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Donald Trump Jr. Exchanged Messages With Wikileaks Leading Up To The 2016 Election


In the run-up to last year's election, Donald Trump Jr. exchanged private messages on Twitter with WikiLeaks. At the same time, WikiLeaks was releasing thousands of emails stolen from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman which ultimately damaged her campaign. This latest revelation first reported by The Atlantic adds a few more pieces to the puzzle of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith walks us through the timeline.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Donald Trump Jr. received the first message late at night on September 20. WikiLeaks was offering him a tip about an anti-Trump website. Trump Jr. responded about 12 hours later saying he'd ask around. On October 3, Trump Jr. writes to WikiLeaks asking, what's behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about? WikiLeaks doesn't respond. But four days later, WikiLeaks posts the first tranche of emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's personal account.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This just came out. WikiLeaks - I love WikiLeaks.


KEITH: It doesn't take long for the leaked emails to make it into candidate Trump's rally speeches. This was Trump on October 10, 2016.


TRUMP: Did you see it? It just came down today - WikiLeaks - some new stuff, some brutal stuff. I may not read it to you, but to hell with it. Just trust me. It's real bad stuff.


KEITH: WikiLeaks is dedicated to radical transparency. Its founder, Julian Assange, has long held an animus toward Hillary Clinton, a hawkish military establishment and the American intelligence community. The feeling is mutual.


MIKE POMPEO: It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is - a non-state, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.

KEITH: That was CIA Director Mike Pompeo describing the group in a speech earlier this year. And this is what he said about its involvement in the 2016 election.


POMPEO: In January of this year, our intelligence community determined that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, had used WikiLeaks to release data of U.S. victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia's primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.

KEITH: Both the Russian government and WikiLeaks have denied this. Fast forward to October 12, 2016. WikiLeaks wrote again to Trump Jr. Hey, Donald; great to see you and your dad talking about our publications - strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us.

Fifteen minutes later, the candidate's account tweeted quote "very little pickup by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks - so dishonest, rigged system" - exclamation point. Trump Jr. would tweet out the suggested link two days later. On October 14, Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, went on "Fox & Friends" where the WikiLeaks revelations were a focus so much so that one of the hosts even asked this.


STEVE DOOCY: Some have suggested on the left that - all this bad stuff about Hillary, nothing bad about Trump - that your campaign is in cahoots with WikiLeaks.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Nothing could be further from the truth.

KEITH: In a statement today, the press secretary for now-Vice President Pence says he was never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with WikiLeaks and that he first learned of it from published reports last night. President Trump would mention WikiLeaks in speeches and tweets more than a hundred times in the lead-up to the election.

Early on election night, WikiLeaks messaged Trump Jr., suggesting that if his father were to lose the race, quote, "we think it is much more interesting if he does not concede and spends time challenging the media and other types of rigging that occurred." Before long, it was a moot point. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.