Donald Trump Jr's Russia emails are 'almost a smoking cannon' and amount to treason, says former Watergate lawyer

Mr Trump Jr and the White House have steadfastly denied doing anything wrong

Clark Mindock
New York
Tuesday 11 July 2017 19:23 BST
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A former Watergate prosecutor says that Donald Trump Jr’s emails are the “smoking gun” that shows the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election, and it was possibly treasonous.

In the June emails — which Mr Trump Jr posted on Twitter this week in anticipation of a New York Times story on the subject that was scheduled to be published — President Donald Trump's eldest son discussed setting up a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who claimed she had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

“It certainly seems like there’s a smoking gun. For example, it shows there was collusion. That they were willing to take that information from the Russian government, even if it was information stolen by the security forces of Hillary Clinton,” Nick Akerman, a former US attorney who worked on the Watergate case, told The Independent.

“I mean it shows that they were involved with treason, that they were involved in campaign spending violations and other things as well as false statements to the government with respect to Jared Kushner,” he continued.

To put it another way, perhaps “gun” isn’t a strong enough noun.

This is “almost a smoking canon,” Mr Akerman told a New York Post reporter in a separate interview.

Mr Trump Jr was approached last year by Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist with strong ties to Russia and the Trump family, with the offer to connect him with Natalia Veselnitskaya. Ms Veselnitskaya is a Russian lawyer who represents several state-owned businesses and the son of a top oligarch in the country.

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump,” Mr Goldstone wrote in one of the emails.

Mr Trump Jr was all game to take the meeting, and ultimately brought along Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, and the future President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“If it’s what you say I love it,” Mr Trump Jr wrote at one point during the exchanges.

Mr Trump Jr defended himself against the accusations that this meeting constituted some sort of collusion with the Russian government, and said that the meeting ultimately focused on other matters than damaging intelligence on Ms Clinton or her campaign.

“I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn't work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet. I decided to take the meeting. The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official,” Mr Trump Jr said in a statement accompanying the emails. “And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act.”

The White House has consistently maintained that nobody involved in the 2016 campaign had done anything wrong. A short statement from the White House regarding the new emails said that the West Wing applauds Mr Trump Jr's "transparency" in releasing the emails, and that he is a "high quality person."

Mr Akerman said that the emails seem to tie together a considerable portion of news media reporting that has suggested that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government in its attempts to influence the 2016 presidential campaign in Mr Trump’s favour.

That reporting has included allegations that Mr Kushner had lied to the federal government about having contact with Russian sources, as well as allegations that Mr Manafort had been in contact with Russian sources. The emails also show that the Trump campaign may have violated campaign finance laws in seeking the dirt on Ms Clinton, which prohibit political campaigns from soliciting anything of value from a foreign government.

But, Mr Akerman isn’t the only former Watergate lawyer to say that the emails raise grave concerns.

“It is collusion,” Jill Wine-Banks, a former assistant Watergate special prosecutor, said on MSNBC. “It is collusion with a foreign adversary if they were working together to get the information from the Russian government.”

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