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Trump Applauds Son's Release of Emails


FILE - Donald Trump Jr. (L) gives a thumbs up beside his father Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump (R) after Trump's debate against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, Sept, 26, 2016.

U.S. President Donald Trump has renewed his claim that questions about links between his presidential campaign and Russia amount to "the greatest Witch Hunt in political history."

His comments on Twitter came a day after his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., disclosed emails that showed how he and other key Trump aides met with a Russian lawyer who offered incriminating information about the real estate mogul's election challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The younger Trump said in an interview Tuesday night on Fox News he did not tell his father about the meeting, and also dismissed charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as "ridiculous."

President Trump's tweets Wednesday praised his son's performance.

"My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent," Trump wrote.

In a statement Tuesday read by a White House spokeswoman, Trump called his son "a high-quality person." The spokeswoman deflected other questions about the younger Trump's email exchange with Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist who was representing Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with the younger Trump in June 2016 shortly after his father clinched the Republican Party's nomination for president.

The younger Trump released his email chain with Goldstone after The New York Times told him that it was about to publish the emails.

VOA's Capitol Hill correspondents said the disclosure that Donald Trump Jr. eagerly sought damaging information about Clinton ahead of the November election sent shockwaves through Congress and prompted strong reactions from Democratic members in particular.

'High level and sensitive information'

Goldstone told the younger Trump on June 3 last year that "the Crown prosecutor of Russia ... 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."

"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," the email said.

Trump Junior Releases Russia Meeting Emails, Denies Wrongdoing
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Within minutes, the younger Trump replied: "If it's what you say, I love it, especially [for use] later in the summer."

Democratic senators, such as Chris Murphy of Connecticut, said Tuesday's developments in the tale of Donald Trump Jr. and his meeting with the Russian lawyer "starts to look like collusion ... open, knowing collusion with the Russian government" on the part of the Trump campaign team. Republican senators were more cautious in their reaction, VOA's Michael Bowman reported, but Susan Collins of Maine said "the emails deserve a thorough investigation" by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

WATCH: Schiff Discusses 'Very Significant, Deeply Disturbing' Development

Schiff: 'Very Significant, Deeply Disturbing' Development
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Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, saw the email disclosure as a "very significant, deeply disturbing development," and said he wanted Trump's son to testify before his committee, VOA's Katherine Gypson reported.

"This is absolutely not only a breach of norms but a breach of civil responsibility to the country," Schiff told reporters at a news conference late Tuesday. "When you get approached by a foreign government to interfere in an election, you go to the FBI."

FILE - Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 27, 2017.
FILE - Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 27, 2017.

"We must investigate," said Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, because the email chain "confirms that the president's son was both aware of and supported the Russian government's efforts to help [Trump] get elected."

White House rejects 'ridiculous' speculation

Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House committee that oversees the executive branch of the U.S. government, called the latest account of contacts between the Trump campaign team and Russia "a sad day for our country."

Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the issue "is problematic" and that the younger Trump "definitely has to testify" before congressional investigators.

FILE - Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 5, 2017.
FILE - Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 5, 2017.

In his emails to the younger Trump, Goldstone referred to Veselnitskaya as "the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow." The Russian government has denied knowing Veselnitskaya and rejects U.S. claims that it meddled in the election.

The subsequent meeting was also attended by then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the future president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump's daughter Ivanka. Both Kushner and his wife are now White House advisers to the president.

Multiple investigations under way

The June 9 meeting with Veselnitskaya was the earliest confirmed encounter between senior Trump campaign officials and Russian interests during the campaign.

The revelations this week about activities by Donald Trump Jr. last year come amid multiple investigations by Congress and a criminal probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, into Russia's interference in last year's presidential election.

The U.S. intelligence community has already concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign aimed at discrediting the U.S. election, damaging Clinton's reputation and helping Trump defeat her.

FILE - President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, July 7, 2017.
FILE - President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, July 7, 2017.

Bradley Moss, deputy executive director of the James Madison Project, told VOA that foreign nationals are barred from making expenditures to advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate.

'Conspiracy' possible?

"An expenditure can be money or it can be something as abstract as 'something of value.' Information can qualify as 'something of value,' so it's not too far of a stretch to imagine a charge against Donald Trump Jr. for conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act or other related provisions," he said.

However, Moss cautioned people "to restrain themselves from leaping to definitive legal conclusions of either guilt or innocence. The entirety of what occurred will be investigated comprehensively by Mr. Mueller, as this squarely falls within the scope of his mandate." Moss's James Madison Project was established in Washington in 1998 to promote government accountability and the reduction of secrecy, as well as to educate the public on issues relating to intelligence and national security.

The emails between Trump Jr. and Goldstone, according to Moss, portray the president's son "as a naive and amateur political operative with no apparent grasp of the legal process that applies to campaigns. A veteran operative would never have agreed to that meeting, and arguably would have reported the issue to the FBI, or at least their in-house attorneys, for guidance."

Michael Bowman and Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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