Russian lawyer offered info on Clinton to Trump Jr.
But U.S. president’s son claims allegations ‘made no sense’
U.S. President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlinconnected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.
The meeting was also attended by Trump’s campaign chair at the time, Paul Manafort, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Manafort and Kushner only recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.
The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.
The meeting — at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination — points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.
The Trump Tower meeting is the first such confirmed private sit-down involving members of his inner circle during the
It is also the first one known to have included his eldest son. It came at an inflection point in the campaign, when Trump Jr., who served as an adviser and a surrogate, was ascendant and Manafort was consolidating power.
It is unclear if the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Clinton. But the people interviewed by The Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so.
In a statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance.
He said: “After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged President Vladimir Putin that he retaliated by halting U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Trump Jr. said.
When Trump Jr. was first asked Saturday about the meeting, he said only that it was primarily about adoptions and mentioned nothing about Clinton.
Mark Corallo, a spokesperson for the president’s lawyer, said Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
Lawyers and spokespeople for Kushner and Manafort did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In his statement, Trump Jr. said he asked Manafort and Kushner to attend, but did not tell them what the meeting was about.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers and propagandists worked to tip the election toward Donald Trump, in part by stealing and providing to WikiLeaks internal Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails that were embarrassing to Clinton. WikiLeaks began releasing the material on July 22, 2016, months before the November election.
A special prosecutor and congressional committees are investigating the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians. Trump has disputed that, but the investigation has cast a shadow over his administration.
Trump has also equivocated on whether the Russians were solely responsible for the hacking. On Sunday, two days after his first meeting as president with Putin, Trump said in a Twitter post: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion ..... ” He also tweeted that they had “discussed forming an impenetrable Cybersecurity unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded . ... ”
On Sunday morning on Fox News, the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, described the Trump Tower meeting as a “big nothing burger.”
“Talking about issues of foreign policy, issues related to our place in the world, issues important to the American people is not unusual,” he said.
Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act.
The adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the Magnitsky Act. Veselnitskaya’s campaign against the law has also included attempts to discredit the man after whom it was named, Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died in mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing one of the biggest corruption scandals during Putin’s rule.
Veselnitskaya said she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”
The fact of the Trump Tower meeting was disclosed to government officials in recent days, when Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance. The Times reported in April that he had failed to disclose any foreign contacts, including meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and the head of a Russian state bank. Failure to report such contacts can result in a loss of access to classified information and even imprisonment.
Kushner’s advisers said at the time that the omissions were an error, and that he had immediately notified the FBI that he would be revising the filing.