President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential race after being told that she could provide his father's campaign with damaging information about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A former Watergate prosecutor has deemed this encounter to be collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
On July 10, former assistant special prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks reacted to reports that Trump Jr. and other members of the Trump campaign met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 on the premise that she had damaging information about Clinton.
"This is an astounding thing," Wine-Banks told MSNBC. "It is collusion with a foreign adversary if they were working together to get the information from the Russian government."
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration mounted an influence campaign to subvert the 2016 election by stealing and dispersing emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress are investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials.
"And that's what this looks like, it looks like clear proof of collusion," Wine-Banks added.
On June 3, 2016, Trump Jr. received emails from entertainment publicist Rob Goldstone, a representative of Russian pop star Emin Agalarov. Goldstone wrote that his client's father, Russian real estate magnate Aras Agalarov, had been tipped that the Russian government had damaging information about Clinton, The New York Times reports.
On July 11, Trump Jr. released his email correspondence with Goldstone on Twitter after The Times told him that a story about their conversation was imminent.
"Ermin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting," Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr. "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."
Goldstone added: "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
Trump Jr. wrote back "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."
In an official statement presented with the email chain, Trump Jr. asserted that he did not know that the alleged Clinton information was potentially stolen by Russian hackers.
"The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research," Trump Jr. tweeted out.
On June 9, 2016, Trump Jr. and Goldstone met with Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in Manhattan. The meeting was also attended by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and future White House special adviser Jared Kushner. Trump Jr. and Goldstone have stated that they ended the meeting after it became clear to them that Veselnitskaya did not have damaging information about Clinton.
Clinton's former running mate, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, swiftly condemned the newly released emails between Trump Jr. and Goldstone, asserting that they had changed the seriousness of the congressional investigation into the Trump campaign.
"We are now beyond obstruction of justice," Kaine told CNN. "This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason."
GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah pushed back on suggestions that Trump Jr.'s meeting amounted to treason.
"He's not in the administration," Hatch said. "He may be the son of the president but he doesn't have the authority to speak for the president."
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters that the emails were "disturbing."
"Anytime you're in a campaign and get an offer from a foreign government to help your campaign, the answer is no," Graham said, according to Newsweek. "So I don't know what Mr. Trump Jr.'s version of the facts are. Definitely -- he has to testify."