Republican lawmakers downplayed revelations on Tuesday that Donald Trump Jr. received an email last year referencing an effort on behalf of the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign for president, describing the story as “overblown” or irrelevant.
The morning after The New York Times initially broke the story detailing the contents of the emails, the president’s son tweeted out screenshots of the emails, which show that he was offered “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton].” (The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as well as his then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, were also involved in the meeting.)
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” reads one of the emails from music promoter Rob Goldstone, who offered to facilitate the meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer.
Democrats, such as Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.), pointed to the emails as evidence that Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russian officials to influence the outcome of the election.
Sen. Bryan Schatz (D-Hawaii) also implied the emails look like collusion.
Republicans, meanwhile, portrayed the revelations as a nonstory, or described the story as a distraction from more pressing issues.
“I think that’s overblown,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Donald Jr. is very dedicated to his father, but you know he’s not part of the administration.”
“They’ve done some really dumb stuff, this is not one of them,” said former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Fox News.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump critic, did call on the president’s son to testify, but couched his statement by qualifying that Trump Jr. and Kushner are political novices.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating potential collusion, said he had seen the emails but “we’ll have to wait until we finish the investigation” to make a determination on them.
“We’re gonna look at everything and go where the facts lead us,” he said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), meanwhile, said he doesn’t “really have a reaction” as he is “too busy” working on the Senate’s health care proposal. However, a Cornyn aide said the senator believes Trump Jr. should testify before the intelligence committee.
Some Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), did say the emails raised concerns.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who on Monday called Trump Jr.’s meeting a “big nothingburger,” backtracked on that statement after the president’s son tweeted the screenshots.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dodged the topic entirely during a Tuesday press conference, punting to the Senate intelligence committee instead of addressing the controversy outright.
“I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of whatever happened,” he told reporters.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.