WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr. eagerly accepted help from what was described to him as a Russian government effort to aid his father's campaign with damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to emails he released publicly on Tuesday.
The email exchange posted to Twitter by Donald Trump's eldest son represents the clearest sign to date that members of the president's inner circle were willing to meet during the campaign with Russians who wanted Trump to prevail. U.S. intelligence agencies have said the Russian government meddled in the election through hacking to aid Trump.
The emails show Trump Jr. conversing with a music publicist who wanted him to meet with a lawyer from Moscow. The publicist describes the lawyer as a "Russian government attorney" who has dirt on Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." In one response, Trump Jr. says he would "love" to hear more.
Trump Jr., who was deeply involved in his father's presidential campaign, released the emails along with a statement describing the disclosure as an effort "to be totally transparent." The emails with publicist Rob Goldstone show that Trump Jr. was told that the Russian government had information that could "incriminate" Clinton and her dealings with Russia.
Hours after the emails were released, the president rose to his son's defense.
"My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency," Trump said Tuesday in a statement read to reporters by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She referred all questions about the emails to outside lawyers hired by the president's son.
The messages were the latest disclosure to roil the ongoing investigation into potential coordination between Trump's campaign and Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have said sought to influence the outcome of the election in Trump's favor. As congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, investigate, the emails will almost certainly be reviewed for any signs of potential campaign collusion with the Kremlin, which the White House has repeatedly denied.
Mueller spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the emails, citing the ongoing investigation.
The White House didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Vice President Mike Pence wasn't aware of the meeting, his spokesman Marc Lotter said in a statement that stressed the meeting took place before he was part of the campaign.
The actions described in Trump Jr.'s emails brought swift and firm reaction from Democrats, including a key member of the Senate intelligence committee.
"These emails show there is no longer a question of whether this campaign sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert America's democracy," said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Yet other lawmakers urged caution. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who sits on the intelligence committee, said the emails "certainly raise questions" but added "we're seeing only part of the picture." She called on the committee to interview Trump Jr. and those involved in the meeting.
In the emails, Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr. that the information "would be very useful to your father." Goldstone was working to connect Trump Jr. to Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, who later met with Trump Jr. in New York at Trump Tower. Veselnitskaya has denied that she ever worked for the Russian government.
"If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer," Trump Jr. replied to Goldstone in one of a series of email exchanges the younger Trump posted to Twitter.
The emails, dated early June, show Goldstone telling Trump that singer Emin Agalarov and his father, Moscow-based developer Aras Agalarov, had "helped along" the Russian government's support for Trump. The elder Agalarov was involved with Trump in hosting the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. The two men also had preliminary discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow that fell through. Trump also appeared in a music video with the younger Agalarov.
In his email, Goldstone says that the "Crown prosecutor of Russia" offered to provide the information on Clinton to the Trump campaign in a meeting with Aras Agalarov. There is no such royal title in the Russian Federation, but Goldstone — who is British — may have been referring to the title given to state prosecutors in the United Kingdom.
In Russia, the top justice official is Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, the equivalent of the attorney general in the United States. Chaika is longtime confidant of Vladimir Putin who was directly appointed by the Russian president.
Representatives for the Agalarovs didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Attempts to reach Chaika at his office Tuesday were unsuccessful.
In one of the emails, Goldstone said he could send the information about Clinton to Trump's father first directly "via Rhona," an apparent reference to the elder Trump's longtime assistant, Rhona Graff, from his days at the helm of the Trump Organization.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Goldstone described the information as purported evidence of illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee. It's what, if any, proof Veselnitskaya provided during the meeting.
The email release followed days of evolving accounts from Trump Jr. about the nature of the meeting and its purpose. The president's son posted the emails only after they were obtained by The New York Times.
On Saturday, Trump Jr. described the encounter as being a "short introductory meeting" focused on the disbanded program that had allowed American adoptions of Russian children. Moscow ended the adoptions in response to Magnitsky Act sanctions created in response to alleged human rights violations in Russia.
A day later, Trump Jr. changed his account, acknowledging that he was told beforehand that Veselnitskaya might have information "helpful" to the Trump campaign, and was told by her during the meeting that she had something about Clinton.
In his third description of what occurred, on Tuesday, Trump Jr. said he had believed the information he would hear about Clinton would be political opposition research. He said that he first wanted to speak by phone, but that when that didn't work out, he was told that the attorney would be in New York "and I decided to take the meeting."
"The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official," Trump Jr. said in the Tuesday statement. "And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act."
The Trump Organization has confirmed the authenticity of Trump Jr. posts on Twitter releasing the email chain.
Associated Press writers Nekesa Mumbi Moody in New York, Julie Bykowicz, Mary Clare Jalonick and Michael Biesecker in Washington, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.