President Donald Trump’s eldest son has for months insisted that efforts to determine whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials interfering in the U.S. election are a “witch hunt.” That argument imploded when it was revealed Tuesday that Donald Trump, Jr. took a meeting in the hopes of obtaining damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and with the knowledge that the information was part of Russian government efforts to help his father’s campaign.
It was a remarkable self-own, too: Trump Jr. himself released emails on Twitter that showed he was promised “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” if he were to meet with a “Russian government attorney.” A publicist and family friend of the Trumps linked Trump Jr. up with that lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, for a sit-down meeting in June 2016, shortly after his father secured enough delegates to be the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Trump Jr. also was told that the damaging information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Despite that overture, Trump Jr. adopted the “witch hunt” line and attacked the media and Democrats for their focus on new developments in the federal and congressional Russia probes, dismissing the investigations themselves as political attacks.
Trump Jr. told ABC News that the Russia probe was a “witch hunt” against his father in early June, lamenting that there was “a political establishment working to make it difficult for him to succeed.”
He then published an angry series of tweets as fired FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress on June 8, describing Comey’s testimony that the President had pressured him to quash the bureau’s investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn as “BS.”
The day after Comey testified on Capitol Hill, however, Trump Jr. said that the “witch hunt” targeting his father had “passed.”
“This is the only thing that they had on Trump,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity at the time. “This is what they did to distract him from being able to get the stuff done that he was elected to ultimately do, and I think now that this has all passed, he can go back to doing what he promised he was going to do.”
He continued his victory lap the following day in an appearance on the Fox Business Network, where he claimed that his father had been “vindicated” by Comey’s testimony, calling the Russia probes a “10-month witch hunt.”
At the end of June, just 10 days before the New York Times published its first report about his meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr. wrote a tweet agreeing with an out-of-context remark from a CNN commentator that the Russia story was a “nothing burger.”
Even before questions about the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russian officials dominated headlines, Trump Jr. dismissed the notion that Russia was behind the hacks of Democratic organizations and operatives that roiled the 2016 election and strenuously denied that the Trump campaign had been involved in any way.
In July 2016, less than two months after Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him about the Clinton campaign’s allegations that Russia intervened in the 2016 campaign in an effort to help his father.
“I mean, they will say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie. You notice he won’t say, ‘Well, I say this.’ We hear ‘experts,'” Trump Jr. replied.”You know, ‘His house cat at home once said that this is what’s happening with the Russians.'”
“It’s disgusting. It’s so phony,” he continued. “I watched him bumble through the interview, I was able to hear it on audio a little bit. I mean, I can’t think of bigger lies, but that exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win.”
Later in that same interview, he dismissed the notion that the Trump team would work with Russia to sway the election.
“I’m really frustrated with what’s going on in this country, Jake. And if I can do that one day I’d love to be able to do it for the people of this country,” he said when asked if he might run for mayor of New York City. “It’s not going to be about divisive politics and emails, you know, accusing people of working with the Russian government.”