trump family through one of his clients.
A five-star nomad whose Facebook page features a string of pictures from exotic locales, Rob Goldstone informed the candidate’s son that a mutual friend had met with a Russian federal prosecutor who had dirt to dish.
”(This) would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Goldstone wrote. ”This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
He offered to set up a meeting with Trump Jr. and someone he described this way: ”A Russian government attorney.”
The attorney in question, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has denied connections to the Russian government. But she told NBC News in an interview that the Trump team was very interested in what she had to say.
The Trump inner circle says the meeting was a bust; Veselnitskaya didn’t deliver anything of value, they say and the encounter ended after about a half-hour.
In a brief statement from the White House, President Trump said: ”My son is a high-quality person. And I applaud his transparency.”
The White House has referred all other questions to lawyers.
Three members of the Trump family have retained attorneys in the Russia affair as legal experts weigh in on whether the known facts already fit the definition of obstruction of justice, election-law violations, conspiracy, criminal failure to disclose foreign contacts on government security forms and even more serious charges like espionage and treason.
Republicans have circled the wagons, mostly ridiculing the story.
”Washington’s obsessed right now. It is the Democratic talking point du jour. But when I go back to Texas, nobody asks about Russia,” Sen. Ted Cruz said earlier Tuesday, before the emails were released.
”You know, I’ve held town halls all over the state of Texas. You know how many questions I got on Russia? Zero. Outside of Washington, people are focused on Obamacare… tax reform… regulatory reform… It’s just worth keeping in mind the absolute disconnect between the obsession of the Washington media and where the American people are.”
Yet there are now multiple congressional investigations, as well as a special counsel. In recent weeks, Trump father and son had been taking shots at the special counsel, using their social media accounts to suggest Robert Mueller is biased and that his investigation is a waste of time.