On Tuesday morning, facing pressure from a looming report in the New York Times, Donald Trump Jr. shared an email exchange from last June wherein he and a business associate arranged to meet with a Russian lawyer who was promising dirt that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr., who for months has denied any knowledge of Russian involvement in his father’s campaign, responded “love it” after being told that the meeting was to be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
The emails offer the most concrete evidence yet of collusion between senior members of Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials. While some White House aides were left “freaking out” about the revelations, others sought to downplay the news with some impressive mental jiu-jitsu.
Here are some examples of the range of explanations, spin, excuses, and head-scratching the emails have inspired in conservatives and Trump associates:
Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen: Trump Jr. did nothing wrong because ‘the purpose of the election is to win’
Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, defended the meeting between Trump Jr. and the Kremlin-connected lawyer as, “the purpose of the election is to win” which would seem to excuse almost any kind of behavior if it led to electoral victory. Yahoo News reported:
But Cohen adamantly rejected the idea there was anything improper about meeting with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, given that Trump Jr. was told she might have information helpful to Trump’s campaign. “The purpose of the election is to win,” said Cohen, adding, “Why is this any different?” than the unverified “dossier” on Trump’s ties to Russia prepared by a former British spy working for a Washington research firm hired by his political opponents.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort: Don’t blame me, I didn’t read to the bottom of the email
Then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who attended the meeting and was included on the email chain, according to Trump Jr.’s tweets, employed the “tldr” defense when asked about the news by Politico: “A source close to Manafort told POLITICO on Tuesday that the campaign manager hadn’t read all the way to the bottom of the email exchanges on his phone and that he didn’t even know who he was meeting with when he attended the 20 to 30-minute session.”
Infowars host Alex Jones: Trump Jr. was ‘trying to find Russian spies.’
Infowars host Alex Jones made the case on his show Tuesday afternoon that Trump Jr. was just “doing his job,” doing some type of counterintelligence with the meeting, “trying to find Russian spies.”
I was just watching during the break Democrat senators flipping out on CNN going, “This is incredibly serious, Donald Jr., Russians did influence the election.” Because they met with one lady who wanted to talk about sanctions. They’re like, “No, we want to talk about Russian connections to Hillary” — which are now confirmed. That’s Donald Jr. doing his job. So that he’s trying to find Russian spies, he is now a Russian spy.
Trump adviser Roger Stone: Trump can put the emails behind him by arresting Barack Obama
Roger Stone, a former Trump staffer, employed a more belligerent response, suggesting that Trump would counterpunch by prosecuting Barack Obama and his national security team for “unconstitutional surveillance” that led to the leaks that allowed the world to know about such news in the first place.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 11, 2017
British Trump fan Nigel Farage: Trump Jr. is just getting attacked because his an effective spokesperson for his father
UKIP leader Nigel Farage, a lead campaigner for Brexit, made the case made the case that Trump Jr. had no prior contact with the Russians, got frustrated with the meeting, and “has done nothing wrong at all, certainly nothing nothing wrong compared to certain things Hillary was accused of during the campaign.”
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) July 11, 2017
Orrin Hatch: Leave Trump Jr. alone because ‘he’s a very nice young man’
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said he thought the story was “overblown,” “a bunch of bunk,” and not “relevant.”
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch praised Donald Trump Jr and says the whole thing is "overblown." pic.twitter.com/nJsk3G5882
— Emma Loop (@LoopEmma) July 11, 2017
Sen. Thom Tillis: Trump Jr.’s emails are a distraction
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) did not want the Senate to focus on Trump Jr.’s emails.
"That's the very thing we should not be distracted by," Sen. Tillis (R-NC) says of Trump Jr. revelations.
Wants focus on health and taxes.
— Dylan Scott (@dylanlscott) July 11, 2017
Bill O’Reilly: Trump Jr. was “smart” to release emails.
Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly called Trump Jr.’s decision to release the emails, “smart.”
Trump, Jr. smart to release emails. Tabloid guy set him up w Russian lawyer who promised Hillary dirt. She didn't deliver. That's the story.
— Bill O'Reilly (@billoreilly) July 11, 2017
Rush Limbaugh: Emails are proof Trump Jr. is innocent.
Rush Limbaugh attempted to conclude on his radio show that the emails showed that Trump’s father did not collude with the Putin.
Rush: Actually, Don Jr’s meeting sort of proves that Trump *wasn’t* colluding https://t.co/RpSYF9DlVD
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) July 11, 2017
Former White House Press Secretary: Trump Jr.’s emails just show bad judgment
Ari Fleischer, formerly George W. Bush’s press secretary said that while the meeting showed “bad judgment,” it did not provide evidence of collusion.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 11, 2017
Former Governor Mike Huckabee: Talk about Trump Jr.’s emails are just a “liberal media frenzy.”
Former Governor Mike Huckabee said that Trump Jr. should have just deleted the emails because the “liberal media” is “fine” with that.
Liberal media in a frenzy because Donald Trump Jr released all his emails. Should've just deleted them. We know that's fine with them!
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) July 11, 2017
Sean Hannity: Trump Jr.’s emails prove that Trump wasn’t involved in any collusion.
Sean Hannity was at a loss for words, retweeting both Trump Jr. tweets with “Thoughts?”
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) July 11, 2017
Hannity later employed the exculpatory defense later in the day, saying that the fact that his son was meeting with the Russian lawyer meant that Trump would not be colluding with the Kremlin.
Hannity: "If Donald trump himself were colluding with Vladimir Putin and the Russians, why would he need his son to act as an intermediary?"
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 11, 2017
Donald Trump Jr. was scheduled to appear on Hannity’s show on Tuesday night as of press time.