WASHINGTON - Donald Trump's eldest son released emails on Tuesday showing he embraced Russia's efforts to support his father's presidential campaign, admitting he would "love" to get dirt from Moscow on Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump Jr was told by an interlocutor that he could get "very high level and sensitive information" that was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump."
The 39-year-old Trump -- who now runs the family real estate business in his father's stead -- responded "if it's what you say I love it" and set up a meeting with a "Russian government attorney," according to the emails.
The email chain was released in its entirety by Donald Jr in a move that jolted Washington and added fuel to the political firestorm swirling over allegations that Trump's campaign team colluded with Moscow to influence the 2016 election.
Later Tuesday, Trump Jr told Fox News that he did not tell his father about the meeting after the talk failed to yield compromising information about Clinton, Trump's 2016 election rival.
"It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell," the son told Fox host Sean Hannity.
Donald Trump Jr. and Sean Hannity teamed up in defense of Trump's “opposition research.” pic.twitter.com/7UFvjMCL70— HuffPost (@HuffPost) July 12, 2017
But he also appeared to acknowledge the misstep.
"In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently," he said.
"For me, this was opposition research, they had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I'd been hearing about," Trump Jr went on.
US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a mass effort to tilt the election in Trump's favour, including hacking and leaking embarrassing emails from Democrats.
The latest disclosure now thrusts the president's son to the centre of multiple US investigations by Congress and by the FBI as to whether Trump's team was in the know.
In a statement accompanying the emails, Donald Jr said he believed the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, "as she has said publicly, was not a government official."
In the Fox interview, he added that "we didn't know who she was before the meeting."
Despite that lack of clarity, two of Trump's most trusted campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, attended the meeting.
Trump jumped to his son's defence, saying in a statement: "My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency."
Donald Jr had initially dismissed the meeting he arranged with the lawyer as having to do with adoptions but then offered shifting explanations as more details emerged.
In the emails released Tuesday, Rob Goldstone -- a publicist close to the Trumps -- tells Donald Jr that he has learned of a Russian offer of compromising material on Clinton from a pop singer he represented, Emin Agalarov.
"The Crown Prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," Goldstone wrote in a 3 June 2016, email.
"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin," he added.
Donald Jr responded less than 20 minutes later, according to the chain of emails entitled "Russia - Clinton - private and confidential."
"Thanks, Rob I appreciate that," the son responded. "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."
Update on Donald Trump Jr. and his previously undisclosed meeting with a Russian lawyer pic.twitter.com/TTWzM4TQmM— AFP news agency (@AFP) July 12, 2017
Veselnitskaya is referred to in the exchange as "the Russian government attorney."
In an interview with NBC News, Veselnitskaya said: "It's possible that maybe they were looking for such information" about the Clinton campaign.
"They wanted it so badly," she added.
Clinton's vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine described the revelations Tuesday as moving toward more serious charges of perjury and "potentially treason."
"This should have set off alarm bells and red lights and instead, what it seemed to do is it activated their salivary glands," Kaine, a US senator, said in a separate interview with MSNBC.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden went further, saying the emails "show there is no longer a question of whether this campaign sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert America's democracy."
"The question is how far the coordination goes," Wyden added.
Vice President Mike Pence's office issued a statement saying he was unaware of the meeting, in what appeared to be a bid to distance himself from the matter.
But some Republicans warned the Trump Jr contact was a red flag.
"The fact he took the meeting is problematic. That email is problematic," said Senate Republican Lindsey Graham.
The White House essentially refused to answer queries about Trump Jr on Tuesday, referring reporters to his legal counsel.
Adding to the apparent bunker mentality, the president has no public events scheduled for Wednesday, a third straight day without public engagement.