KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
There have been a lot of stories about the Russian attack on last year's presidential election. But today, things went to a different level. President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., released a full email conversation between himself and a go-between for a Russian tycoon. The exchange revealed what was described as the Russian government's support for the Trump campaign.
Joining us now is NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.
MCEVERS: So let's just start at the beginning. What are these emails and who are they from?
KEITH: The emails are from Rob Goldstone. He's a British-born music promoter who represents a Russian pop singer named Emin Agalarov. Emin's dad is a billionaire Russian real estate developer named Aras Agalarov, who was involved in hosting the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. And around the time of the pageant, Donald Trump tweeted praise for both of them and said, Trump Tower Moscow is next.
He had hoped to develop a tower in Russia with Agalarov. But that fizzled. So Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr. on June 3, 2016, saying Emin had just called and asked him to get in touch with, quote, "something very interesting."
MCEVERS: What was it? What did the Russians say they were going to offer the Trumps?
KEITH: Yeah, so I just - I want to read part of this email to you.
KEITH: The crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and, in their meeting, offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. 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. He then offered to send the information directly to President Trump potentially. Donald Trump Jr. responded about 20 minutes later and said, if it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer. Now, ultimately, this led to a meeting on June 9 at Trump Tower that The New York Times had first reported over the weekend.
And that meeting included President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., as well as the campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort. They sat down with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer with the premise that she would be providing incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
MCEVERS: What do Donald Trump Jr. and the White House have to say about this latest development?
KEITH: Trump Jr. says that she didn't have any real information and that the conversation stopped there. But we should also point out that Trump Jr.'s story has changed repeatedly over the last few days. He said that he released this email chain to be totally transparent and that he thought the information that was being offered was just political opposition research, though political professionals say this is not what opposition research is.
And at the White House today, Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders read a short statement from the president.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
SARAH SANDERS: My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency.
MCEVERS: OK, so the term we hear people use on this story is collusion. Did Trump's campaign collude with the Russian government to attack this election? But now is this the beginning to be a question about more than that, of conspiracy or something more like treason?
KEITH: Treason is a big, weighted term. But today, Democratic senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine, who had been Hillary Clinton's running mate, used that very term in talking to a group of reporters in the Capitol.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TIM KAINE: 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 potentially treason.
KEITH: Now, the investigation by congressional committees and the special counsel Robert Mueller is in the early stages. And it's not clear yet where that will lead. You know, I talked to Brian Fallon, a former spokesman for Clinton's campaign. And he said that they thought that there had been communication, but that they hadn't seen any proof. And he described today's development as breathtaking.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BRIAN FALLON: But I don't think ever in our wildest dreams we assumed that there would ever emerge a piece of evidence that would so directly link Trump's inner circle to representatives of the Russian government. This is as much of a smoking gun as anybody could have ever expected to emerge.
MCEVERS: Well, this is definitely something we'll keep following with NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you very much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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