Donald Trump jnr’s actions show the first family is out of their depth

Son’s meeting with Russian lawyer has serious implications for US president

Donald Trump jnr in an interview on Fox News' "Hannity" show said he didn't mention anything to his father about his meeting with a Russian attorney during his father's presidential campaign in June 2016. Video: Fox News

 

It didn’t take long for US president Donald Trump to enter another political maelstrom after returning to Washington from the G20 summit in Hamburg.

While the president tweeted that it was “time to move forward” on Russia following his much-anticipated meeting with Vladimir Putin, within hours of touching down in Washington Trump was facing a barrage of criticism over his apparently conciliatory tone to Putin and his suggestion that the US co-operate with Russia on a “cyber security” unit. The proposal was met with derision from Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close,” said Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who accused the president of throwing the US intelligence communities “under the bus”. By Sunday evening Trump had shelved the idea.

In many ways controversy surrounding Trump’s daughter Ivanka stole the show at the G20. The unusual move to allow the president’s daughter take her father’s seat at the G20 table sparked online outrage, and has refocused attention on the unorthodox links between family, politics and business that underpin the Trump administration.

Ivanka, who together with her husband was given a senior role in the West Wing by her father, had been already under fire for conflict of interest issues. In April she sat alongside Chinese leader Xi Jinping at her father’s estate in Mar-a-Lago in Florida. The following day her company was awarded three trademarks by the Chinese government.

Serious implication

But despite the ethical questions raised by Ivanka’s presence in the White House, it is her elder brother’s actions that will have more serious implications for the president.

Revelations this week that Donald Trump jnr attended a meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year have renewed focus on possible collusion between the Trump campaign team and the Kremlin. The meeting was also attended by campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

While the New York Times first reported on the meeting on Saturday, the extraordinary decision by Donald Trump jnr to publish a chain of emails that preceded the meeting on Tuesday has raised serious questions. The email exchange shows that Trump’s eldest son was informed by publicist Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist who now represents Russian popstars, that he had information “that would incriminate Hillary Clinton and her dealings with Russia”.

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The email dated June 3rd also stated that the sensitive information was “part of Russia and its government’s support” for the Trump campaign.

The email chain, which was presumably printed to pre-empt any further revelations by the New York Times, has significantly upped the ante in the Russian investigation.

Building controversy

Confirmation by Trump jnr over the weekend that the meeting had indeed taken place undermined the White House’s repeated insistence that there was no contact between Trump officials and Russian individuals.

Trump jnr’s insistence that receiving information regarding a candidate’s political opponent is part and parcel of political life did not wash because of the fact that the meeting involved a foreign national and potentially a foreign government.

There were also questions about why three senior members of the team took time to attend the meeting at the height of the presidential campaign. Trump jnr specifically denied in March that he had attended any pre-arranged meetings with Russian individuals.

“Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said then in an interview. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

Similarly, Jared Kushner, now a senior Trump adviser, declined to originally disclose the meeting and others, such as his December meeting with the head of Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank in his disclosure forms to obtain security clearance for the White House.

Willingness to collude

But the evidence revealed in the printed exchange that Trump jnr attended the meeting on the pretext that he would secure damaging information about Hillary Clinton and that this was part of an effort by the Russian government to support his father’s campaign is damning. It suggested the possibility of willingness to collude.

In particular, Trump jnr’s reply to Mr Goldstone’s email appears particularly incriminating. “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer,” he wrote .

While it is still unclear if there is evidence of criminal activity, the meeting and emails surrounding it will form part of the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The more benign interpretation of the latest Russian revelations to engulf the Trump administration is that it is a further indication of the administration’s incompetence and inexperience. Just as the president’s decision to propose co-operation with Russia on cybersecurity and the move to allow Ivanka to sit at the G20 table was met with bafflement, Donald Trump jnr’s decision to meet with a Russian lawyer and then not disclose it could be seen, at best, as political naivety.

As the investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign team and Russia gather speed, the Trump family may find that in the serious world of international politics and government, they are desperately out of their depth.

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