Trump Jr. Escalates Twitter War Against Probe and Father’s Foes

  • The president’s eldest son is his fiercest proponent online
  • Trump Jr. is channeling the beliefs of his father’s supporters
Donald Trump Jr.'s Life in His Father's Shadow

Donald Trump Jr. is tweeting like a man with nothing to fear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Never shy about defending his father on Twitter, the younger Trump dialed up his outrage starting Jan. 19. That’s the day after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee drafted a memo alleging misconduct by the FBI and Justice Department in the Russia probe. Since then, he has tweeted or retweeted more than 200 times about the GOP memo, the Democratic response, warrants issued by secret intelligence courts, the FBI and Mueller’s Russia investigation.

His statements channel the sentiments of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters -- and possibly the president himself -- who believe the Russia investigation has been engineered by Democrats to undermine his presidency. In tweets and on television, Trump Jr. has compared the Russia inquiry to McCarthyism, the Salem witch trials and “the stuff you read about from banana republics.”

He called House Republicans’ release of the memo after his father declassified it “a little bit of sweet revenge” for the Trump family, in a Feb. 3 appearance on Fox News.

Central Figure

Trump Jr., who declined to comment, is himself a central figure in the Russia saga. The special counsel is investigating a meeting he held with Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016, as well as a misleading statement the White House issued a year later in defense of that meeting. House and Senate lawmakers on committees conducting their own Russia investigations want Trump Jr. to testify in public.

On Thursday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said his panel would release in "a few weeks" the testimony of the younger Trump and others about the Trump Tower meeting.

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While his father has the power to pardon, the younger Trump isn’t acting as if he thinks he or anyone in his family have done anything wrong to begin with. And his words do not suggest any concerns that the tweets could make him legally vulnerable. There’s also no indication that Mueller has sought to interview him.

“Weird what happened to Dems screams about transparency etc now that it’s clear they have something to lose,” Trump Jr. told his nearly 2.6 million Twitter followers on Jan. 19, a day after the date on the GOP memo and two weeks before the committee released it.

“We have been nothing but open despite being maligned for a year over a BS 20 min meeting," he said, an apparent reference to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. "Now it’s your turn!!! #releasethememo.”

Advice for Dad

Trump Jr.’s public statements can sometimes seem directed at his father. On Feb. 1, he tweeted: “#releasethememo and not the nonsense redacted version to protect the perpetrators. People need to see who is involved and at what level if we want to stop this from happening in the future.”

The president was at the time deciding whether to declassify the Republican memo, against the advice of the FBI, and whether to redact any part of it. The memo was ultimately declassified and released unredacted.

On Feb. 2 Trump Jr. tweeted that the basis for a FISA warrant for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had been “shady AF,” using an abbreviation for an expletive.

Trump Jr.’s public statements reflect his family’s frustration with the Russia investigations, which the Trumps say won’t implicate the president or any of his relatives and should be soon concluded. The son also echoes his father’s philosophy that, when punched, he should always punch back.

Little Risk

His public statements probably don’t leave him substantially more vulnerable from a legal perspective, so long as he sticks to opinion and not facts, legal experts say.

“The amount of legal risk is very, very small,” said Craig Engle, founder of the Arent Fox firm’s political law practice. “A tweet that says, ‘I was in San Diego on the 15th’ versus a tweet that says ‘He’s an idiot for thinking I was in San Diego on the 15th’ are two very different things.”

“A lawyer would say there is little legal risk in tweeting your opinions,” Engle said.

David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford law professor and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, said that Trump Jr. could be hurt “if he makes statements that are false.” But the recent body of work by the president’s son “looks like theater to me. I don’t think these tweets are going to have any effect on his legal position.”

There may be one political pitfall for Trump Jr., however. His advocacy for full transparency in the Russia inquiry leaves him open to criticism if information emerges that he’d rather not see the light of day, Sklansky added.

“If there are people who are looking to him to be consistent, the fact he’s saying he wants transparency would make it harder for him to later clam up or say he shouldn’t release information,” he said.

— With assistance by Shannon Pettypiece, and Jennifer Jacobs

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