Reports: First son met Russian
Trump Jr. admits ’16 adoption talk with Kremlin-tied lawyer
Two weeks after Donald Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to The New York Times.
The previously undisclosed meeting was also attended by Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to interviews and the documents, which were outlined by people familiar with them.
While Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and Russians, this episode at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. It is also the first time that his son Donald Trump Jr. is known to have been involved in such a meeting.
Representatives of Donald Trump Jr. and Kushner confirmed the meeting after The New York Times approached them with information about it. In a statement, Donald Jr. described the meeting as primarily about an adoption program. The statement did not address whether the presidential campaign was discussed.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers and propagandists worked to tip the election toward Donald Trump, and a special prosecutor and congressional committees are investigating whether his campaign associates colluded with Russians. President Trump has disputed that, but the investigation has cast a shadow over his administration for months.
President Trump has also equivocated on whether the Russians were solely responsible for meddling in the election. But in Germany on Friday, meeting President Vladimir Putin for the first time as president, Trump questioned him about the meddling. The Russian leader denied any interference in the election.
The Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that blacklists suspected Russian human-rights abusers. Putin retaliated for that law by halting American adoptions of Russian children.
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 its namesake, Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing one of the biggest corruption scandals under Putin’s rule.
Veselnitskaya is married to a former deputy transportation minister, and her clients include state-owned businesses. Her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the FBI, according to a former senior law enforcement official.
In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
He added: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
Donald Trump Jr. had denied participating in any campaign-related meetings with Russian nationals when he was interviewed by The Times in March. “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
Asked at that time whether he had ever discussed government policies related to Russia, the younger Trump replied, “A hundred percent no.”
The Trump Tower meeting was not disclosed to government officials until recently, when Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance.
Kushner filed the new form after The Times reported in April that he had failed to disclose any foreign contacts, including meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States 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, if information is knowingly falsified or concealed, in imprisonment.
Kushner’s advisers said at the time that the omissions were an error and that he had met with the Russians in his official transition capacity as a main point of contact for foreign officials.
In a statement Saturday, Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said: “He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.”
Later Saturday, a spokesman for the president’s outside legal team contended that participants in the June meeting “misrepresented who they were and who they worked for.” However, the spokesman, Mark Corallo, would not say specifically who misrepresented themselves or how they did so.
Kushner’s lawyers referred all other questions about the Trump Tower meeting to Donald Trump Jr.
Manafort also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events.
A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment. Veselnitskaya did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Because Donald Trump Jr. does not serve in the administration and does not have a security clearance, he was not required to disclose his foreign contacts. Federal and congressional investigators have not publicly asked for any records that would require his disclosure of Russian contacts.
It is not clear whether the Justice Department was aware of the meeting before Kushner disclosed it recently. Neither Kushner nor Manafort was required to disclose the content of the meeting in their government filings.
During the campaign, Donald Trump Jr. served as a close adviser to his father, frequently appearing at campaign events. Since the president took office, the younger Trump and his brother, who have worked for the Trump Organization for most of their adult lives, assumed day-today control of their father’s real estate empire.
Donald Trump Jr. campaigns for his father then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Nov. 4 in Gilbert, Ariz.