Monday 24 July 2017

Revealed: What White House insiders nickname Donald Jr – the 'weak link' in the U.S First Family

Donald Trump Jr. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump Jr. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Jonathan Gray

Donald Trump Jr has long been the brawler who has helped fuel the US president’s pugilistic instincts and stood firm as one of his fiercest defenders.

Now the president’s eldest son is at the centre of the firestorm over Russian connections swirling around his father’s administration and trying to fight off charges that he was open to colluding with Moscow to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Offered Russian help in defeating Mrs Clinton last year, Don Jr jumped at the offer: “I love it,” he emailed.

That was in an email chain the younger Trump released on Tuesday, in which an associate arranging a June 2016 meeting between the president’s son and a Kremlin-linked lawyer promised damaging information about Mrs Clinton.

“In retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently,” he said in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News. “For me, this was opposition research, they had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I’d been hearing about.”

The story has revived comparisons between Mr Trump Jr and Fredo Corleone, second son of mob don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic ‘Godfather’ films.

Actor John Cazale as Fredo Corleone in ‘The Godfather'
Actor John Cazale as Fredo Corleone in ‘The Godfather'

Fredo is seen as the weak link of Vito’s three sons, an insecure man whose power plays backfire and who ends up causing major damage to the crime family. “Ever since the campaign, a popular, behind-his-back nickname for Trump Jr among some in his father’s political inner circle has been Fredo,” the Daily Beast reported, citing Team Trump veterans.

Mr Trump Jr had barely posted the explosive email chain when Twitter latched onto to the similarities.

Trump Jr (39) was one of his father’s loudest defenders throughout the campaign, his role ascendant at the time of the meeting last summer.

But when his father was elected, Trump Jr stayed in New York to run the family’s sprawling business along with his brother, Eric. And from that vantage point, he has been a loud and constant defender of his father, firing off broadsides on Twitter and never shying away from a fight against the “fake news” media. Just on Monday, he retweeted a video of a doctored clip in which the president’s face is superimposed over a character shooting a Russian jet bearing a CNN logo. “One of the best I’ve seen,” Trump Jr tweeted of the video.

In the email chain released on Tuesday, Mr Trump Jr seemed receptive to receiving damaging information from a foreign government. He released a statement in which he denied any wrongdoing.

His father, conspicuously quiet as details of the meeting have rolled out over the last few days, issued a terse statement on Tuesday in which he said: “My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency.”

Mr Trump Jr has vowed to push back against the charges of collusion, believing that an anti-Trump media is trumping up accusations against him as a way to damage his father and is willfully ignoring his claim that he did not receive any information from the Russian lawyer, according to several of the real estate heir’s confidants.

He has settled on a strategy out of his father’s playbook: a strong counter-attack. He released the emails himself – although just minutes before they were set to be published by the ‘New York Times’ – and appeared on Hannity’s programme to defend himself in a Trump-friendly space.

Mr Trump Jr and his father were not always close: The younger Trump, who admits to a wild post-college period before he cut back on his drinking, didn’t speak to his father for a year after Mr Trump divorced his mother, Ivana. But he grew into an executive role at the Trump Organisation, was a co-star on ‘The Apprentice’ and during his father’s campaign was an active campaign presence, criss-crossing the country to speak in small towns and delivering a well-received speech at the national convention.

An avid big game hunter, he also was seen as the campaign’s emissary to Mr Trump’s most conservative followers, particularly those online, due to his aggressive pushbacks against Democrats and the media, as well as an embrace of the conservative fringe ethos of the alt-right.

Last autumn, Mr Trump Jr tweeted images of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character whose image has been used by white supremacists, as well as imagery which likened Syrian refugees to poisonous Skittles sweets.

And while he and his brother say they have instituted a firewall that separates his father’s business from the White House, Mr Trump Jr has eagerly defended his father’s presidency, live-tweeting attacks on ex-FBI Director James Comey’s senate testimony and amplifying his father’s war on unfavourable news coverage.

“Don was an asset to the campaign, a sportsman, an entrepreneur, a guy’s guy,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser. “And Don is a true conservative who really understood the movement his father started and its messages.” (© Daily Telegraph London)

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