The Trump family — father, son, son-in-law — has hedged and hemmed and hawed about the alleged “Russian connection,” the claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election by hacking the Democratic National Committee’s email in order to help Donald Trump win the presidency.
The American intelligence community agrees with that assessment, and even Trump himself has waffled, lately indicating he thinks it may be so, though he always seems to add a figurative “maybe not.” But Trump has consistently and emphatically denied there was any “collusion” between his campaign and the Russians to discredit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Now, however, a bombshell has been delivered to the president by his son, Donald Trump Jr. The younger Trump admits he met with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower in New York in June 2016, expecting through a connection that she might have some damaging information on Clinton. An email to Trump Jr. from a trusted connection to the Russians stated the Russians’ intent baldly: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump Jr. replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Nothing came of the meeting, said Trump Jr., who initially dismissed the meeting as one sought by the lawyer so she could appeal for changes in a U.S. policy that blacklists Russian human rights violators. But now the lawyer says she was in fact summoned to Trump Tower, and didn’t beg for the meeting herself.
So now the spotlight gets brighter on the Trumps and Russia, and Republicans and Democrats are saying they need to know more from Trump the Younger. And in the background, there is an echo of Watergate in the question now looming over Trump regarding Russian interference in the campaign: What did the president know and when did he know it?
For it appears his son was eager to see if the Russians might have dirt on Clinton, and Trump Jr. didn’t shy away from a meeting to find out. He also called in Jared Kushner, a son-in-law and trusted adviser to Trump Sr., and one-time campaign chief Paul Manafort, who’s made millions representing foreign interests with ties to Russia.
The pressure is going to double, and double again, on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which already has an investigation going on the Russian connection. That committee is chaired by North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, a Trump supporter whose entire Senate career is going to be defined by whether he aggressively pursues the truth, or whether the investigation simply withers in the shadow of an independent probe by a man who does mean business, former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Burr and his committee mates ought to be putting young Trump under the spotlight, and Kushner and Manafort and anyone else close to the throne — which is how Donald Trump seems to view the presidency. Washington is scrambling. Vice President Pence’s office quickly said he didn’t know anything about the meeting and noted that he wasn’t even in the campaign then.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said, “These emails show there is no longer a question of whether this campaign sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert America’s democracy.”
That is powerful. It appears a long, hot summer is ahead for Donald Trump, and his son just turned up the thermostat.