Rus­sian lawyer of­fered info on Clin­ton to Trump Jr.

But U.S. pres­i­dent’s son claims al­le­ga­tions ‘made no sense’

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JO BECKER, MATT APUZZO AND ADAM GOLD­MAN

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

cam­paign.

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.

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