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Democrats say Trump Jr.'s meeting takes Russia probe to a 'new level'

Laura King, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Disclosures stemming from last summer's meeting between President Donald Trump's eldest son, a Kremlin-linked lawyer and at least one other controversial Russian figure could prove to be a turning point in the tangled, months-long probe 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 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 added. "This clearly brings the investigation to a new level."

The president, meanwhile, 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 probe and by faltering prospects for the Senate's health care plan.

GOP leadership delayed a vote on the Obamacare overhaul plan until Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recovers from surgery to remove a blood clot. With two Republican senators already opposed to the bill, GOP leaders need every remaining vote in their caucus to advance the measure.

The ongoing turmoil coincides with a pair of new public-opinion polls showing Trump's approval ratings are plumbing depths greater than at this point in any modern presidency. Trump, who this week will mark six months in office, characterized the numbers as "not bad at this time," even while dismissing their accuracy.

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

Those clashing interpretations continued a pattern of recent months, but this time, the two sides were both referring to publicly available source material: emails disclosed by the president's son, not characterizations provided by anonymous sources.


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