US President Donald Trump’s son has released an email chain showing he was keen to accept “sensitive” information on Hillary Clinton from a Russian national.
Publicist Rob Goldstone tells Donald Trump Jr that there is information that is “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.
Mr Trump Jr replies: “If it’s what you say, I love it.”
The emails led to a meeting in New York with a Russian lawyer.
It appears to be the first confirmation that a Trump associate attended a meeting in the expectation of being handed sensitive information from Russian officials.
US officials are currently investigating alleged Russian meddling in the US election.
President Trump issued a brief statement in support of his son, describing him as “a high-quality person” and applauding his transparency.
Later, the highest-ranked Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said he wanted Mr Trump Jr and all participants in the meeting to testify before the panel.
The emails to Mr Trump Jr, which he released on Twitter, say “the crown prosecutor of Russia” (a role that does not exist) had “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”.
The email chain was also forwarded to President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort.
All three later met Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York.
How the story has developed
Since he was elected, President Trump has been dogged by allegations that Russia tried to sabotage Mrs Clinton’s campaign. He has denied any knowledge of this and Russia has also repeatedly denied interfering.
In May, the justice department appointed ex-FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into the Russian matter.
The New York Times first reported on Saturday that a meeting had taken place on 9 June 2016 between Ms Veselnitskaya and the Trump team at Trump Tower.
It later reported that Mr Trump Jr had earlier been offered alleged damaging information on Mrs Clinton.
The Times had been expected to publish emails connected to the meeting, but Mr Trump Jr pre-empted this by posting the email chain on Twitter.
He had earlier admitted meeting Ms Veselnitskaya but insisted she had provided “no meaningful information”. He said she had wanted to talk about adoptions.
Ms Veselnitskaya, who has been linked to the Russian government, has insisted she was never in possession of information that could have damaged Mrs Clinton.
She said Mr Trump Jr and two senior campaign aides may have met her last summer because they were “longing” for such information. She has denied any connection with the Kremlin.
What are the latest developments?
The email chain posted by Mr Trump Jr shows:
- On 3 June last year he received an email from intermediary Mr Goldstone promising documents from Russia that would incriminate Hillary Clinton and her supposed dealings with Russia
- One email from Mr Goldstone said the information they had been promised was “obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”
- The person who was to meet Mr Trump Jr in New York was described as “a Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow”
- Within the week, a meeting had been arranged which included Mr Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort
Mr Trump Jr also posted a statement saying he was releasing the email chain “to be totally transparent” and reiterated that the Russian lawyer had “no information to provide”.
Mr Goldstone has previously denied any knowledge of involvement in the election by the Russian government.
Analysis: ‘Absolutely devastating’
Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter
The New York Times’ description of the email to Donald Trump Jr from Rob Goldstone was bad news for the Trump presidency. The actual text of the emails, however, is absolutely devastating.
Trump Jr was explicitly told the Russian government wanted to provide him with documents incriminating Hillary Clinton as part of its “support for Mr Trump”. Son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chair Paul Manafort were apparently copied on the entire email chain the day before the meeting. Goldstone even offered to pass the information along to Donald Trump’s personal assistant.
These emails place dynamite under nearly a year’s worth of assertions by Trump officials that there was no co-ordination between their campaign and the Russian government. Even if no collusion took place in this instance – all the parties to the meeting who are speaking publicly deny that any information was exchanged – Trump Jr wasn’t just open to Russian help, he “loved” it.
Time and time again members of President Trump’s inner circle have denied contacts with Russian nationals only to later revise their assertions when new facts emerged. These emails may have given the public the first glimpse of why such elaborate defences were constructed.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – a Trump critic – said the emails were “very disturbing”, adding that the meeting should never have been held in the first place.
He told reporters on Capitol Hill: “This is the most problematic thing that I’ve seen thus far… the most direct evidence yet… that the Russian government was interested in helping the Trump campaign.”