WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Sunday that Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the heat of the 2016 election has brought the committee's Russian meddling investigation into an entirely new sphere.
"The fact is this information has now come to light, and all of these efforts to say there was only smoke and there's no fire, well, that's all been put to rest," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said on "Meet The Press."
"This clearly brings the investigation to a new level and makes our effort all the more important," he added.
The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower included Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump campaign. The meeting was set up by music publicist Rob Goldstone, who told Trump Jr. in an email chain that lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya had information that would "incriminate" Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton and would be "very useful to your father."
Trump Jr. tweeted out the email chain and a statement on Tuesday after The New York Times first reported July 8 about the meeting between him and Veselnitskaya.
Meanwhile, Jay Sekulow, a member of President Donald Trump's legal team, defended the meeting as not illegal — but could not clarify whether or not the president signed off on his eldest son's statement responding to news of the meeting.
"I can't say whether the president was told the statement was going to be coming from his son," Sekulow said on "Meet the Press." "The president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr."
"There’s nothing illegal about that meeting," he later added. "There was nothing illegal to cover up."
Sekulow repeatedly mentioned that he represents the president and not Trump Jr. or the Trump campaign. He said the president found out about his son's meeting "right before" the initial story about it came out.
"I think the president used the term 'recently' or 'relatively recently,'" Sekulow said. "It was in days before leading up to this matter."
An initial statement given to The Times by Trump Jr. last weekend claimed the meeting was primarily about adoptions, but did not mention that Trump Jr. took the meeting because he was led to believe his father's campaign could receive damaging information and documents from the Russians about Clinton.
NBC News has reported that more people were present at that meeting, including a translator, and Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counter-intelligence officer.
Even after reports from multiple news organizations, exactly who else attended the meeting remains unclear.
"I don’t represent Donald Trump Jr. and I don’t know for sure everyone who was at that meeting," Sekulow said on "Meet The Press."
Trump's lawyer also maintained that the president himself is still not under any kind of investigation, even as members of Congress and the FBI continue to probe the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Russia has denied any interference to sway the election.
"We have no notification of any investigation going on with the president of the United States," Sekulow said.
Warner said he still does not know who was in attendance either. But he maintains that his committee wants to know the contents of all of Kushner’s meetings with Russians, as well as speak to Trump Jr. and Manafort.
"The thing about this investigation is it feels like almost every week we find another thread that we have to pull on," he added.
Warner declined to specify exactly when the Senate Intelligence Committee initially found out about the meeting, saying, "We don't share what we know and when we knew it."
But, he added, the suggestion in the emails made clear that senior members of the Trump campaign were at least aware of Russia's preference in the U.S. election in favor of Trump as early as June 2016.
"All of these denials — from the president himself to Donald Trump Jr. to Paul Manafort — all these denials were clearly false because they knew about this effort and they just failed to reveal it," Warner said. "And that's very, very significant.”
"Not only were the Trump senior campaign officials, you know, having this meeting," Warner added, "but they were anxious to have it and anxious to get this information."