Even as President Donald Trump issued his first statement about his son Donald Jr.’s acceptance of Russian help during the 2016 campaign, a White House known for rhetorical punches refused to leave its corner Tuesday.
“My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” President Trump said in a statement read by spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders about a June 2016 email exchange involving his oldest son and a middle man in which, Trump Jr. appeared to accept Russian support in the 2016 election.
But other than that, Huckabee Sanders referred question after question to the Trump family’s non-government legal teams.
After reading Trump’s statement, she informed reporters she would be referring “everything” on the matter to those private lawyers. Moments later, Huckabee Sanders said even if reporters at the off-camera kept asking questions about Trump Jr.’s emails, she was going to be a “broken record” by declining to answer them.
In the email exchange, Trump Jr. replied “I love it” when informed about the Kremlin’s offer to Trump family business associates to provide information that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” as the middleman, a British-born entertainment publicist, Rob Goldstone, wrote in the exchange. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who now is a senior White House adviser, was apparently forwarded the email exchange and attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer dispatched to deliver the information.
Asked if Kushner’s security clearance remains active after Trump Jr. tweeted out the seemingly incriminating email, Huckabee Sanders declined to comment. She said White House policy is to steer clear of publicly discussing such personnel matters.
The president still wants the two congressional investigations and the Justice Department special counsel probe to move forward as quickly as possible, even as his oldest son suddenly is a big player in the Russia matter, Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
On who within the White House recommended or ordered her to refer such questions to outside lawyers, the spokeswoman also provided no details beyond that all “appropriate” individuals were involved in setting the day’s communication strategy.
For a president and White House that shies away from very few fights, the rope-a-dope strategy was a shift.
Vice President Mike Pence was on Capitol on Tuesday, helping to shape a GOP health overhaul. His spokesman largely steered clear of the Trump Jr. news.
“The vice president is working every day to advance the President’s agenda, which is what the American people sent us here to do. The vice president was not aware of the meeting. He is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket,” Marc Lotter, Pence’s press secretary said.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, indicated he expects the chamber could vote on a revised version of the GOP leadership team’s revised health overhaul bill next week. Should it pass, it would amount to a big Trump legislative victory.
Reporters asked questions about other matters, but most queries focused on Trump Jr.’s emails. Lawmakers fired off statements and answered reporters’ questions on Capitol Hill about the latest Russia-related bombshell.
Trump is “frustrated” that the Russia matter “continues to be an issue,” Huckabee Sanders said. She added that the president would prefer the focus to be on policy matters like health care, the economy and infrastructure.
Yet, from his tweets to his son’s actions during the campaign, the Russia revelations repeatedly step on the White House’s attempts to message on those very topics.