Trump Jr. recently disclosed emails suggesting he welcomed Russian help against Clinton (see for instance here and here). To a considerable extent, this seems a damaging move to him and to much of the team he is working with. As far as I understand, this is pretty much political self-harm.

Why would he do such a thing? How does this move serve his interest?

  • 61
    Asking why any Trump does what they do isn't a simple question. No one understands why they are doing what they are doing. We can only speculate.
    – user1530
    Jul 12, 2017 at 17:05
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    "this is pretty much political self-harm." I think so too, but I was thinking about it like "is he even that much into politics? AFAIK he isn't, so from a political pov he had not much to worry about harming (as long its not criminal content), while giving him some clean appearance.
    – dhein
    Jul 14, 2017 at 9:11

5 Answers 5


According to CNN, the emails were released by Donald Trump Jr. shortly before they were going to be published by the New York Times. From this article, we read:

Trump Jr. tweeted that he was releasing the emails to be "totally transparent," but his release came moments before The New York Times published the content of the emails.

The only options for Donald Trump Jr. would be to deny it or try to accept that the mails were going to be public and working on that assumption.

In the face of the importance of the issues, it is to be expected that these e-mails are going to be included into the ongoing probes1 about Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and Trump's team collusion with Russia, and that would lead to -very likely- Donald Trump Jr. being forced to testify. If Donald Trump Jr. were to testify, his options would be either:

  1. Accept the evidence.

  2. Refuse to answer (use the 5th Ammendment).

  3. Lie under oath and risk perjury charges.

'#1 and #2 lead to admit (explicitly or implicitly) that the e-mails are indeed true.

So, (if we discard #3) claiming that the emails are false it would only lead to Trump Jr. being forced to rectify, only that at a later time (during which the issue would not be forgotten) and with yet more damage to his credibility.

By releasing the e-mail he may (attempt to) claim that he was "not hiding anything" and try to get as much of a positive spin2 from it as possible, under the current circumstances. For example, his release in twitter was accompanied by affirmations that what he did was ok and which (despite no legal expert agreeing with that) are already being repeated by his supporters.

Other possible advantages that I can think of (although I will admit that these are a little twisted; I would be surprised if those were the main reasons but they could have helped in making the decision):

  • It takes away the spotlight from the New York Times article that would (most probably) be very critical of the situation described in the emails. This allows the emails to be presented to the public through some news organizations that are known to justify everything the Trump government does and dismiss any criticism of it, no matter what.

  • It "steals" the New York Times part of the publicity/brand recognition it would have got for the publication of the emails.

1If such a story goes as far as to being published, it is reasonable to assume that the journalist has evidence enough to prove that the emails are indeed Donald Trump Jr.'s.

2This is usually called controlling the narrative.

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    Isn’t it really strange that he chose such a risky and extreme option, from which there is no exit, instead of just denying and blaming the NYT (which, as the past months have shown, would be more than enough)?
    – user15413
    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:04
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    @Brythan It's not far-fetched to assume that Trump Jr. would have to testify about this, at which point he would either have to admit he lied, or commit perjury.
    – tim
    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:33
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    @Zozor "more than enough"? There are several ongoings investigations, and even a special prosecutor has been appointed. The fact that Trump has not been indicted does not mean that things are going well for him.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:34
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    One additional point would be by releasing all of the e-mails, he avoids the possibility of a partial release which could change the context or meaning. Jul 12, 2017 at 17:23
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    1) CNN has said plenty of things that have been proven to be false. 2) How exactly would the NYT have come by the emails, if no one had released them? I can assume the only way, unless there was a release that I missed, would be hacking, which is patently unethical, and calls into question the nature of the documents they released.
    – Ungeheuer
    Jul 13, 2017 at 20:45

It's reported that The New York Times already had gotten the emails and Trump Jr. published the emails to preempt their publication.

As the NYT mentions in an article:

After being told that The Times was about to publish the content of the emails, instead of responding to a request for comment, Donald Trump Jr. posted images of them on Tuesday on Twitter.

Also, the Deputy Managing Editor of the NYT Clifford Levy acknowledged that in a tweet:

.@DonaldJTrumpJr posted these emails after being informed that The New York Times was doing a story on them.

Basically, by doing this, it will allow him to claim that he is transparent with the meeting which is the reason he mentioned on Twitter when he released the emails. He stated that he wants to be "totally transparent" and that is the reason he released the full chain of emails, as seen below.


From @DonaldJTrumpJr's tweet

The White House spokesperson also read a short statement from Trump that emphasised on Trump Jr.'s "transparency".

I’ve got a quick statement that I will read from the President: "My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency."

Source: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/07/11/press-gaggle-principal-deputy-press-secretary-sarah-sanders-7112017

In this case, it is more advantageous for him to publish the emails himself since he can claim he is transparent. By letting the NYT publish it, he won't be able to do that but the contents of the email are still revealed.

So, in this circumstance, it is a better move for him to do that.


It was a way to deny the New York Times a scoop. When a news outlet gets a story like this you have to do a lot of investigative journalism to validate and verify your sources. If you've managed to keep it quiet, your paper stands to make a lot of money because you are now the source for all of this information.

By tweeting out the emails ahead of the story, Trump Jr. literally gave to every other news outlet what the NYT had worked for over a year to compile and corroborate. It's what you would call a pyrrhic victory. It was coming out anyways, so Trump Jr got some measure of revenge. This summary of another journalist's tweets (who was also working on this story) pretty much says it all (read from the bottom up)


This isn't actually a political question; it's more a social one.

When damaging information about yourself is about to be made public, you have two choices:

  1. Wait for someone else to tell everybody about your actions
  2. Tell everybody yourself

It's human nature to give somebody a bit of a reprieve for owning up to their mistakes; you look a lot worse if you insist upon your innocence right up until the time that somebody proves you are lying.

Think of it like a plea deal with the public — I'll come clean to you now, before the media rats me out, and you give me a little bit of credit for that.

It's an attempt to gain sympathy by being honest, even though in truth it's an entirely self-serving maneuver.


Since a meeting like this is not illegal or unusual, the best way to respond is to be transparent and play open card. This will prevent further rumours and accusations and remove the opportunity for media outlets to exploit the situation by releasing small bits of information over a long period of time in order to get ratings.

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    From what I heard, that meeting would have been illegal, and therefore unusual. It is illegal to accept anything of value from a foreign national during an election, and negative information about one candidate's rival is surely of value.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 12, 2017 at 10:28
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    @WeckarE. even if nothing of value was received (as currently claimed by Donald Trump Jr.) the fact that the meeting happened and that those involved expected to get something of value (information) from a foreign government might lead to a charge of conspiracy to commit a crime.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:38
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    This is not about finding dirt, this is about accepting a foreign government help to influence elections, and THAT is, without any doubt, totally illegal. This is pretty clear in every article about this story.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:48
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    @Arne - There is a big difference between "not breaking a law" and "acting ethically". When Gore's campaign in 2000 received from anonymous source tapes with info about GW Bush debate preparations, they turned them to FBI and the person who opened the package recused himself from debate preparation. This kind of honest ethical conduct is the saddest casualty of the 2016 campaign, and I am not sure how it could even be revived. Jul 12, 2017 at 14:07
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    @Ame The legality will be decided by the investigating attorneys and judges, but I think it is safe to say that a campaign adviser agreeing to meet with someone alleged to be the representative of a hostile government who wants to help a candidate win a presidential election is HIGHLY unusual, if not unprecedented. If you disagree, please add sources that document other occasions when this occurred.
    – jalynn2
    Jul 12, 2017 at 17:02

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