Trump Jr. published emails about setting up a meeting with a Russian lawyer last year
The meeting was attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort as well
Donald Trump Jr. said on Tuesday evening that looking back, he probably would have done things differently when presented with the prospect of getting information from Russia.
Trump Jr. made his first televised comments since publishing emails from last year about setting up a meeting with a Russian lawyer in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump.
“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr. said.
In the interview, he defended his actions by saying he wanted to hear what they had to say.
Trump Jr.'s Russia emails
“Maybe this is something,” Trump Jr. said of his thinking leading up to the meeting. “I should hear them out. … This was again just basic information that was going to be possibly there. … I wanted to hear them out and play it out.”
He argued that the exchange happened prior to Russian involvement becoming a major story during the campaign season so his alarm “sirens” didn’t sound when he was told of a Russian effort to help his father’s candidacy.
“My takeaway when all of this was going on is that someone has information on our opponent,” Trump Jr. said. “This was 13 months ago, before I think the rest of the world was talking about that, trying to build up that narrative on Russia, so I don’t even think my sirens went up, or the antennas went up, at this time because it wasn’t, because it wasn’t the issue that it’s been made up to be over the last nine months, 10 months.”
Trump Jr. on Tuesday morning posted a series of emails between himself and Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who contacted Trump Jr. and told him about an opportunity to receive potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.
The emails prefaced a June 9, 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. Kushner is married to Trump’s eldest daughter Ivanka, and they both are senior advisers to the President. Manafort was Trump’s campaign chief at the time of the meeting.
At the beginning of the email chain, Goldstone referred to the information as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
In response, Trump Jr. thanked Goldstone and said, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
The emails Trump Jr. tweeted Tuesday showed that Kushner and Manafort were copied on an email in the chain a day before the meeting.
As Trump Jr. noted in a statement accompanying the release, the meeting took place in early June, before alleged Russian attempts to influence the election became a central story of the campaign.
In an interview on NBC Tuesday morning, Veselnitskaya denied having ever worked for the Russian government, and said through a translator that the Trump aides at the meeting wanted damaging information on Clinton “so badly.”
Trump Jr. said he had not spoken to Veselnitskaya since that meeting.
The emails amplified controversy surrounding Trump Jr. that has been mounting since The New York Times first reported on his meeting with Veselnitskaya on Saturday.
Trump has denied doing anything improper, with his lawyer saying Monday evening it was “much ado about nothing.”
Meanwhile, members of the Senate intelligence committee have said they intend to look into the meeting.
A source told CNN earlier Tuesday that Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which is running the executive branch investigation into potential coordination with Russia to influence the 2016 election, would investigate the emails and meeting as well.
Trump Jr. reiterated Tuesday evening that he would be willing to speak with investigators.
“I’m more than happy to cooperate with everyone,” Trump Jr. said.
The President himself has been largely silent on the matter as it has unfolded over the past several days. At an off-camera briefing Tuesday afternoon, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a statement where Trump said his son is a “high-quality person and I applaud his transparency.”
Sanders declined to answer other questions about Trump Jr., referring them instead to Trump Jr.’s lawyer and the President’s outside counsel. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, said Monday evening that the President had no knowledge of the meeting until the reports emerged.
Jay Sekulow, a member of the President’s legal team, appeared later on Hannity’s program as well.
“The media is going after Donald Trump Jr for doing what? Releasing the full email chain unlike Secretary Clinton,” Sekulow said, adding that in his view, “Nothing transpired” in the meeting.
Sekulow accused people of trying to create a “media hysteria.”
In the interview with Hannity, Trump Jr. said he didn’t tell his father about the meeting last summer.
“It was such a nothing,” Trump Jr. said. “There was nothing to tell.”
Trump Jr. stated when he released the emails that he was doing so “to be totally transparent.”
Ahead of the appearance on Fox News, Trump Jr. retweeted several people attacking Democrats and the media and defending his actions. One of the tweets said Trump Jr. was “being very transparent.”
Trump, in his statement, also said Trump Jr. was being transparent.
But just moments after Trump Jr. tweeted the emails, The New York Times published them. A deputy managing editor at the Times said Trump Jr. posted the emails after being told the Times had them.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.