By Billy House
Donald Trump Jr., U.S. President Donald Trump’s eldest son, said Monday he had direct communication with WikiLeaks in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election, arming Democrats with what they say is evidence of a proxy link between his father’s campaign and the Kremlin.
The younger Trump downplayed the news by criticizing the leak of his private communications with WikiLeaks, a website that posts confidential information from governments and other sources, saying they had been previously given to congressional panels. On Twitter, he released copies of what he described as the extent of his direct communication with the website.
Trump Jr. acknowledged the communications Monday after the Atlantic magazine reported earlier in the day on the messages that had been given to congressional investigators.
In the messages, he mostly answered contacts from WikiLeaks politely or not at all. At the same time, he doesn’t outright reject the relationship or communications with the Julian Assange-fronted website.
Assange said on Twitter Monday that he couldn’t verify the copies of the direct messages to Trump Jr.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in his first speech after taking that job earlier this year, characterized WikiLeaks as a “nonstate hostile intelligence service,” singling out Assange as the leader of a hostile force that threatens the U.S.
Trump Jr.’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, said in a statement Monday that while the communications provided to Congress “under the promise of confidentiality” were leaked, “we can say with confidence that we have no concerns about these documents and any questions raised about them have been easily answered in the appropriate forum.”
Democrats seized on the revelation, saying Trump Jr. joins a list of other Trump operatives who had private communications with WikiLeaks, including Roger Stone and Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining firm that worked for the campaign.
“I think the significance here is, this is yet another indication of the campaign’s willingness at the very highest levels to accept foreign assistance — to accept assistance here with a cut-out of the Kremlin that’s publishing the stolen documents that were obtained by a Russian hack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” said Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
The younger Trump never previously admitted to such communications. After he did so Monday, a spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence said he didn’t know about the link until it was reported in the press.
“The Vice President was never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with WikiLeaks,” Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said. “He first learned of this news from a published report earlier tonight.”
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly cited WikiLeaks’ release of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. At a campaign rally in October 2016, in Pennsylvania, he even praised the releases and said, “I love WikiLeaks.”
That praise was a topic of one of the communications between WikiLeaks and Trump Jr., on Oct. 12, 2016. “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” the WikiLeaks account, @WikiLeaks, wrote to the younger Trump two days after his father’s laudatory remarks in Pennsylvania.
Russia’s interference in the election — and potential collusion with the Trump campaign — remains the subject of multiple investigations by congressional intelligence committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
— With assistance by Shannon Pettypiece