Russian’s offer said to be Clinton dirt
But talk yielded zilch, Trump Jr. says
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s eldest son said Sunday that he met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer shortly after his father clinched the GOP presidential nomination, hoping to get information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump Jr. attended the meeting at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with his father’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and Trump’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.
In a statement, Trump Jr. said attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya claimed to have information that “individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee” and
He said no details or supporting information were ever offered, and that his father was unaware of the meeting.
The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that members of Donald Trump’s campaign were willing to accept Russian help before the election. According to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it, the expectation was that Veselnitskaya would produce compromising information about Clinton.
Veselnitskaya said in a statement Saturday that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed.
In his statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of “an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant,” which his father, then the owner of the pageant, had taken to Moscow.
“After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “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 Russian 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.
Trump Jr. said his father “knew nothing of the meeting or these events” and that there was no further contact with Veselnitskaya after what he said was a 20- to 30-minute meeting.
When he was first asked about the meeting Saturday, Trump Jr. said only that it was primarily about adoptions and mentioned nothing about Clinton.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, said Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
Lawyers and spokesmen for Kushner and Manafort did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In both his Saturday and Sunday statements, Trump Jr. said he asked Manafort and Kushner to attend. On Sunday, he said he did not tell them what the meeting was about.
Rob Goldstone, the president of the music management and public relations firm Oui 2 Entertainment, said Sunday that he was the acquaintance who arranged the meeting at the request of a Russian client and that he attended with Veselnitskaya. Two people briefed on the meeting confirmed that Goldstone had arranged it. Goldstone, who has been active with the Miss Universe pageant, would not name the Russian client.
The Trump Tower meeting was disclosed to government officials in recent days, when Kushner, who is also a senior White House adviser, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain security clearance.
Trump Jr. does not serve in the administration and does not have a security clearance, so he has not been required to disclose his foreign contacts. He and his brother Eric have assumed day-to-day control of their father’s real estate
empire. Federal and congressional investigators have not publicly asked for any records that would require his disclosure of Russian contacts.
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.
But Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, one of the panels investigating Russian election interference, said he wanted to question “everyone that was at that meeting.”
“There’s no reason for this Russian government advocate to be meeting with Paul Manafort or with Mr. Kushner or the president’s son if it wasn’t about the campaign and Russia policy,” Schiff said after the initial New York Times report.
Veselnitskaya, however, said in the statement Saturday that she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government.”
The lawyer has long campaigned against the Magnitsky Act, a law that provoked a dispute with the
Kremlin when President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2012.
Goldstone said Veselnitskaya wanted to meet with the Trump campaign to discuss ways that Donald Trump could be helpful on the Magnitsky Act issue should he be elected president.
“Once she presented what she had to say, it was like, ‘Can you keep an eye on it? Should [Trump] be in power, maybe that’s [a] conversation that he may have in the future?’” Goldstone said.
Veselnitskaya’s work to fight the law has also included attempts to discredit the man after whom it was named, Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who supporters say was killed for exposing fraud.
In 2008, Magnitsky accused Russian police officials of stealing $230 million in tax rebates through a company run by U.S.-born financier William Browder. Magnitsky was then arrested on tax evasion accusations, and he died in his cell after he was imprisoned for more than a year. A Russian human-rights panel found that he had been assaulted.
Under the law named for Magnitsky, some 44 Russian citizens have been put on a list that allows the United States to seize their U.S. assets and deny them visas. The United States asserts that many of them are connected to the fraud exposed by Magnitsky.
Putin has called the law an “outrageous act,” and, in addition to banning U.S. adoptions, he compiled what became known as an “anti-Magnitsky” blacklist of U.S. citizens.
Veselnitskaya’s efforts to discredit Magnitsky include her work on The Magnitsky Act. Behind the Scenes, a film that disputes the widely accepted version of Magnitsky’s life and death. In the film and in her statement, she said Browder was the true culprit, hiring Magnitsky to investigate the fraud after three of Browder’s investment fund companies in Russia were seized.
Browder called the film a state-sponsored smear campaign.
“She’s not just some private lawyer,” Browder said of Veselnitskaya. “She is a tool of the Russian government.”