New revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton has critics flirting with a new attack line — treason.
Sen. Tim Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential pick, on Tuesday suggested that, while nothing has been proven, Trump Jr. might have committed treason even before he released copies of his correspondence with music publicist Rob Goldstone, who brokered the June 2016 meeting.
“We are beyond obstruction of justice,” Kaine told reporters. “This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason.”
Echoes of that sentiment have started to take shape in other corners of Congress. Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Seth Moulton tweeted out a New York Times report on the eldest Trump son’s emails on Tuesday, noting “if this isn’t treasonous, I’m not sure what is.”
Trump Jr. on Tuesday released what he said was the full email chain related to allegations that he knowingly set up a meeting with a Russian-linked lawyer in order to obtain information that might "incriminate" Clinton, his father’s 2016 campaign opponent. Trump posted the emails on Tuesday in the hopes of "transparency," he said, but the release came shortly before The New York Times published its own copy of the emails.
In a June 3, 2016, email with the subject line “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential,” Goldstone says Emin Agalarov, a singer-songwriter whose father is a Moscow-based developer who tried to partner with Donald Trump on a hotel project, “just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.”
The most explosive line in the exchange arrives via Goldstone, who calls the information "obviously very high level and sensitive information" and "part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump."
Trump Jr. later replies that he is "on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Ethics lawyer to former President George W. Bush, Richard Painter, told MSNBC over the weekend that the early reporting that said Trump Jr. met with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to get information on Clinton “borders on treason if it is not itself treason.”
“Let’s cut through the baloney here. We know what the Russians have been doing,” Painter said during a later appearance on the network. “… When the Russians call or someone calls on behalf of the Russians and offers derogatory information about a former secretary of State who is a presidential candidate, the first person you call is the FBI.”
“I don’t care if you’re Republican, as I am, or a Democrat. You call the FBI. The last thing you do is go meet with the Russians to try and get the derogatory information," he went on. "They’re only trying do that in order to use you to accomplish some purpose. And we know what that is — it is undermining our system of representative democracy.”
Painter put it more bluntly on Twitter: “This is treason,” he wrote. “He must have known that the only way Russia would get such information was by spying.”
Painter added in a secondary message: “In the Bush administration we could have had him in custody for questioning by now.”
Most members on both sides of the aisle, however, have so far shied away from any mentions of the act.
BuzzFeed reports Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said it was "premature" to call the news treason, but noted Tuesday’s developments were "serious."
Trump Jr. may face other legal danger, as lawyers and political operatives say explanations about the meeting are out of step with common campaign practices when dealing with offers for opposition research. Convictions of treason, however, are notoriously rare.
Under Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution, treason against the United States is defined as consisting "only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
When pressed on accusations of “treason” made by some critics, White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the use of such a term is “ridiculous.”