WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Donald Trump Jr. believes the controversial meeting he had last summer with a Russian lawyer was "just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame," he revealed in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity Tuesday night.
President Donald Trump's eldest son spoke exclusively to "Hannity," just hours after tweeting an email chain pertaining to the meeting with attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and his father's then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.
"In retrospect, I probably would've done things a little differently," Trump Jr. told Hannity. "Again, this is before the Russia mania, this is before they were building it up in the press.
"For me, this was opposition research. They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I'd been hearing about that there were probably underreported for, you know, years, not just during the campaign. So, I think I wanted to hear it out. But really, it went nowhere and it was apparent that that wasn't what the meeting was actually about."
The first son added, "Someone sent me an email. I can't help what someone sends me. You know, I read it, I responded accordingly."
During his primetime interview with Hannity, Trump Jr. stressed repeatedly that nothing came of the meeting, which is why he didn't mention it to his father. He said although he's new to politics, he would've reported anything "shady" that had come about.
"I wasn't sure of the credibility of any of this stuff," Trump Jr. said. "This is the first time we've ever done any of this. This is, you know, I'm still way in the learning curve on all of this ... If there was something that came from it that was shady, if it was a danger to national security, I would obviously bring it right to someone, but I didn't know what anything was. It turns out, it was nothing."
A U.S. official told CNN the Justice Department will examine the emails as part of its investigation - led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller - into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The New York Times first reported the meeting with Veselnitskaya on Saturday, saying the June 9, 2016 affair was the "first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign."
In the wake of Saturday's NYT article, Trump Jr. said in a statement,
"It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up.
"I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand."
Trump Jr. issued a more detailed statement Sunday:
"I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office. The meeting lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes. As it ended, my acquaintance apologized for taking up our time. That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events."
The eldest Trump brother quipped in a tweet Monday, "Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent... went nowhere but had to listen."
According to the email chain he tweeted Tuesday, the subject of which was "Russia - Clinton - private and confidential," the younger Donald Trump was offered "official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."
The initial email came from Rob Goldstone, who according to the BBC is a British tabloid journalist-turned music publicist who manages Russian pop star Emin Agalarov. The BBC reports the singer's father, Aras Agalarov, is a real estate developer in Moscow who was a business partner of President Trump in the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, held in the Russian capital. Goldstone wrote that Emin had asked him to contact Trump Jr. with "something very interesting." The offer of damaging information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came from Aras and the crown prosecutor of Russia, the email revealed.
Goldstone continued, "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."
"Maybe this is something. I should hear him out," Trump Jr. told Hannity of the exchange. "This was, again, just basic information that was gonna be possibly there. I didn't know these guys well enough to understand that if this talent manager from Miss Universe, you know, had this kind of thing. So, I wanted to hear him out and play it out."
Trump Jr. responded to Goldstone's email on June 3, 2016, in part, "Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."
The New York Times on Sunday noted that Trump Jr. is not required to disclose his foreign contacts because he does not serve in his father's administration and lacks a security clearance. On Tuesday, Trump Jr. said he released the emails in an effort "to be totally transparent." However, CNN notes the first son tweeted the emails out just "moments before" The New York Times released their contents.
"I'm more than happy to cooperate with everyone," Trump Jr. told Hannity. "I just want the truth to get out there. I mean, that's part of why I released all the stuff today. I wanted to get it all out there."
Trump Jr.'s full statement issued Tuesday reads:
"To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails with Rob Goldstone about the meeting on June 9, 2016. The first email on June 3, 2016 was from Rob, who was relating a request from Emin, a person I knew from the 2013 Ms. Universe Pageant near Moscow. Emin and his father have a very highly respected company in Moscow. The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research. 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. And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act. To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue. As Rob Goldstone just said today in the press, the entire meeting was 'the most inane nonsense I ever heard. And I was actually agitated by it.'"
On Saturday, The New York Times described Veselnitskaya as "a formidable operator with a history of pushing the Kremlin’s agenda." In an exclusive interview with NBC News' Keir Simmons Tuesday, the Russian attorney denied having any connections to the Kremlin.
When asked about the Trump campaign's impression that meeting with Veselnitskaya would provide information on the Democratic National Committee, she said, laughing, "It's quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information; they wanted it so badly."
Veselnitskaya added that Kushner left the meeting after about 10 minutes or less, while Manafort was glued to his phone.
Democrats, including former vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, suggested Trump Jr.'s actions constitute treason.
"When [Trump Jr.] was approached with this idea, he should have turned it over to law enforcement immediately. That's what anybody should've done. So, very serious, but I think the Senate [Intelligence] Committee and special prosecutor now have a lot more work to do," Kaine told reporters Tuesday. "Nothing is proven yet, but we're now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what's being investigated. This is moving into perjury, false statements, and even into - potentially - treason."
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., tweeted, "If this isn't treasonous, I'm not sure what is."
President Trump stood by his son's actions, saying in a statement delivered by White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in an audio-only press briefing Tuesday afternoon, "My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency."
Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic's Washington bureau chief, pointed out on Twitter that Trump had previously used the phrase "high-quality person" to praise his wife, Melania, and elder daughter, Ivanka.
The president tweeted Tuesday night, teasing his son's "Hannity" interview, "[Trump Jr.] is a great person who loves our country!"
Coverage of Trump Jr.'s actions has dominated the political news cycle so far this week. On Tuesday, Twitter jokesters got the hashtag #DonJrChildrensBooks to trend, drumming up such titles as "The Little Kremlin That Could," "Harry Plotter and the Spiller of Secrets," "Green Eggs and Handcuffs," "A Wrinkle in Crime," "Clifford and the Big Red Storm" and "Oh, the Prisons You'll Go!"
Also trending were comparisons of Trump Jr. to "The Godfather's" Frederico "Fredo" Corleone, mob boss Vito Corleone's gullible, insecure second son who, despite trying to be of service, betrays and compromises the family, and as a result meets a rather sticky end in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather: Part II." According to The Daily Beast, even some in President Trump's inner circle have taken to calling his eldest son "Fredo" behind his back.