Outraged Republicans want answers from Trump Jnr, while some Democrats talk of ‘treason’
Evidence that US President Donald Trump’s eldest son welcomed the Russian government’s help in his father’s campaign outraged Republicans in Congress on Tuesday, driving senators to demand more answers, and fast, as a new lane of inquiry opened in congressional probes of potential collusion with the Kremlin.
“Other shoes will drop before this thing is over,” said Senator John McCain.
“The emails are very problematic, very disturbing,” said fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of the email chain that Donald Trump Jnr released Tuesday.
“If you’re ever approached about getting help from a foreign government, the answer is no,” said Graham, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Trump Jnr’s emails, released as the New York Times was prepared to publish, sparked calls even from some conservatives for the president to step down as Democrats began to utter the word “treason”.
At the Capitol, committees pressed for more information and possibly an appearance by Trump Jr. And the president’s legislative agenda, already in deep trouble, was now on even shakier ground.
Republicans control both chambers of Congress, and are feeling new, intense pressure for a signature victory. As Trump Jnr’s email dominated Capitol Hill hallway chatter, it became clear that the GOP will have to proceed without the help of a friendly, let alone influential, White House.
“That’s the very thing we need to not be distracted by,” said Republican Senator Thom Tillis, of the latest campaign controversy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the extraordinary step of shortening the Senate’s five-plus-week summer recess to try to move an agenda that was bogged down even before Trump Jnr took to Twitter Tuesday.
McConnell deflected questions about the emails and whether he has confidence in the president’s dealings with Russia.
“The investigation in the Senate’s being handled by the intelligence committee, and I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of whatever may have happened,” McConnell tersely told reporters.
Trump Jnr’s emails were the most specific evidence yet that Trump campaign officials and family members were eagerly taking help from the Russian government during the 2016 campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In the email exchange between Trump Jnr and publicist Rob Goldstone, the pair set up a meeting between Trump Jnr and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Goldstone told Trump Jnr that there are “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its governments support for Mr Trump,” Goldstone wrote on June 3, 2016.
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jnr replied in part, less than 90 minutes later.
The meeting took place several days later and was attended by Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Veselnitskaya has denied she works for the Russian government. Trump Jnr said she did not provide any information about the Clinton campaign.
Graham wanted to know more.
“I find it odd they would refer the Trump campaign to a lady who knew nothing about the Clinton campaign. But on its face it’s problematic,” he said.
Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate Tim Kaine described the revelations as moving toward more serious charges of perjury and “potentially treason.”
“This should have set off alarm bells and red lights and instead, what it seemed to do is it activated their salivary glands,” Kaine said in an interview with MSNBC.
“They should have turned this over to law enforcement immediately.”
Congressional committees and federal investigators are actively probing possible links between Trump campaign advisers and Russia during the campaign. US intelligence officials have found that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a campaign to aid Trump while hurting Clinton. Trump has contended the investigations are a “witch hunt.”
The next step in Congress is likely to be an appearance by Trump Jr. before either the Senate intelligence or judiciary committees.
The intelligence panel, chaired by Republican Senator Richard Burr, has taken the lead in the Russia investigation. He wouldn’t get specific about what’s coming next.
“We’re interested in talking to anybody that brings any degree of clarity to the investigation,” he said.
Burr said the Trump Jnr email chain “looks interesting.”
But, he added, “I don’t know, I’ve seen three different exchanges. There seems to be more to it. The important thing is the context that it happened in. Nobody knows that.”
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse