Trump Jr. emails stir new conservative worries about White House

A growing list of undisclosed Russia meetings
A growing list of undisclosed Russia meetings

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Story highlights

  • Some conservatives are concerned about the new Russia-related news for the White House
  • "This is the first time where it's like, 'No, this meeting happened, here's the email.'"

Washington (CNN)Some staunch Republican donors and activists are acknowledging for the first time that the inquiry into President Donald Trump's campaign's ties to Russia is making them nervous -- though more about the White House than the party-wide fallout.

"Their suspicion has been heightened," said Bob Vander Plaats, an Iowa evangelical leader and power broker.
Russia-related news, he said, "seems to be a lot of he-said, she-said -- and this is the first time where it's like, 'No, this meeting happened, here's the email.'"
    "They're not rushing to any sort of judgment, but their suspicion is heightened," Vander Plaats said of other conservative activists.
    His comments came the day after Donald Trump Jr. tweeted images of emails that showed he had arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer after being offered dirt on Hillary Clinton's campaign. "If it's what you say I love it," the President's son responded in the emails, setting up a meeting with the Russian lawyer that also involved Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chief Paul Manafort.
    Trump Jr.'s publication of the emails thrust into public view the connections that the White House for months has downplayed or denied.
    The heightened concerns come with Republicans in a key recruiting stretch as they attempt to capture some of the 10 Democratic-held Senate seats in states Trump won in 2016 -- and as the GOP attempts to hang on to its House majority amid the most serious Democratic push to unseat that majority in years.
    However, Trump Jr.'s admission of a meeting with the Russian lawyer "hasn't penetrated the races yet," according to one Republican operative involved in the midterms, who requested anonymity in order to offer a frank assessment.
    "Health care is something that the donor community cares more about, to be honest with you," the Republican said. "This is something that we've been talking about for a while now, the Russia stuff, and it's not making a dent."
    Another Republican involved in the midterms said that while Russia is a national-level distraction, it's also one most members of Congress have little control over -- allowing them to largely wash their hands of it.
    "Yes, it's what cable news is obsessed with. But if it wasn't that, it'd be some trivial outrage of the day," the second Republican said. "With this issue, members can keep their heads down and build out the campaign apparatuses they need without getting sucked into that."
    Those perspectives are in line with what many Democratic operatives have said for months: Health care is where the party should devote its real time and money.
    The story of Russia's meddling in the election and Trump's ties to Russia is complicated, cannot be easily distilled into a 30-second ad and doesn't directly impact voters' personal lives the way health care does, those Democrats have argued.
    "The wall-to-wall coverage of Russia means that right now, we don't need to spend any money to make sure voters hear about it," said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA.
    "On the other hand," he said, "we do need to spend money to make sure voters are hearing about Trumpcare and Republicans' efforts to repeal the (Affordable Care Act). While the Russia situation is getting worse for Trump by the minute, we still believe that today, health care is a more potent issue with voters when it comes to their choices in the 2017 and 2018 elections."
    Still, polls have shown the vast majority of Republican voters are sticking with Trump.
    In Arizona -- the state where Sen. Jeff Flake faces a potentially serious GOP primary challenge next year -- the state party chairman, Jonathan Lines, touted in an email to supporters that he'd met with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office on Tuesday -- the same day Trump Jr. tweeted his emails.
    "President Trump personally thanked me for the strong support that the party has shown him and his administration, and I told him it was an honor to represent the Arizona Republican Party and fight for his strong agenda to Make America Great Again," Lines said in the email.
    Even conservatives who are uneasy with the latest Russia news say the President can win them back.
    "The best thing for President Trump to do is let all these special investigative whatever bodies do their work," Vander Plaats said. "You just deliver results for the country -- and if you deliver results for the country, I think people are willing to kind of give you a pass on everything else."