Republicans in Congress desperately tried to spin Tuesday’s blockbuster revelation in the ongoing Russia-related controversy as a "nothingburger," begrudgingly acknowledging that the president’s eldest son will now be compelled to testify in front of the Senate panel investigating the Trump campaign's possible collusion with the Russian government.
While Donald Trump Jr. released his incriminating emails this morning — an attempt to scoop New York Times investigators who were prepared on Tuesday to report on his correspondence with Russian government officials during the campaign — there is little evidence that lawmakers in Congress currently investigating possible collusion had any clue about Trump Jr.’s contacts.
CNN reported that until The New York Times’ recent scoop, the FBI did not have prior knowledge of last June’s meeting between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Kremlin-linked lawyer who was supposed to provide them compromising information about Hillary Clinton. And although it appears this is yet another meeting with a Russian official that top White House adviser Jared Kushner failed to disclose on his security clearance forms, Republicans in Congress don’t appear too concerned.
“He’s the son of the president and frankly I think that’s overblown,” Utah’s Orrin Hatch, the Senate’s longest-serving member, told reporters after Trump Jr. tweeted email communications showing the Kremlin-linked contact wanted to offer “very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” during a meeting last year.
Hatch, who recently found himself at the center of a bizarre conspiracy theory to overthrow Trump, went on an even more bizarre tangent to defend Trump Jr.’s reputation: As Buzzfeed’s Emma Loop reported (emphasis added):
Look, I know Donald Jr., he’s a very bright young man, he’s a very nice young man. I think one of the things that endears the president to me is how nice his children are and they all love him… He divorced their mothers and and they loved him. And it’s pretty impressive to me how dedicated they are to their father.
After Senator Tim Kaine (D.-Va.), Hillary Clinton’s former vice-presidential running mate, mentioned that the Russian email chain provides evidence of a possible case of treason, Hatch pushed back, "You gotta be kidding, that kind of language should never be used."
Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Tx., said on Tuesday that Trump Jr. has been called to testify before the Senate Intelligence committee. "I don't think we have enough information to reach a conclusion but he certainly made himself a witness," Cornyn told reporters, before adding, “I don’t really have a reaction, too busy on health care.”
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina echoed his GOP colleague’s disinterest in new evidence of possible collusion. “This is exactly the very thing we should not be distracted by,” Tillis said on Tuesday.
“Washington is obsessed right now, it is the Democratic talking point du jour,” Texas Republican Sen Ted Cruz told reporters on Capitol Hill. “But when I go back to Texas, nobody asks about Russia. You know, I’ve held town halls all across the state of Texas, you know how many questions I’ve got on Russia? Zero.”
But at least one Congressional Republican was willing to publicly criticize top Trump campaign officials with meeting with the Kremlin-linked lawyer. New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, an early Trump backer who just yesterday called the meeting a "nothingburger," wrote on Twitter on Thursday that “new emails from Donald Trump Jr. contradict a lot of prior story from yesterday and before. This is not the same thing.”
Vice President Mike Pence is even distancing himself from the White House, making clear in a statement on Tuesday that the meeting with the Russian official occurred before he joined Trump’s campaign.
"The vice president is working every day to advance the president's agenda," Marc Lotter, Pence's press secretary, said in a statement. "He was not aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories about the campaign — especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign."
Donald Trump, for his part, finally broke his silence to release an emergency statement in support of his son.
"My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency," Trump said on Tuesday.