U.S. President Donald Trump's eldest son has released a series of exchanges he had during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign with the Twitter account behind WikiLeaks - in an attempt to preempt reporting from the Atlantic.
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Trump Jr.'s revelations directly contradict a statement made by then vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence, who responded on "Fox and Friends" to claims that the Trump "campaign is in cahoots with WikiLeaks" by saying, "Nothing could be further from the truth. I think all of us have, you know, have had concerns about WikiLeaks over the years and it's just a reality of American life today, and of life in the wider world."
Micheal Flynn resigned from the Trump administration in February after The Wall Street Journal revealed he mislead Pence - who had publicly denied Flynn had ties to Russian officials - about a meeting he had with senior Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak.
In the exchanges, WikiLeaks - which has long been linked to Kremlin sources - asks Trump Jr. to push leaked emails from Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and to release his father's tax returns to the site.
The documents released by Trump Jr. show him responding three times, at one point agreeing to "ask around" about a political action committee that WikiLeaks had mentioned. The younger Trump also appeared to inquire about the group's promised "leaks" from inside the Hillary Clinton campaign.
One of the more incendiary revelations involves Wikileaks suggesting Trump Jr. urge his father, should he lose, contest the election and claim that it was rigged - potentially throwing the U.S. into post-election chaos.
The messages released by Trump Jr. began in September 2016 and run through July. During the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks released stolen e-mails from top Democrats, hacks which the U.S. intelligence community blames on Russia.
Democrats swiftly reacted to the Atlantic report, saying Trump Jr. should provide more information. Democratic congressman Adam Schiff said the report "demonstrates once again a willingness by the highest levels of the Trump campaign to accept foreign assistance."
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the Senate Judiciary Committee should subpoena the documents and force Trump Jr. to testify.
In response to the report, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's spokeswoman said Pence was unaware of Trump Jr.'s contacts with WikiLeaks when he issued a denial that the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the hacking group.
Pence's press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said Pence "was never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with WikiLeaks. He first learned of this news from a published report earlier tonight."
The Russian connection
CIA Director Mike Pompeo described WikiLeaks as "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia."
U.S. intelligence agencies ruled that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to help Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The report said U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russian military intelligence, the GRU, used intermediaries such as WikiLeaks, DCLeaks.com and the Guccifer 2.0 “persona” to release emails that it had acquired from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and top Democrats as part of the effort.
The release of the so-called "Podesta emails" led to embarrassing media coverage for Clinton and triggered the resignation of the DNC’s chief.
Assange has said he did not receive emails stolen from the DNC and top Clinton aide John Podesta from “a state party.” However, Assange did not rule out the possibility that he got the material from a third party.