Key Demo­crat cries ‘fire’ on probe

Se­nate panel mem­ber: News from Trump Jr. meet­ing brings in­ves­ti­ga­tion to ‘new level’

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Laura King David Lauter in Washington, D.C., and As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted. laura.king@la­times.com

WASHINGTON — Dis­clo­sures stem­ming from last sum­mer’s meet­ing among President Don­ald Trump’s el­dest son, a Krem­lin-linked lawyer and at least one other Rus­sian fig­ure could prove to be a turn­ing point in the tan­gled, month­s­long in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, se­nior Democrats said Sunday.

“I would say this meet­ing is very sig­nif­i­cant in terms of all that’s hap­pened,” Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., the rank­ing mem­ber of the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“Only smoke and no fire? That’s clearly been put to rest,” Warner said. “This clearly brings the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to a new level.”

The president took to Twit­ter to re­new his de­fense of Don­ald Trump Jr. over the June 2016 meet­ing in Trump Tower, re­turn­ing to fa­mil­iar twin themes of at­tack­ing for­mer op­po­nent Hil­lary Clin­ton and cas­ti­gat­ing the news me­dia over cov­er­age of Rus­sia-re­lated mat­ters.

The White House dis­patched a se­nior mem­ber of the president’s per­sonal le­gal de­fense team to the ma­jor Sunday news shows to play down last week’s steady drip of rev­e­la­tions about the meet­ing with lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya, which was also at­tended by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, now a se­nior White House aide.

Dur­ing what would nor­mally be a time of sum­mer dol­drums in Washington, Trump — fol­low­ing a pomp-filled visit to Paris and a week­end get­away to his New Jersey golf prop­erty — re­turns af­ter a four-day ab­sence to a cap­i­tal roiled by the bur­geon­ing Rus­sia in­quiry and by fal­ter­ing prospects for the Se­nate’s health care plan.

Repub­li­can lead­er­ship de­layed a vote on the Oba­macare over­haul plan un­til Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., re­cov­ers from surgery to re­move a blood clot.

The tur­moil co­in­cides with two new public opin­ion polls show­ing Trump’s ap­proval rat­ings are plumb­ing depths greater than at this point in any mod­ern pres­i­dency.

Plagued by the es­ca­lat­ing Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tions, mean­while, the White House is dub­bing the com­ing week “Made in Amer­ica week” as it tries to fo­cus on is­sues that mat­ter to the president’s base.

White House di­rec­tor of me­dia af­fairs He­len Aguirre Ferre said Sunday that the White House will be host­ing a “Made in Amer­ica” prod­uct show­case Mon­day fea­tur­ing prod­ucts from all 50 states.

In the lat­est chap­ter of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, de­fend­ers and crit­ics of the president of­fered starkly dif­fer­ing nar­ra­tives about cam­paign con­tacts with still-un­known num­bers of po­ten­tially Krem­lin-as­so­ci­ated fig­ures and what that in­di­cated about al­leged col­lu­sion.

Warner, speak­ing on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion,” promised to widen the in­quiry, bring­ing in “some of the folks from the Trump dig­i­tal cam­paign” to look into the bar­rage of fal­si­fied news sto­ries that ap­peared on so­cial me­dia users’ news feeds.

Trump for months has de­scribed in­ves­ti­ga­tions of al­leged col­lu­sion be­tween his cam­paign and the Krem­lin as a “Dem hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

Af­ter an ini­tial White House-sanc­tioned state­ment sug­gest­ing the meet­ing was mainly about Rus­sian or­phans, the younger Trump ac­knowl­edged in emails re­leased last week that the in­ter­me­di­ary who set up the meet­ing de­scribed Ve­sel­nit­skaya as hav­ing ac­cess to Rus­sian gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion that could be used against Clin­ton. He replied: “I love it.”

In ad­di­tion to Trump Jr. and Kush­ner, the meet­ing was at­tended by Paul Manafort, who at the time was the Trump cam­paign chair­man, and Ri­nat Akhmetshin, a Rus­sian-American self-de­scribed lob­by­ist with a re­ported back­ground in Rus­sian coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence.

Warner’s House coun­ter­part, Rep. Adam Schiff, DCalif., said the meet­ing and the cir­cum­stances lead­ing up to it di­rectly estab­lished for the first time the will­ing­ness by Trump’s cam­paign to co­op­er­ate with what the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity has con­cluded was a broad Rus­sian ef­fort to tip the elec­tion in his fa­vor.

“They can call it a fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion. They can call it a witch hunt. It’s all an aligned mes­sage with the White House,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.” Even so, he said, “real ev­i­dence is com­ing for­ward that just can’t be ig­nored … this is about as clear of ev­i­dence you could find of in­tent by the cam­paign to col­lude with the Rus­sians.”

Trump again blamed neg­a­tive cov­er­age for keep­ing what he has termed a base­less con­tro­versy alive.

“Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOC­RACY in our coun­try!” he said in an early-morn­ing tweet from his club in Bed­min­ster, N.J. In an­other Twit­ter state­ment, he said Clin­ton could “il­le­gally get the ques­tions to the De­bate and delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is be­ing scorned by the Fake News Me­dia?”

The tweet re­ferred to a pri­mary de­bate ques­tion that had been pro­vided to the Clin­ton cam­paign and not to her then-ri­val, Sen. Bernie San­ders, and to emails Clin­ton deleted from the pri­vate server she used while serv­ing as sec­re­tary of state. The dis­clo­sure about the de­bate ques­tion was drawn from Rus­sian­hacked elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

A se­nior mem­ber of the president’s le­gal team, Jay Seku­low, tried to dis­tance the president from the af­fair and in­sisted that the 2016 meet­ing did not vi­o­late any crim­i­nal laws.

“I know this: He, the president, was not aware about this meet­ing, did not par­tic­i­pate in this meet­ing,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion.” On CNN’s “State of the Union,” he sug­gested that the en­counter had seemed harm­less at the time.

“You’re try­ing to put a moral, eth­i­cal as­pect to it,” he com­plained to in­ter­viewer Jake Tap­per. “And it’s easy to do that in 20/20 hind­sight, but not when you’re in the mid­dle of a cam­paign.”

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

President Don­ald Trump ap­pears Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open golf tour­na­ment.

Trump Jr.

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