Donald Trump Jr. Admits To Meeting With Russian Lawyer

Jul 12, 2017
Originally published on July 12, 2017 6:30 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump offered support for his eldest son, Donald Jr., who has put himself in the middle of investigations over Russian interference in last year's election. Last night, Trump Jr. appeared on Fox News to explain his meeting with a Russian lawyer. And this morning, the president tweeted his review. Quote, "my son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest witch hunt in political history. Sad, exclamation point."

That transparency includes a bombshell email release that confirms Trump Jr., a campaign manager and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer last year. They expected to get information that would help the Trump campaign win the White House.

On the line now, NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson - good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: This has spurred a lot of debate about if Donald Trump Jr. broke any laws here. What have you learned about any potential wrongdoing?

JOHNSON: Well, I've been talking with a lot of legal experts who point out this meeting could subject Donald Trump Jr. and other people who attended to an investigation for conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws. That's because foreign nationals or businesses are not supposed to be donating to American politicians, and people inside the U.S. are not supposed to be soliciting things of value.

The legal question is, is opposition research information a thing of value under the law? And also, what actually happened at the meeting? Both sides say it was useless, or a bust. But investigators in Congress and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, are going to want - not going to take their word for it. They're going to want to know what exactly happened, whether any information was exchanged, and will anyone lie about it under oath in the course of the investigation.

MARTIN: It's a good point to remember that we don't actually know - even though both parties have denied that anything happened of significance, we still don't know what transpired in that meeting.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, has talked about Trump administration officials having what he calls selective failure to remember contacts with Russians. He is pointing to what he clearly sees as a pattern of behavior here.

JOHNSON: Yeah, the senator is pointing out that Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who played a role in the campaign, all failed to include meetings with Russians last year on their government disclosure forms.

Now, on paper, those are violations of the law. These men have defenses; we'll hear them. But the idea that so many people with close ties to Trump and the Trump campaign neglected to mention these meetings with Russians is curious. Senator Warner and others on the Hill want to know - does this go to their state of mind, their intent? Were they trying to conceal something? And if so, what was that? Lots of questions moving forward.

MARTIN: So meanwhile, another big story playing out today in Washington, the president's pick to lead the FBI to succeed James Comey, who he fired. This is Christopher Wray. He is in his confirmation before the Senate hearing today. Obviously, he's going to get a lot of questions about Russia, I'd assume.

JOHNSON: Yeah, senators from both political parties want assurances about Christopher Wray's independence. Christopher Wray's a former DOJ official. They want to know, will he support the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election? Is he going to stand up and blow the whistle if someone in the administration tries to derail that investigation? And maybe most importantly, is he prepared to quit if he sees any wrongdoing or tampering with these investigations moving forward?

MARTIN: You've been talking to his friends and mentors. What do they say about his approach to this job?

JOHNSON: Well, Wray's friends point out, he offered to quit during the George W. Bush administration in a fight over surveillance, trying to follow out the door James Comey, who the president fired this year, to lead the FBI; and Robert Mueller, the man now leading the special counsel investigation.

MARTIN: Yeah.

JOHNSON: Chris Wray's friends tell me he will not hesitate to quit if he sees something bad happening now.

MARTIN: NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson - thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.