Politics

How the House Intelligence Committee is Responding To Donald Trump Jr.'s Emails

July 11th 2017

By:
Kyle Jaeger
Mike Rothschild

Shortly after President Donald Trump returned from a G20 summit in Germany, new revelations about Trump campaign ties to Russia have seized the spotlight yet again—with emails sent to Donald Trump Jr. catching the attention of both the media and lawmakers alike.

ATTN: reached out to all 22 members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) to get their reactions to the latest New York Times report and subsequent tweets from Trump Jr.

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But first, here's what you need to know about the latest Donald Trump Jr. reports.

In June 2016, Trump's eldest son said that he would "love it" if the Russian government passed along damaging information about then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to emails Donald Trump Jr. shared on Twitter on Tuesday. The emails were between Trump Jr. and an associate of a Trump business partner, leading to a meeting between Trump Jr., other Trump campaign officials, and a Russian lawyer.

Though Trump Jr. said that he decided to release the emails in the spirit of transparency, he posted them just as The New York Times was preparing to publish a report detailing their contents. The Times's Tuesday report was the latest in a string of stories from the newspaper about Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting.

What the emails reveal is that Trump Jr. was made aware that the Russian government possessed "high level and sensitive information" that could be used against Clinton, and that the Russian government supported his father's candidacy, shortly after Trump became the Republican presidential nominee.

Trump Jr. agreed to meet a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya (who isconnected to the Kremlin) alongside Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, with the promise of receiving opposition research on Clinton. Trump Jr. later claimed in a statement that they received "no meaningful information" from the lawyer; instead Veselniskaya wanted to discuss adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act.

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the reports with this statement during Tuesday's press briefing:

"I've got a quick statement that I will read from the President: 'My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency.'

"And beyond that, I’m going to have to refer everything on this matter to Don Jr.’s counsel and outside counsel, and won’t have anything else to add beyond that today."

In an interview that aired Tuesday night, Trump Jr. told Fox News' Sean Hannity that in regards to the June 2016 meeting, “in retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently.”

However, details included in the emails have again raised the specter of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government regarding its interference in the 2016 presidential election, which has been verified federal intelligence agencies.

Here's what members of the HPSCI had to say about the latest Trump-Russia developments.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the committee

Schiff's office did not respond to a request for comment, but the ranking member held a press conference on Tuesday outlining his concerns about what he described as "very significant, deeply disturbing new public information" about Trump campaign ties to the Russian government.

"We will certainly want to have [Donald Trump Jr.] come before the committee," Schiff said, emphasizing that the committee "cannot rely on any public representations" of the facts as the Trump administration presents them.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.)

Sewell's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a tweet, the congresswoman questioned Trump Jr.'s claim that he released the emails for transparency's sake. 

Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.)

Carson's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)

Speier's office did not respond to a request for comment, but in a tweet she described Trump Jr.'s emails as "damning" and said they "unravel months of lies from the campaign."

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.)

"In addition to confirming the existence of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential campaign, the intelligence community has also identified their intent: to help candidate Trump and hurt Secretary Clinton," Rep. Quigley said in a statement emailed to ATTN:. "Reports that Donald Trump Jr. was aware of the Russian government’s attempts to aid his father’s campaign is incredibly troubling and only underscores the importance of our House Intelligence Committee investigation."

"It also serves as another stark example of those in Trump’s inner circle who have conveniently forgotten what Russians they’ve met with; as well as where, when, and what was discussed," the statement continued. "The White House has consistently attempted to discredit and undermine our search for facts, but as new information continues to emerge about the campaign’s ties to Russia, we remain focused on our mission to find answers."

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.)

Swalwell's office did not respond to a request for comment, but the congressman tweeted that he believes the revelations fit a pattern.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas)

Castro's office did not respond to a request for comment, but in a tweet Castro said the emails confirm that the "Trump family participated" in Russian-led efforts to get Trump elected. 

Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.)

Rep. Heck's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Chairman of the committee

Rep. Nunes' office did not respond to a request for comment. In April, Nunes annouced that he stepped away from the investigation after complaints from Democrats. Shortly after this announcement, the "House Ethics Committee announced it was investigating whether Nunes broke House rules by revealing classified information in conversations with the media about the Russia investigation," according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I believe it is in the best interests of the House Intelligence Committee and the Congress for me to have Representative Mike Conaway, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney, temporarily take charge of the Committee’s Russia investigation while the House Ethics Committee looks into this matter,” Nunes said in a statement. “I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman, and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims."

Some, however, have questioned how far he's stayed away from the investigation.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), acting Chairman on this investigation.

A spokesperson for Rep. Conaway told ATTN: the congressman did not have a comment at this time. However, in an interview with NBC News reporter Alex Moe, Conway said that the House Intelligence Committee will “investigate every lead we need to investigate,” but declined to if the committee would call on Trump Jr. to testify.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.)

Rep. King's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.)

Asked whether Rep. LoBiondo had a statement on Donald Trump Jr.'s emails, a spokesperson sent ATTN: a link to this tweet, which calls on the eldest Trump to appear before the House intelligence committee.

Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.)

Rep. Rooney's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio)

Rep. Turner's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Ben Wenstrup (R-Ohio)

Rep. Wenstrup's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah)

Rep. Stewart's office did not respond to a request for comment. But in an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Stewart said the emails shared on Twitter will "probably" raise additional questions for the House intelligence committee and that he "looks forward to having a chance to speak with Mr. Trump Jr. about this."

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.)

Crawford's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.)

Though Rep. Gowdy did not prepare an official statement, a spokesperson told ATTN: that he would comment on Trump Jr.'s emails in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday evening. During the interview, Gowdy said that he wasn't qualified to comment on the legality of the exchange, but that he's concerned about the political ramifications of the Trump administration's ongoing scandals related to the Russian government. He also said that he expected Trump Jr. to appear before the House committee.

"This drip drip drip is undermining the credibility of this administration," Gowdy told Fox News.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)

Rep. Stefanik's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas)

Rep. Hurd's office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Why these House members' views matter.

There are currently multiple investigations into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government over 2016 election interference. In May, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed a special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, to conduct the Department of Justice investigation.

In addition to Mueller's investigation—which one expert predicts could last years—the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are all conducting their own inquires.

Vox explains the distinctions between these investigations in a very detailed explainer:

"These investigations, however, can be broken down into three categories (emphasis ours):

  • First, the intertwined Justice Department investigation, now led by a special counsel, into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and, reportedly, the possible cover-up.
  • Second, the investigations led by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which are broadly looking at Russian intervention in the 2016 election.
  • Third, the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have been looking into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s conduct specifically — and have recently expanded their inquiry to the circumstances surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s firing.

"These differences matter. They affect both the scope of the investigations and their potential consequences. The Justice Department investigation could lead to criminal charges, for example, while the House and Senate variants could lead to impeachment."

Specifically, "[b]oth the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are broadly investigating Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia," Vox explains. "The inquiries could end up uncovering crimes, but they could also include issues that aren’t criminal—such as whether better policies or plans could have stopped Russia’s intervention."

There has been a slow trickle of potentially damning information that has come out about the Trump campaign and ties to Russia, but some like Vox's Ezra Klein are declaring that "The other shoe has finally fallen, and the Trump presidency may fall with it."

impeach

So, could the outcome of the investigation result in impeachment? Several experts are leaning closer to the idea that it might.

Findings from both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees could lead to impeachment—a worst-case scenario that may not happen because both the House and Senate are controlled by the GOP. (If anything, this will lead to more intense 2018 midterm election cycle.) 

Still looking at the responses from members of the House (and specifically the HPSCI) provide an interesting pulse check, given that the process of impeachment can only begin in the House of Representatives.

Legal precedent holds that a sitting president can't be prosecuted. This means that only Congress punish the president for wrongdoing, ultimately having the power to impeach and remove them from office.

The Constitution mandates that "the President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors."

However, just 19 federal officials have ever been impeached, and only two presidents: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1998. And in both cases, the definition of what exactly constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors" has been hotly debated. (Neither Johnson nor Clinton were removed from office, following impeachment.)

For Trump to become the third president to be impeached, the process would have to begin with a vote by the House Judiciary Committee to begin an investigation. After being presented with preliminary findings, the House then votes to authorize Judiciary to begin a full investigation, which concludes with the writing and passing of Articles of Impeachment. Each article would then have to be passed by a simple majority in the House. Assuming any pass, the Senate would then hold a trial, with a two-thirds majority needed to convict and remove the president.

ATTN: spoke to Shirley Anne Warshaw, a professor of political science at Gettysburg College, who said "this is all leading up to a bipartisan impeachment hearing. The Constitution defines the grounds for impeachment as the conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. As more is uncovered about the Trump campaign, their activities are starting to be described that way."

Beyond that, at least one major financial analyst believes that the possibility is nearer. "We believe the risk of impeachment proceedings is now higher than before, even if still not our base case," Tina Fordham, chief political analyst for Citigroup, told Financial Times.

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However, the prevailing view in terms of impeachment is that this is one more step in the process, not the endgame. Political columnist Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe writes that the Trump emails are not "an impeachment-precipitating, administration-ending revelation," while the Washington Post's Aaron Blake warns Democrats not to reach too far. "We've seen what can happen when a party does that (see: Clinton, Bill—impeachment of), and the risk for Democrats is that this never becomes what they allege and Trump emerges stronger because of it."

Even Warshaw told ATTN: that "there is no way that the Republican House would move forward with impeachment. So in my view, he won't be impeached, it will just be fodder for 2018 midterms."