WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters on Capitol Hill this morning that he wasn’t “going to go into hypotheticals” about whether he would have accepted a meeting with a Russian promising damaging information from the Kremlin about his opponent, but emphasized he still supports special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted an email chain, reportedly before the New York Times was going to release the emails, detailing conversations leading up to his June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. She is an ardent lobbyist for repeal of human-rights sanctions against the Kremlin passed by Congress after the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who uncovered massive Kremlin fraud and corruption and died behind bars at age 37.
Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort were also in the meeting, which was set up by music publicist Rob Goldstone at the request of pop star Emin Agalarov, whose Kremlin-connected family sponsored President Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Russia in 2013. Trump and the Agalarovs signed a Moscow hotel deal after the pageant that hasn’t advanced since Trump began his White House run. Trump also appeared in a music video for Emin Agalarov in 2013.
On June 3, 2016, 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.”
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin,” the email continued. “What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly? I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.” That refers to Rhona Graff, who was President Trump’s longtime assistant.
Trump Jr. responded to Goldstone that he was traveling but wanted to do a call “first thing” after he returned — “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
On June 7, 2016, Goldstone wrote, “Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.”
Trump Jr. thanked Goldstone for setting up the meeting and confirmed Manafort and Kushner would sit in.
Appearing Tuesday evening on Hannity, Trump Jr. said he would handle the situation “a little differently” in retrospect. “I didn’t know if there was any credibility, I didn’t know if there was anything behind it, I can’t vouch for the information,” he said. “Someone sent me an email. I can’t help what someone sends me. I read it, I responded accordingly.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) tweeted as the story broke, “New emails from @DonaldJTrumpJr contradict a lot of prior story from yesterday and before. This is not the same thing. I voted for @POTUS last Nov. & want him & USA to succeed, but that meeting, given that email chain just released, is a big no-no.”
Asked today outside of a closed caucus meeting about the story, Ryan began by stressing “it is absolutely unacceptable that Russia — or any other country, but Russia — meddle in our elections. That’s just period, right there.”
“Second, we have a special counsel that’s doing an investigation over at the Justice Department. We have an investigation here in the House. We have an investigation in the Senate. I think it’s very important that these professionals in these committees do their jobs so that we can get to the bottom of all of this,” he added.
Asked if he would meet with a foreign adversary who promised information on his opponent, the Speaker replied, “Look, I’m not going to go into hypotheticals only because I think it’s important that we get to the bottom of all of this.”
“As you all know, I supported Bob Mueller being appointed special counsel,” Ryan said. “And I think we need to let him, and his team, and our investigators here, do their jobs and follow these leads wherever they may lay — and follow wherever they may go, and follow the facts.”
Outside of House Democrats’ caucus meeting, caucus chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said Trump Jr.’s emails “really shows a very strong movement towards collusion,” but “as to whether or not he broke the law, I’m not an attorney.”
“But to actually accept this meeting, knowing that the purpose of the meeting was to give dirt on Hillary Clinton, and that that would be good, especially at the end of the summer, was a clear indication that what they were looking for from this Russian agent was information, garnered by the Russian government, to undermine the campaign of Hillary Clinton,” Crowley said. “To me, it may be beyond illegal. It may be beyond illegal.”
Caucus vice-chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) added that what is “stunning is the absolute silence from Republicans.”
“I’m shocked that nobody has come out and said this is unacceptable no matter who sits in the White House,” she said.